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Did Someone Say Withdrawal?

A House amendment calling on President Bush to develop an exit strategy on Iraq received significant support but, as usual, very little media attention.
 
 
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For the first time since the war in Iraq began twenty-six months ago, the House of Representatives debated the need for U.S. troops to exit Iraq. The modest amendment, introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California last Thursday evening, called on President Bush to develop a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. With virtually no prior notice or lobbying, 123 Democrats and 5 Republicans voted for Woolsey's amendment. But with no support from either the Democratic or Republican leadership, and thus no chance of passing, no major U.S. newspaper felt obligated to cover the unprecedented proceedings.

Instead, the House added $49 billion more for the Iraqi occupation--on top of the $82 billion recently appropriated--as part of the $491 billion 2006 National Defense Authorization Act. The massive defense bill establishes a new fleet of nuclear submarines, provides millions for new aircrafts and ships, adds $100 million for a missile defense system and expands research for bunker-busting bombs. All of this the House could easily support. But not a non-binding call for a withdrawal plan.

"We have never voted one time together, not one time in the 11 years I have been here," conservative North Carolina Republican Walter Jones said in reference to his support for Woolsey's amendment. "What I am saying here tonight is we have a responsibility. We should not be into some endless, endless war in Iraq." Republicans Howard Coble, John Duncan, Jim Leach and Ron Paul agreed.

"With more than $200 billion on the line," Woolsey asked, "Do the Members not think that the American people deserve to know what the President plans to do in Iraq?"

Apparently not, as Republicans countered with a time-honored strategy: portray those opposed to the occupation as soft, sissy appeasers. "Make no mistake about it," said House Armed Forces Chairman Duncan Hunter, "This amendment is a message-sender. It is a message-sender to people like Al Sadr...It is a message-sender to Zarqawi...It is a message-sender to our troops, who might, in seeing if this amendment should pass, feel that the resolve of the American people is fading away." To buttress their militarism, Republicans introduced combat veteran after combat veteran to speak on the House floor. "It is interesting that as a combat veteran, I spoke to literally thousands of other combat veterans, and it is amazing the differences of their opinions versus liberal politicians," said Rep. Duke Cunningham, Vietnam vet.

The majority of America must then be liberals, judging from recent public opinion polls. Iraq tops the list of American concerns in the latest Gallup poll, with three-fourths of those respondents advocating an immediate withdrawal. Sixty-four percent of conservative Democrats in a Pew survey want the troops brought home as soon as possible. And fifty-seven percent of Americans told CNN/USA Today/Gallup that the Iraq war was not worth fighting.

Rather than prepare an exit strategy, the U.S. military is instead planning to consolidate its forces in four massive American bases in Iraq. The move is not part of a plan to establish a permanent U.S. military presence, officials assured the Washington Post. But the structures have distinctly permanent characteristics, replete with blast-proof barracks. The funding came as part of the $82 billion supplemental approved a few weeks back. Congress, to be sure, raised nary a peep.

Ari Berman writes The Nation's " Daily Outrage " weblog. He is a Ralph Shikes Fellow at the Public Concern Foundation.