Reverting to form, Democrats in Congress are cautiously trying to have it both ways so as to avoid having to take a stand on any of the issues that matter.
Faced with President Bush’s own disastrous decision to go “double or nothing” on his losing Iraq War by adding another 20,000 or more troops to the front, House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Harry Reid chose towrite a letter to the White House “urging” the president not to go that route.
The idea seems to be that if he goes ahead and sends the additional troops into the cauldron and things go from bad to worse, Pelosi and Reid will be able to say that they opposed the idea, while they will be immune from right-wing charges that they undermined the commander in chief, since they didn’t do anything concrete to block his insane plan.
The truth is that Democrats could, if they had any principle and if they honored the wishes of the electorate, bring U.S. involvement in the Iraq War to a screeching halt. How? They could vote to cut off all funding for the Iraq War except for the costs of safely withdrawing all troops from the country. Nobody could accuse them, were they to do this, with putting American troops at risk. But they would have to face those who would accuse them of “cutting and running.”
Democrats also have the votes to put an end to Bush’s serial trashing of cherished civil liberties. Instead of grumbling about violations of the First and Fourth Amendment, as Democrats have been doing so ineffectively now for five years, they could simply vote to revoke the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, approved almost without objection by both houses of Congress back in September 2001 (there is no veto for resolutions). It is that resolution which Bush and his mob attorneys in the White House and “Justice” Department have been citing as justification for the president’s assumption of dictatorial powers, such as the power to revoke habeas corpus rights of American citizens, the power to authorize torture and detention without trial, the power to kidnap and render people, the power to declare American citizens to be “unlawful combatants” devoid of citizenship rights, the power to invalidate duly passed acts of Congress, and the power to ignore federal laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Revoke the 2001 AUMF and the president would have no grounds, fraudulent and unconstitutional as they in any case are, to claim that the nation is in a state of war and that he, as commander in chief, is no longer constrained by the Constitution.
We don’t hear any calls in Congress to revoke the AUMF though, because that would require taking a concrete and resolute stand on principle in defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and taking the heat from right wing cranks who would accuse them of being “soft on terror.”
And of course there is impeachment.
On Jan. 3 and 4, most members of Congress took their oath of office for the 110th Congress. That oath pledges them to “support and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” If they were to take those words to heart, it’s pretty clear that–given the president’s blatant abuses of power and willful violation of both law and Constitution–they constitute a call to action. This is, after all, not a simply matter of lying about a blowjob; the president has already been found by a federal district judge to have violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act-a felony. Moreover, a majority of the Supreme Court justices also declared last June that the president had violated both the Third Geneva Convention and the U.S. Criminal Code in authorizing and failing to prevent rampant torture of captives in the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War and the so-called “war” on terror. The members of the House and Senate know full well that the president lied to them and to the American people about the reasons for the Iraq invasion, just as they are lying now about the reasons for a future war on Iran. All of these things-and the list runs much longer (check out my book, “The Case for Impeachment”)-are serious threats to the Constitution, and call for impeachment.
In fact, the escalation in Iraq, with the addition of 20,000 more troops, will itself be a clear impeachable violation of the War Powers Act unless the president first obtains the approval of both houses of Congress. As constitutional attorney Francis Boyle points out, the Section 4(a)(3) of the War Powers Act states unambiguously that the act is triggered “in the absence of a declaration of war [and there has been no declaration of war in the case of the Iraq invasion], in any case in which United States Armed Forces are introducedin numbers which substantially enlarge United States Armed Forces equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation.”
So where are the bills for impeachment? The party’s Grande Dame, Nancy Pelosi, still insists that “impeachment is off the table,” and John Conyers, the new House Judiciary Committee chair, who knows better and who even has a new book out that outlines many of the president’s Constitutional crimes, has so far buckled under to pressure from Pelosi and the rest of the party leadership, even echoing her words about impeachment being “off the table.”
The Democrats, so far, are proving yet again that they have become a party devoid of principle, without spine and without conscience.
One thing is certain: If the Democrats, having control of both House and Senate, fail to act on these three critical issues-ending the war, revoking the president’s claim to dictatorial powers, and initiating impeachment proceedings-they will have sealed their fate come 2008 as an anachronism, not a party, and will deserve to be abandoned by all thinking voters.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: email@example.com