Congress Must Defund the War

We are approaching the four-year anniversary of one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in our country’s history. In March 2003, with the prior authorization of Congress, the President took this country to war in Iraq. Almost four years later, virtually every objective observer–and, more importantly, the American people–agree that the President’s policy has failed.

Even the President acknowledges his plan hasn’t worked, though his solution is not a new plan but a troop escalation. Of course, sending more troops to implement what is essentially the same flawed strategy makes no sense. The American people agree that it makes no sense. And most of my colleagues agree that it makes no sense.

The question becomes, with a President unable or unwilling to fix a flawed policy that is jeopardizing our national security and military readiness, what should we in Congress do about our country’s involvement in this disastrous war? Do we do nothing, and hope that the President will put things right, when he has shown time and again that he is incapable of doing so? Do we tell the President that we aren’t happy with the way the war is going and hope that he will change course? Or do we take strong, decisive action to fix the President’s mistaken, self-defeating policies?

It’s pretty clear which course of action I support. It’s the course of action that the American people called for in the November elections. It’s the course of action that our national security needs, so we don’t continue to neglect global threats and challenges while we focus so much of our resources on Iraq. It’s the course of action that will support our brave troops and their families.

We must end our involvement in this tragic and misguided war. The President will not do so. Therefore, Congress must act.

So far, Congress has not lived up to that responsibility. Instead of taking strong action in the Senate, instead of considering binding legislation that fixes the President’s flawed Iraq strategy, we tied ourselves into knots last week in a convoluted and misguided effort to achieve a consensus that would have essentially reaffirmed congressional authorization for continuing our military involvement in Iraq. I am referring to the resolution proposed by the senior Senator from Virginia. This resolution was portrayed by members of both parties as an important, symbolic rebuke of the president’s Iraq policy. In fact, it was not a rebuke at all. In parts, it read like a reauthorization of the war, rejecting troop redeployment and specifically authorizing “vigorous operations” in part of Iraq.

When debate on the Warner resolution was blocked, we had a chance to get things right. And I am glad that Senator Reid has chosen to bring up the resolution being debated in the House expressing support for the troops and opposition to the so-called surge. This body should go on record in opposition to, or support of, the President’s plan.
I will vote to allow debate on the resolution to take place. And I hope I will have the opportunity to actually vote for the resolution. I have yet to hear any convincing argument that sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq will bring about the political solution that is needed to end violence in that country.

The President’s decision to send more troops is based on two flawed assumptions. It assumes first, that the presence of even more of our servicemembers will help Iraqi troops improve security in Baghdad, and second, that with improved security, Iraqi politicians can achieve national reconciliation. The recent declassified NIE shot holes in both those assumptions. It said that the Iraqi Security Forces “will be hard pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities.” And, “even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate.” Those are direct quotes.

In other words, in the best case scenario, U.S. forces provide a little security that Iraqi forces can’t sustain on their own and that Iraqi politicians won’t use to settle their entrenched differences. That doesn’t sound like a plan for success.

Now, some of my colleagues, even those who don’t support sending more troops to Baghdad, have spoken in favor of continued and even increased U.S. military operations in al Anbar province. Some of them even suggest that our troops should be combating an insurgency there. This is a recipe for disaster. Al Anbar province is where a majority of U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq. The insurgency there, as well as general opposition to the U.S. presence and to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, is fueled by the Sunnis’ political and economic grievances. Conducting targeted missions to take out terrorists makes sense; using U.S. troops to put down an insurgency doesn’t. Maintaining–or, worse yet, increasing — a substantial U.S. presence in a primarily Sunni area, without a political solution, means a continuation of our unending, and self-defeating, policies in Iraq.

Clearly, Mr. President, the President’s decision to send more troops makes no sense. But simply passing a nonbinding resolution criticizing it makes no sense either–if we just stop there. We need to go further and we need to do it soon.

Let me remind my colleagues–when the voters rejected the President’s Iraq policy in November, they weren’t rejecting an escalation. That option wasn’t even on the table then. They were rejecting the President’s policy of trying to achieve a political solution in Iraq with a massive and unlimited military presence. After delaying action for a couple months, the President ignored overwhelming public sentiment, the advice of members of both parties, and the views of military and foreign policy experts when he proposed his escalation. The administration turned its back on the American people. We in Congress should not follow suit. We have a responsibility to our constituents, and to our men and women in uniform. If no one will listen to, and act on, the will of the American people, then there is something seriously wrong with our political system.

After almost four years of a disastrous policy, we must bring our troops out of Iraq. To do otherwise is to ignore public outrage over the war and to ignore the many other, pressing national security priorities that we are neglecting in favor of a myopic focus on Iraq. The American people recognize that there is no U.S. military solution to Iraq’s civil war. And as long as we focus disproportionate attention and resources on Iraq, we will not be able to counter the full range of threats that we face in Afghanistan, in Somalia, and around the world.

Congress must use its power of the purse to safely redeploy our troops from Iraq. Let’s not be intimidated by the misleading rhetoric of the White House and its allies when they try to prevent any discussion of Congress’ ending the war. This isn’t about “cutting off funds for troops.” It’s about cutting off funds for the war. Every member of Congress agrees that we must continue to support our troops and give them the resources and support they need. By setting a date after which funding for the war will be terminated — as I have proposed — Congress can safely bring our troops out of harm’s way.

There is plenty of precedent for Congress exercising its constitutional authority to stop U.S. involvement in armed conflict. Last month, I chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Exercising Congress’s Constitutional Power to End a War.”

Without exception, every witness–those called by the majority and the minority–did not challenge the constitutionality of Congress’ authority to end a war. Lou Fisher of the Library of Congress is one of the foremost experts on presidential war power–in fact, he literally wrote the book on this topic. He testified that Congress does not simply have the power–it has a responsibility to exercise it when needed. He said, and I quote:

“is the continued use of military force and a military commitment in the Nation’s interest? That is the core question. Once you decide that, if you decide it is not in the national interest, you certainly do not want to continue putting U.S. troops in harm’s way.”

The argument that cutting of funding for a flawed policy would hurt the troops, and that continuing to put U.S. troops in harm’s way supports the troops, makes no sense. By ending funding for the war, we can bring our troops safely out of Iraq. Walter Dellinger of Duke Law School made this point when he testified about my proposal:

“There would not be one penny less for salary of the troops. There would not be one penny less for benefits of the troops. There would not be one penny less for weapons or ammunition. There would not be one penny less for supplies or support. Those troops would simply be redeployed to other areas where the armed forces are utilized.”

Instead of allowing the president’s failed policy to continue, Congress can and should use its power of the purse to end our involvement in the Iraq war, safely redeploying the troops while ensuring, as I do in my bill, that important counterterrorism and training missions are still carried out.

We should be coming up with a strategy for post-redeployment Iraq and the region that is squarely within the context of the global fight against al-Qaida. That means replacing a massive, unsustainable and unlimited military mission with a long-term strategy for mitigating the mess left behind by this war. With such a strategy, we can redirect substantially more resources and attention to the fight against al-Qaida and other international terrorist organizations.

As long as this President goes unchecked by Congress, our troops will remain needlessly at risk, and our national security will be compromised. So let me tell my colleagues–regardless of what happens with this resolution, this is just a first step. And the first step must be followed by stronger steps. I intend to keep pushing until the Senate votes to end our involvement in the Iraq war. And eventually this will happen, because this is what the strong majority of the American people want. Congress may be able to put off its day of reckoning temporarily; the Administration can continue down the same failed path a little longer; but all of us ignore the will of the American people at our peril.

So, let’s have this debate. And let’s do it openly and honestly. Let’s not pretend anyone wants to deny our brave troops the equipment and resources they need. Let’s not suggest that opposing the President’s strategy is unpatriotic, that it would give aid and comfort to the enemy, that it would weaken the resolve of our troops.

Those claims are outrageous, they are offensive, and they are untrue. Do my colleagues believe that the American people gave aid and comfort to the enemy when they rejected the President’s Iraq policy in November? Are the overwhelming majority of our constituents who oppose this war undermining the troops? Of course not, Mr. President. So how could anyone suggest that Congress actually acting on the will of the American people undermines the troops or emboldens the enemy? Our troops are undermined by a policy that places them in harm’s way unnecessarily. And our enemy–our true enemy, al Qaeda and its allies–is emboldened by a U.S. strategy that neglects global challenges to focus on a single country. It is unfortunate that those who wish to defend this strategy would resort to such charges.

Let’s do the job of the Senate and have full, open debate and votes on fixing our Iraq policy. Let’s not pretend such a debate would harm our national security. And let’s not tell ourselves that it’s up to the President to fix the horrible situation that his failed policies have created. It’s our responsibility to act, too. We in Congress made the tragic mistake of authorizing this war over four years ago and we in Congress now have the job of bringing it to a close so that we can refocus on the terrorist and other global threats that have been neglected over the past four years.

These are the remarks of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold delivered on February 16, 2007 from the Senate floor regarding Iraq.

On January 31, Feingold introduced the Iraq Redeployment Act of 2007 to use Congress’s power of the purse to end our military involvement in Iraq and force the President to safely redeploy U.S. troops. More information on Senator Feingold’s bill is available at http://feingold.senate.gov/


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Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

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