Shame: The 'Anti-War' Democrats Who Sold Out

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Shame: The 'Anti-War' Democrats Who Sold Out

In a historic vote, only 30 of 256 Democrats stood against $100 billion for more war.

In a vote that should go down in recent histories as a day of shame for the Democrats, on Tuesday the House voted to approve another $106 billion dollars for the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and increasingly Pakistan). To put a fine point on the interconnection of the iron fist of U.S. militarism and the hidden hand of free market neoliberal economics, the bill included a massive initiative to give the International Monetary Fund billions more in U.S. taxpayer funds.

What once Democrats could argue was "Bush's war," they now officially own. In fact, only five Republicans voted for the supplemental (though overwhelmingly not on the issue of the war funding). Ron Paul, who made clear he was voting against the war, was a notable exception.

This vote has revealed a sobering statistic for the anti-war movement in this country and brought to the surface a broader issue that should give die-hard partisan Democrats who purport to be anti-war reason for serious pause about the actual state of their party. Only 30 Democrats voted against the war funding when it mattered. And these 30 did so in the face of significant threats to their political future from the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That means that only 30 out of 256 Democrats are willing to stand up to the war and the current president presiding over it. Their names are listed below; I would encourage people to call them and thank them for standing up and voting no when it counted.

Two other Democrats, not expected to vote against the war funding, joined the anti-war Democrats. Brad Sherman and Pete Stark brought the total number of Democratic votes against the supplemental to 32.

Now, there are many Democrats who consistently vote for war funding, including Nancy Pelosi, but not many of them have such little shame that they dare characterize themselves as anti-war. Remember, 221 voted Tuesday in favor of the war funding. But for those who campaign as anti-war and signed pledges not to continue funding war and then vote for billions more for wars they claim to oppose, Tuesday should be remembered as a day of shame and cowardice. Here are the Democrats who voted against war funding when it didn't count and yes (on Tuesday) when it did--and when refusing to do so might have affected them personally: Yvette Clarke, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, Jerry Costello, Barney Frank, Luis Gutierrez, Jay Inslee, Steve Kagen, Edward Markey, Doris Matsui, Jim McDermott, George Miller, Grace Napolitano, Richard Neal (MA), James Oberstar, Jan Schakowsky, Mike Thompson, Edolphus Towns, Nydia Velázquez, and Anthony Weiner. These legislators should be called and asked why they voted for war funding they claimed to oppose last month.

Tuesday's vote came after an intense campaign by progressive bloggers, activists and anti-war Congressmembers Dennis Kucinich, Lynn Woolsey and Jim McGovern to get the 39 Democrats needed to block war funding to vote against it. This was made possible due to a roller-coaster-like series of events in the weeks and days preceding the vote.

The White House and the Democratic Congressional Leadership played a very dirty game in their effort to ram through the funding. In the crosshairs of the big guns at the White House and on Capitol Hill were anti-war legislators (particularly freshmen), and the movement to hold those responsible for torture accountable.

In funding the wars post-Bush, the Obama White House has been able to rely on strong GOP support to marginalize the anti-war Democrats who pledged back in 2007 to vote against continued funding (as 51 Democrats did in May when the supplemental was first voted on). But the White House ran into trouble on this bill because of Republican opposition to some of the provisions added to the bill (primarily the IMF funding) and one removed (the Graham-Lieberman amendment that would have blocked the release of prisoner abuse photos). This created a situation where the White House and pro-war Democrats actually need a fair number of anti-war Democrats (whose votes seldom matter this much) to switch sides and vote with them. That is why this battle was so important for the anti-war movement.

Many Democrats (who may not have necessarily been against the supplemental) were up in arms when the Graham-Lieberman provision (which the White House “actively” supported) was on the table. Facing warnings that it could derail the funding package, the White House stepped in, deploying Rahm Emanuel to the Hill to convince legislators to drop the amendment, while at the same time pledging that Obama would use his authority to continue to fight the release of more photos:

Emanuel ‘rushed’ to Capitol Hill and prevailed upon Senate Democrats to remove the torture photo measure in exchange for an explicit White House promise that it would use all means at its disposal to block the photos’ release. Obama also issued a letter to Congress assuring it he would support separate legislation to suppress the photos, if necessary, and imploring it to speed passage of the war-spending bill. The rider would “unnecessarily complicate the essential objective of supporting the troops,” Obama wrote.

In other words, Obama took a position that amounted to providing political cover to Democrats to support the war funding, while pledging to implement, through other means, the very policy they supposedly found objectionable.

From the jump, the White House and Democratic Leadership had the gloves off in the fight. Consider this report from last week:

Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House is threatening to withdraw support from freshmen who oppose the bill, saying “you’ll never hear from us again.”
She said the House leadership also is targeting the freshmen.
It’s really hard for the freshmen,” she said. “Nancy’s pretty powerful.”

Jane Hamsher, meanwhile, reported on Monday that it appeared Emanuel was "cutting deals with Republicans to go easy on them in the 2010 elections in exchange for votes." In the end, the White House got five Republicans to vote for the funding, including New York Republican John McHugh, the man President Obama nominated two weeks ago to be Army secretary. A "senior Republican source" according to FOX News "suggested McHugh could be creating a conflict of interest by voting on military-related legislation while his Army secretary nomination is pending before the Senate."

What repelled the Republicans from a vote to fund the war was hardly a sudden conversion to pacifism (in fact, their position was hypocritical). It was largely when the White House and Congressional Democratic leadership added a provision to the bill that will extend up to $100 billion in credits to the International Monetary Fund. This sent many Republicans to the microphones to denounce the funding as a "global bailout" and will undoubtedly be used as a campaign issue in 2010 to attack the Democrats who voted for the spending bill. For its part, the Democratic leadership, in trying to win Democratic support, portrayed the IMF funding as a progressive policy:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is trying to paint the IMF provision as a “very important national security initiative.” The IMF, she said, “can be a force for alleviating the fury of despair among people, poor people throughout the world.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office put out a position paper that declared the IMF funding "is key to making us more secure," adding that the money will ensure that the "IMF has the ability to play its central role in resolving and preventing the spread of international economic and financial crises." The paper also provided a litany of comments from prominent Republicans praising the IMF, including from the Bretton Woods Committee (Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, James A. Baker, Nicholas F. Brady, Colin Powell, Paul A. Volcker, Paul H. O’Neill, etc.). Also, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Newt Gingrich and, of course, George W. Bush.

If there was a real opposition party in Congress, all of this would have provided yet more reasons to vote against the bill.

It is a pathetic symbol of just how bankrupt the Congressional Democratic leadership is when it comes to U.S. foreign policy that Pelosi, Hoyer et al are trying to use funding for the IMF to convince other Democrats to support war funding. The IMF has been a destabilizing force in many countries across the globe through its austerity measures and structural adjustment schemes. Remember, it was the policies of the IMF and its cohorts at the World Bank and World Trade Organizations that sparked global uprisings in the 1990s.

To support the IMF funding scam, the Center for American Progress, which has passionately supported Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, released a position paper this week called, “Bailing Out the Bailer-Outer: Five Reasons Congress Should Agree to Fund the IMF.”

Thankfully, at least a handful of Democrats seemed to understand the atrocious role the IMF has played and tried (unsuccessfully) to impose rules on the funding that would have confronted the IMF’s austerity measures by requiring that “the funds allocated by Congress for global stimulus are used for stimulatory, and not contractionary, purposes.”

In urging their colleagues to oppose the war funding and the IMF funding, Kucinich and California's Bob Filner sent a Dear Colleague letter, which stated: "The IMF has a long history of placing economic conditions on countries receiving loans that have actually damaged, rather than stimulated, those economies, and its policies have not changed enough to warrant support." They charged that the IMF funding "would be used to bail out private European banks with U.S. taxpayer money." In addition to the military and IMF funding, the bill also provides $10.4 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $7.7 billion for "Pandemic Flu Response."

Under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Democratic-controlled Congress has been a house of war. Unfortunately, it is not a house where the war is one of noble Democrats fighting for peace, freedom and democracy against the evil, belligerent Republicans as they advocate and implement policies of preemptive war, torture and the violation of civil liberties. Instead, it is a house void of substantive opposition to the ever-expanding war begun under Bush and escalating under Obama.

Tuesday's vote was another one of those moments in Congress where heroes are made, like the day when Sen. Russ Feingold stood alone as the sole Senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act. To paraphrase Bush, it was one of those days when we truly discover who is for war and who is against it.

Below are the Democrats who stood against Obama's expanding war the day their votes mattered (See where your Representative stood here):

Tammy Baldwin, Michael Capuano, John Conyers, Lloyd Doggett, Donna Edwards, Keith Ellison, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, Alan Grayson, Raul Grijalva, Michael Honda, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Eric Massa, Jim McGovern, Michael Michaud, Donald Payne, Chellie Pingree, Jared Polis, Jose Serrano, Carol Shea-Porter, Jackie Speier, John Tierney, Nikki Tsongas, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson, Peter Welch, and Lynn Woolsey. 

Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is a journalist and author of the new book Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield. His previous book was the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

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