SAN FRANCISCO - Peace advocates in the United States are welcoming a Congressional vote Wednesday that may be a political stepping stone to ending U.S. participation in the war in Iraq.
"It's a first step for Republicans who have thus far been raising questions about the war, but not voting against it," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Council for a Livable World. "Those same Republicans can be hammered in September when bills come up for a vote that could really make a difference."
A majority of Republicans joined Democrats in the 399-24 vote to bar the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. It was the seventh time the U.S. House of Representatives has voted on such a proposal.
The bill, sponsored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California), forbids the Bush administration from spending any money "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" or "to exercise United States economic control of the oil resources of Iraq."
"The perception that the United States plans to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq strengthens the insurgency and fuels the violence against our troops," Congresswoman Lee told the House.
"We must soundly reject the vision of an open-ended occupation as bad policy that undermines the safety of our troops and recognize it for what it is: another recruiting poster for terrorists," she added.
The vote comes after Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, said last month that Bush favors a "Korean model" for Iraq where Washington would provide "a security presence" and serve as a "force of stability [for] a long time."
Fifty-four years after the armistice that ended the Korean war, the United States continues to maintain a force of more than 30,000 soldiers in South Korea.
Council for a Livable World and others opposed to the Iraq war say it's unlikely that passage of Lee's bill will cause an immediate change in U.S. military policy. Similar measures did not alter President George W. Bush's war-fighting strategy in the past, they note.
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The Bush administration has increased by more than 20,000 the number of U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq since Democrats took control of Congress last fall.
Still, peace groups told OneWorld they saw the bill's passage as an important victory ahead of more meaningful votes expected in the Fall.
In September, Congress is expected to vote on a $470 billion spending bill that would continue to fund the Iraq war. There will also be multiple hearings in both the House and Senate, and votes on mandatory timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Congress will also likely receive two reports on the Bush administration's "surge policy": one from the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Patreaus, and a second from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office.
"What happened in November 2006 [when the Democrats took control of Congress] and the reading of public opinion today shows that the public has given up on the war, but is not clear on how to get out of Iraq," Isaacs said. "That same split is reflected in Congress."
Hofstra University Professor Carolyn Eisenberg, who heads up legislative efforts for the umbrella group United for Peace and Justice, is working on the grassroots level to encourage citizens to pressure their Congresspeople to vote against continued funding of the war.
"During the Vietnam war, moderate Republicans came in to talk to Richard Nixon and told him that they would no longer vote money for the war unless he changed his policies," she said. "It was only after that that Nixon started drawing down the number of American soldiers there."
"If President Bush thought that a significant amount of Republicans were not going to vote him money, then he would have to respond to it," she added. "That's why it's very important for the peace movement to go to Republicans and tell them they can't go rush out to say bad things about the war and then vote with the White House."
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