The Democratic Party's Barbershop Quartet strikes again-caving in marvelous manner on the Iraq war. "You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away," sang Simon and Garfunkel.
If ending the Iraq war is our destination, then Pelosi, Obey, Murtha and the Democrats are slip sliding us all further away.
Today, November 14, the House will vote on H.R. 4156-the newest Iraq - Afghanistan war supplemental spending bill. In the finest tradition of democracy, the text of the bill was not publicly available until last night.
HR 4156 provides $50 billion to wage the Iraq - Afghanistan wars through September 30, 2008. It also moves backwards in setting any form of timetable for an ultimate withdrawal from Iraq. HR 4156 is a definite setback when compared to the war spending bill initially passed by the House in March 2007.
Back then, the Democratic party leadership crafted a plan that required that the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq begin by March 1, 2008 and be completed within 180 days (end of August 2008). The plan provided that U.S. troops could be left in Iraq for certain purposes, namely protecting the U.S. Embassy and U.S. personnel; training the Iraqi Army; and engaging in counter-terrorist military action. Erik Leaver of the Institute for Policy Studies estimated that these provisions would have left upwards of 40 to 60 thousand U.S. troops in Iraq.
But compare the plan of March 2007 to the plan of December 2007, as laid out in HR 4156.
HR 4156 requires that the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq begin within 30 days of enactment of the law. That is the only portion of the redeployment language that is mandatory rather than permissive.
Regarding completion of the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq, HR 4156 states that:
"The goal for the completion of the transition of United States Armed Forces to a limited presence and missions and described in subsection (e) shall be a date that is not later than December 15, 2008."
So, the Democratic Party leadership in the House shifts its position on redeployment from a MANDATORY completion date of the end of August 2008 to a GOAL completion date of December 15, 2008. The only thing mandatory about the goal date is that it be by December 15, 2008. But, as any labor union negotiator will tell you, a GOAL is permissive and unenforceable absent any language to make it enforceable. And, guess what, there is no enforcement mechanism in HR 4156 if President Bush does not meet the goal of completing redeployment by December 15, 2008.
But that's only the half of it.
HR 4156 would significantly expand the purposes for which U.S. troops could remain in Iraq when compared to the provisions of the Iraq supplemental passed by the House in March 2007.
In March 2007, the House war spending bill provided that U.S. troops remaining in Iraq after partial redeployment would remain for: "Engaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach."
Compare that language to the language in the bill the House will vote on today. HR 4156 leaves U.S. troops in Iraq for: "Engaging in targeted counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda affiliated groups and other terrorist organizations in Iraq."
Gone from the current bill, HR 4156, is any language stating that the organizations have "global reach." This is a potentially significant expansion of the role of U.S. troops remaining in Iraq when compared to that perhaps envisioned last March. Under the March 2007 language, it could plausibly have been argued that the Mehdi Army and various Iraqi militias are not "terrorist organizations with global reach" and therefore outside the scope of the mission of the remaining U.S. forces in Iraq. With the elimination of "global reach" from this clause, the Mehdi Army and all other Iraqi militias are fair game for U.S. military action in Iraq (assuming the U.S. makes the argument that any militia outside of Iraq's standing army is a "terrorist organization").
Another significant change from March 2007 to the bill being voted upon today is the elimination of the clause "limited in duration and scope". While that clause was never defined in the prior legislation that passed the House, it would have served to potentially put some limitations on the scale and length of U.S. military operations in Iraq. Absent that clause, no such limitation exists within HR 4156.
So, then, what is to be done?
Immediately, all should call their Representative and urge them to vote against HR 4156. It is a bill that continues the war with no end in sight, with no enforceable timetable for withdrawal, and expands the mission of any U.S. forces which might remain after a partial withdrawal. You can reach your Representative via the Capitol Switchboard, 1-202-224-3121.
Congress will take up additional Iraq - Afghanistan war funding when it returns in January, regardless of what happens with HR 4156-whether it becomes law or not. We must be prepared to use all forms of nonviolent action to bring about an end to the war. This includes legal lobbying. But it also includes extralegal lobbying.
The Occupation Project, coordinated by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, will be refocused and re-energized come the turn of the year to focus upon Representatives and Senators who refuse to publicly commit to voting against additional war funding for the Iraq - Afghanistan wars. Over 400 arrests occurred in 2007 at the offices of over 42 Representatives and Senators as part of the Occupation Project campaign. Let's double, triple or more that number of arrests and our commitment to the use of nonviolent civil disobedience as a form of extralegal lobbying.
And let us press those who would be President to publicly commit to the complete and immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq when they become President of the U.S.-and to publicly commit to opposing any U.S. military action against Iran. Work within the primary and caucus systems is necessary and important. Nonviolent civil resistance during the campaign is necessary as well. Launched last week in Des Moines, Iowa, social justice and anti-war advocates are occupying the campaign offices of Presidential candidates to press for an immediate end to the Iraq war. Dubbed SODaPOP (Seasons of Discontent: A Presidential Occupation Project) the campaign is focused upon Iowa and will expand nationally.
We have a choice to make. We can roll over and play dead and bemoan the betrayal of those who reside in the House, Senate and White House. Or we can reclaim the best of our heritage of struggles for social justice and begin to take the risks commensurate with the risks encountered by Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers every day that the war in Iraq continues.
We should lobby Congress legally, by all means. But we should also lobby Congress by all nonviolent means at our disposal-including the extralegal lobbying means of civil disobedience and nonviolent civil resistance.
And we should vote-at the ballot box, in the primaries and in the caucuses. But we should also vote with our lives-in nonviolent civil disobedience and civil resistance to the war that engulfs Iraq and the U.S.
Jeff Leys is a Co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and a national organizer with the Occupation Project and SODaPOP campaigns. He formally worked as a union organizer with the American Federation of Teachers and as a union representative with a local of Service Employees International Union. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org