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Tap Dancing on Graves

“We don’t have the votes,” intones David Obey as he shepherds though the House the supplemental spending bill that provides another $100 billion or so for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obey’s protestations to antiwar protesters are an understandable figleaf covering his continued support for the war. After all, he has voted in favor of all prior supplemental spending bills, excepting the October 2003 bill which actually included funds for reconstruction purposes in Iraq.

Of course, Obey, Murtha, et. al. offer the benefit of “oversight”. With the Democrats back in power, Congress will provide “oversight” to this war while tens of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of U.S. soldiers continue to be killed.

What did oversight net the antiwar movement in this supplemental spending bill? The Democrats appropriated more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than was requested by President Bush. This year, for these wars alone, the U.S. will spend $81 billion for Operations & Maintenance for the armed services compared to $59 billion last year. Where is the oversight when spending in this category increases by 37 percent in one year? This is the same category of spending that has raised eyebrows at the Congressional Research Service and Government Accountability Office because a quarter of the spending is accounted for as “miscellaneous” or “other” expenses.

Far more disturbing, however, is the manner in which erstwhile House progressives with long records opposing the war are falling into lockstep behind the Democratic party’s leadership. Jose Serrano set the stage last Thursday at the hearing of the House Appropriations Committee when he announced that he will vote in favor of the war funds. Serrano had consistently voted against war funding measures.

Ditto for Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. At a meeting on March 17 with local social justice advocates, Schakowsky announced that she will in fact vote in favor of the supplemental spending bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee. This comes despite representations from her office on January 29, during a lobbying visit, that Schakowsky would “absolutely not” vote for a supplemental spending bill.

Schakowsky’s support for the Iraq war funding bill also comes despite her protestations at a March 8 press conference of the Progressive Caucus that:

“Four and a half years ago, the president asked Congress to give war a chance. And despite our objections, he got that chance and he blew it. No more chances, no more waivers, no phony certifications, no more spending billions of dollars to send our children into the meat grinder that is Iraq. It is time to spend the money to keep them safe and bring them home.”

Now, mind you, the above statement came on the same day that the House Leadership team of Pelosi, Obey, Murtha and Hoyer were publicly rolling out the outline of the Democrats’ war funding bill.

Nine days later, Schakowsky is on board with continuing to fund the war for at least another 18 months, until September 2008.

The political calculations are crass-and utterly misguided. Schakowsky, Serrano and others who voted against war funding in the past are making a colossal error in judgment. They are willing to use their vote on a gambit which is certain to fail, the gambit being that the timetable for withdrawal will be included in the final version of the bill.

It is highly improbable that the terms and conditions for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq which are contained in the House version of the bill will ever become law. Two significant obstacles exist-the Senate and the President.

As with most bills, the Senate is certain to pass a different version of the supplemental spending bill than that passed by the House. Almost certainly, the Senate version will not include the withdrawal timetable contained in the House version. The bill then goes to a conference committee, which consists of members of the House and the Senate. This committee develops the final version of the supplemental spending bill, which then is subject to a straight up or down vote in both the House and the Senate.

Even Obey acknowledges that it is highly improbable that the withdrawal timetable will survive the conference committee. Schakowsky, in her meeting with constituents, also acknowledged that the final bill to be voted on will most probably not contain the House language on withdrawal.

Perhaps then the erstwhile “antiwar” Democrats will attempt to salve their conscience by voting against the final version of the supplemental spending bill. But, absent the withdrawal timetable, the final conference committee version of the bill will easily garner majority support in the House and Senate. Schakowsky, Serrano and others will be able to state that they voted against the supplemental spending bill even though by voting in favor this week they create the preconditions for the bill’s ultimate passage. Anyone remember John Kerry’s infamous “I voted for it before I voted against it” statement of 2004?

But let’s engage in fantasy world for the time being and dream that the House supplemental spending bill survives with all of its conditions and timetables for withdrawal. Erik Leaver of the Institute for Policy Studies estimates that 40,000 to 60,000 troops could potentially remain in Iraq under the terms of the supplemental spending bill, including 6,000 to 10,000 trainers; 15,000 to 20,000 “counter terrorist forces”, in particular in Anbar province; and 5,000 to 20,000 troops for protecting the embassy, diplomats and potentially areas in which the State Department’s “provisional reconstruction teams” operate. He notes that this estimate does not include private contractors who would remain in Iraq.

What this maneuvering by Pelosi, Obey and their minions really comes down to is crass political calculations. Conveniently, September 8, 2008-the date set for the withdrawal from Iraq to be completed-is the first Saturday following Labor Day. Labor Day traditionally marks the start of the fall election season.

The Democrats are dancing on the graves of Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers with their crass political calculations. Fund the war this year. Fund the war with another $142 billion next year. Make false promises of a withdrawal by the start of the election season in 2008. Run as antiwar candidates. And tap dance your way to the electoral season-no matter how many lives are lost along the way.

JEFF LEYS is Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and a national organizer for the Occupation Project campaign of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience to end Iraq war funding. He can be reached via email at jeffleys@vcnv.org.

Information on the Occupation Project campaign can be found at www.vcnv.org.

 

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JEFF LEYS is Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. He can be reach via email, jeffleys@vcnv.org

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