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Rep. Maxine Waters, the Real Leader of the Anti-War Caucus

by KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY And MIKE HERSH

Since the beginning of George Bush’s
unpopular war against the Iraqi people, black female leadership
has led the fight in opposing what has now become Bush’s moral
and political albatross.

Although Representative John
Conyers (D-Mich) remains the dean of progressive politics in
Congress, a coterie of black female lawmakers have emerged on
the leadership forefront of opposition to the war. Many are familiar
with Oakland area Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s lone challenge
to the war at the start-up and Georgia’s Cynthia McKinney’s constant
vocal opposition to a variety of questionable policies, political
tactics and the truthfulness of Bush administration officials.
Now, Maxine Waters (D-Calif), in her leadership of a multi-racial
coalition, hopes to assume a more public role in shaping and
leading anti-war efforts in Congress.

The mainstream press has focused
on Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a decorated Vietnam War veteran
and hawkish legislator who last week declared that the Iraq had
become so bad that the United States needs to immediately withdraw
troops. However, it was Waters’ “Out of Iraq Coalition”
in the House, that jump started House opposition at a press conference
at the Longworth Office Building days prior to Murtha’s announced
change of heart. At her side were 19 other congresspeople, black,
white, female, male, gay and Latino demanding that the issue
of “how the United States got into war” be fully debated
on the floor of the House.

Although the Sunday morning
talk shows were quick to book Murtha as a guest, news of last
weeks press conference got little notice. The “Out of Iraq
Coalition” event, received literally no coverage from mainstream
or national media outlets. Nevertheless, Waters, chair and founder
of the “Out of Iraq” Congressional Caucus begun in
June 2005, announced that the Caucus filed a discharge petition
on House Resolution 55, authored by Congressmen Neil Abercrombie
(D-Hawaii) and Walter Jones (D-NC). If passed by Congress, HJ
55 would require Bush to begin bringing US troops home from Iraq.

A discharge petition is a House
rule that permits members to bring to the floor for consideration
a measure not reported from committee if 218 members sign the
petition. The discharge petition, as drafted, provides 17 hours
of debate and permits consideration of any germane amendments
including amendments that would move up the date at which US
troops would begin to return home.

Waters said, “The American
people expect leadership from their elected officials and so
far that leadership has been non-existent. We filed the discharge
petition on HJ 55 in order to force the House of Representatives,
the people’s House, to debate the Iraq War. The President and
the Republican leadership have refused to fully explain why we
are in Iraq and when our troops will be able to return to their
families. ‘Staying the course’ as the President suggests is an
insult to our soldiers who have served so bravely in Iraq and
to their families who worry every minute about their safety.”

Waters listed the ever rising
costs of the war: $250 billion, more than 2,070 US troops killed,
15,000 injured, 400 limbs amputated. She pledged to examine and
analyze the “distorted” information
which led us into war, and–with our help–lead us out of Iraq.
She recounted that in only six months, the Out of Iraq Caucus
has grown to include 70 House members of various points of view,
but united in the desire to formulate a strategy to lead America
out of Iraq: “All of us want out of Iraq.”

Waters appears on solid ground
in her opposition to the war as most polls show support for the
President’s policy in Iraq in free fall and his overall support
numbers dropping as well. Among blacks, support for the war has
been low from the start. A 2005 Pew Research poll found blacks
nearly twice as likely as whites to have strong reservations
about the war. And black military recruitment numbers have followed
suit with black enlistment in the Army falling by 40% since 2000
according to USA Today.

Resolution co-author Abercrombie
invited all Republicans, Democrats, and the lone House Independent
Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) to join with the Representatives in the
room supporting an “open rule,” allowing any member
to offer any amendment to the resolution. He presented his “bipartisan
approach” as “an opportunity for Republicans to join
with us.” He called the resolution a “kick off”
on debate and an opportunity for the American people to demand
accountability.

Waters announced that Rep.
Barney Frank (D-Mass) will manage the effort on House Joint Resolution
55. Frank said, “The House ought to be able to have a debate”
on what he called the “single most important issue”
facing the Congress and the nation, and explained this discharge
petition would permit the debate.

Frank dismissed the Bush claims
that debate on Iraq policy was “irresponsible” and
rejected the President’s excuse for misleading the Congress and
the American people because “other people were wrong, too”
as a “so’s-your-mother defense.” Frank added that the
discharge petition step would not be necessary “if the Republican
[House] Leadership had any respect for democracy.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx)
called the Iraq conflict an “unconstitutional war”
and HJ Resolution 55 the “fix-it resolution.” She said
the war is “Vietnam reincarnated”, and assured there
is “no division” between this effort and the troops.
She said, “This effort is all about having our people return
from Iraq with dignity and success. This will say to the American
People, your voices are heard.” She told of her visits to
the troops in Iraq, as well as hospitals in Germany and the US–
people she called “victims of war.”

Barbara Lee described one such
victim in a Germany hospital, a servicewoman “burned from
head to toe” who was only concerned about her mother. Lee
said, “The President misled the Congress with false and
misleading reasons for the war. It’s crucial we have this debate.”

Lee, Co-chair of the House
Progressive Caucus said the White House still refuses to respond
to questions about the Downing Street Minutes despite signatures
from 500,000 Americans and 100 Members of Congress. She was referring
to a petition effort led by Conyers with signatures collected
through the Washington-based Progressive Democrats of America
and the After Downing Street Coalition. She explained that this
discharge petition drive is building on her Resolution of Inquiry.
That resolution would have required answers and demanded accountability
from the administration on pre-war intelligence and other related
issues.

Caucus member and former former
presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh) suggested
that the Out of Iraq Caucus’ effort be called achieving “an
Honorable Discharge from Iraq.” Kucinich countered the Bush
talking point, that ‘Democrats have no grounds to question his
Iraq policies because they supported it.’ Kucinich argued, “Two-thirds
of current House Democrats [and] one-half of current Senate Democrats
opposed the resolution empowering Bush to use force.” Kucinich
declared, “Bush can no longer claim he was misled and continue
to mislead.” He charged that the American people do not
support the war or this president, and he called this, “the
beginning of the
end of the war.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Oh) said,
“Our goal is to have a conversation with the American people.”
She raised three keys to the discussion. First, “Moral Legitimacy:
[the USA has] lost that moral edge starting with the revelations
of atrocities at Abu Ghraib, after which casualties doubled.”
She stressed that, “in the military slogan ‘Honor, Duty,
Country’ honor comes first. Second, she claims that the Bush
Administration is setting up a “parallel system” of
mercenaries–thousands of “contractors” who conduct
the “questioning” of prisoners and “undermine
our military.” Kaptur revealed there could be as many as
100-150,000 “contractors” in Iraq. Third, she warned
of apparent and rumored plans to “hold up” the Defense
Appropriations bill to link the spending on the war and occupation
to spending for all agencies and services– an effort to “hold
the entire nation hostage” to the Bush war policies.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif)
–the other co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus–praised
grassroots activists for “putting the starch in the spines”
of House Members. She said it’s time the Congress started “hearing
the voices of the American People” and pass what she called
the “Homeward Bound” Resolution. She said this discharge
petition effort began in the House with her amendment to the
Defense Authorization requesting the White House articulate some
exit plan or strategy. Her measure was defeated, but gained bipartisan
support and set the stage for Barbara Lee’s and Kucinich’s Resolutions
of Inquiry.

“I believe this war was
a mistake from the very beginning,” said Rep. Jim McGovern
(D-Mass). “There are two things you can do with a mistake–you
can correct it or you can compound it. HJ Resolution 55 is an
attempt to correct this mistake by requiring the President to
develop and implement a meaningful plan to end our military involvement
in Iraq.”

The discharge petition would
also open the House floor to other efforts, including McGovern’s
HR 4232 which if passed would immediately end funding for the
war. “Both of these [approaches] are better than ‘staying
the course,’ as the Bush Administration would have us do which
would only compound the mistakes we have made in Iraq,”
declared McGovern.

Many of those attending the
press conference agreed that the world-wide reputation of the
United States is suffering because people around the globe don’t
believe we’re going to ever leave Iraq. They stressed the need
for ongoing Congressional efforts–with increasing Republican
support–to bar permanent bases and other entanglements with
Iraq such as “sweet heart deals” for oil.

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South
Carolina. Mike Hersh is a political commentator. They
can be reached at: kagamba@bellsouth.net

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