To say the least, the debate in the US House of Representatives on the 18th of November was interesting, in a pathetic sort of way. Republicans took the floor vocalizing the desires of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld to stay in Iraq until it is truly conquered; and the Democrats whined, calling the GOP resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of US forces from a Iraq a political ploy. Words and accusations flew and some members had to be restrained. A couple higher level military officers supposedly called their congresspeople asking that Congress continue to fund and support the imperial folly that is the Iraq war. Members who served in the last major US military folly in Vietnam had their patriotism called into question by other members who never wore combat fatigues in their lives unless it was in a paintball game. As usual, nobody asked the US voters or the men and women killing in dying in the war itself..
As most any reader knows, this entire dramatic farce was brought on by the call for an immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by decorated war veteran and Iraq war supporter John Murtha, who is a Democratic representative from Pennsylvania. Stating the obvious in a speech on Tuesday, Mr. Murtha said that it is the presence of US troops in Iraq that is fueling the insurgency and that these troops should be withdrawn within six months. This speech, being made by a certified member of the prowar bund in Congress, received more attention from the press than any antiwar activity since the camp set up by Cindy Sheehan outside the Crawford White House this past August. The media always likes a good story and the fact that a staunch supporter of US military actions anywhere and at anytime was now calling for an immediate withdrawal was big news.
Although Murtha’s call angered some Republicans, it also made Democrats very nervous. Not only was it a member of the party’s right wing that was demanding a withdrawal, he was calling for an immediate withdrawal–a demand made by the antiwar movement’s more radical sections. This wasn’t some nebulous demand for a withdrawal sometime in the future, nor was it a call for a talk about maybe withdrawing some troops some time in the future. It wasn’t a call to replace US troops with NATO troops, either. It was a demand that a redeployment of US troops in Iraq begin immediately. Sure, there was a subsection of the resolution that would station a rapid reaction force “over the hill” just in case the client government in Baghdad needed US assistance to keep its tenuous grip on the country, but the words that mattered to the US media and the members of Congress were the words “immediate withdrawal.”
So, that was the setting for Friday’s big showdown at the Capitol Building corral. In what Democrats called an attempt to call their bluff and, essentially, put them on record as being against the war, the GOP introduced its own resolution echoing Murtha’s. This freaked out the Democrats. All of a sudden they were going to have to take a stand. Were they against the war or were they for the war? The vote would come before everyone went home for the US Thanksgiving holiday. How would it go? Well, let me put it this way: The Democrats didn’t vote for immediate withdrawal. In what can only be labeled a classic exercise in Orwellian doublespeak and political chicanery, the Democratic leadership called the GOP resolution a “political stunt” and voted against the resolution demanding withdrawal.
Now, excuse me if I don’t get it, but it seems to me that if one is against the war and wants to see an immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, then one votes for immediate withdrawal, no matter who sponsors the legislation. Only Cynthia McKinney (GA), Jose E. Serrano (N.Y.), Robert Wexler (Fla.) agreed with this approach and voted for the resolution (and for immediate withdrawal). Six other Congressional members voted present and the other 403 voted to continue the war in Iraq as is. This may have been a political trick by the GOP, who may have hoped to get some Democrats to vote for immediate withdrawal and thereby paint them into some corner with Saddam Hussein or the phantom al-Zarqawi come election time in the hope that a war-weary public might start supporting the war again. Instead, what the GOP got was an overwhelming vote for the war–a vote that they can also use to their advantage come election time when Democratic candidates attack the same war that they are to chickenshit to genuinely oppose.
Even Mr. Murtha voted against the resolution, saying that it wasn’t “what he envisioned,” because it avoided a broader discussion of the war. While his sentiment may be true, it seems to me that we need to get the troops out of there first and then we can have that discussion. After all, Congress should have held that discussion before they gave anyone permission to wage war in the first place. Instead, both sides continue to support the troops by demanding that they remain in Iraq.
As I watched the pathetic body we call Congress debate this resolution Friday night, I was reminded of the defense argument in the trial of the LA police accused of beating Rodney King back in 1991. In those trials, the jury was told to ignore what they (and much of the known world) saw on the videotapes of the beating. Instead of trusting their senses, they were told by the cops’ defense team to believe what the cops were saying. On the night of November 18, 2005, the Democrats were like those cops’ lawyers as they told the world that the resolution demanding a US withdrawal from Iraq wasn’t what it said it was. Don’t believe the words that are on the paper, they told us, believe what we want you to believe, no matter how much it doesn’t jibe with what you see.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org