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Foreign Policy in Focus

The Iraq Supplemental: A Three Ring Circus

Erik Leaver

After weeks of backroom negotiations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) finally unveiled the latest plan for funding the Iraq War late Tuesday night. As the plan was unveiled, anti-war groups ranging from United for Peace and Justice to Win Without War to the Iraq Campaign 2008 joined voiced for the first time in their call to urge members to vote no on the funding. But while their messages are clear on the funding, the actual content and implications of the other provisions in the bill needs careful examination. Using a series of congressional slight-of-hand maneuvers, Pelosi's plan consists of scrapping the contents of a bill that has already passed, and in its place, voting on three separate new amendments: one on funding the war, a second on a set of provisions including a non-binding "goal" of redeploying combat troops from Iraq within 18 months, and a third for funding a set of domestic economic priorities. While the anti-war movement urges a strong "no" vote on the funding amendment, and a "yes" vote on the economic priorities amendment, which includes an enhanced GI bill, the picture is less clear for the other amendment.

The amendments each have different political impacts both here at home and inside Iraq. The first amendment provides $96.6 billion for the war for the rest of fiscal year 2008 and also includes $70 billion for 2009. Proponents of Bush's war strategy will widely support this but there will be mixed reaction among those members against the war. Some have fallen into the false argument of needing to protect the troops while they are on the battlefield. But members of the Progressive Caucus are organizing members to vote no on funding for the last six months and are posed to have the largest number of members vote no on funding the Iraq War ever.

The third amendment has implications for Iraq policy as it contains provisions increasing contractor accountability and closing fraud loopholes and contains a much needed enhancement of educational benefits for veterans (GI Bill). Because of the economic consequences of the massive spending on the Iraq War, the amendment contains an extension of unemployment insurance and Medicaid for helping those caught in the economic downturn. Many of these provisions are paid for with offsets to other areas of the budget but the GI Bill and unemployment insurance extension are expected to cost $11 billion over the next ten years. Because of this, many "Blue Dog" fiscal conservatives are posed to oppose the measure. But given the economic hardship on many in the U.S. due in part to the war and the need to provide greater benefits to the men and women in combat, the measure should pass.

The second amendment is less straightforward for the peace movement. It includes provisions that would take a serious step in bringing the war to an end such as a timetable for withdrawal, prohibiting permanent military bases, ending torture, and guarantees troops going to Iraq are "fully mission capable" and are not stationed in Iraq for deployment time periods longer than established Department of Defense policy.

The second amendment is also the only likely piece of legislation that addresses the long-term arrangement Bush is trying to solidify with Iraq. Specifically, it would "prohibit any agreement with the Government of Iraq committing the United States to deploy its forces in defense of Iraq or concerning the number or mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that is not in the form of a treaty subject to Senate ratification or otherwise specifically authorized by Congress." Given Bush's drive to seal this deal which would tie the hands of the next president, this language is critical.

However, the fine print is less clear. Withdrawal of troops is a non-binding "goal" of redeploying combat troops from Iraq within 18 months. For many such a "goal" is not definitive for withdrawal nor does it address the concern about the number of troops left behind for training or protecting the embassy. In their plans for redeployment Clinton and Obama would likely leave behind between 40,000-80,000 troops (the same number as originally suggested by the Iraq Study Group).

Also of concern for many progressives are provisions requiring Iraq to match U.S. spending on reconstruction dollar for dollar. This regulation undermines Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn" rule of if you break it, you own it. However, the regulation is merely showboating for those seeking political cover from the war's estimated $3 trillion cost, as Iraq has paid far more than the U.S. for its reconstruction. Truly disgusting, however, is the language calling for Iraq to subsidize U.S. purchases of gasoline. In a week where John McCain is backpedaling from his remarks suggesting we went to war for oil, this stipulation only reinforces this notion.

Thus, there is a dilemma for those in the peace movement on supporting this second amendment. While it clearly does not meet the demands of bringing all the troops and contractors home now nor does it send a positive message about our financial obligations to Iraq, it does demand a change in course and it requires that Congress approve any long-term deal that Bush tries to cut with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. If passed, it would reflect a substantial change in policy, which during a Bush or a potential McCain presidency is unlikely to change from their "stay the course" mentality.

This three ring circus is set to unfold in the House any day. But it is just the first act as no matter what the outcome is on each of the three amendments, the Senate will likely have a different opinion, leading to the need for a compromise bill between the chambers. But the demands for the peace movement will remain the same. It's time to end the war by bringing all the troops and contractors home.

And while Congress thinks it's being cute in dealing with all of the funding for Iraq this year in one fell swoop, it is the job of all those who want an end to the conflict and occupation to keep demanding an end to the Iraq War at every possible opportunity between now and November.

Erik Leaver is the policy outreach director for Foreign Policy In Focus and a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Copyright © 2008, Institute for Policy Studies

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