Since her vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq in October of 2002, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow has been a moderate critic of the war. She has made statements questioning the reasons for going to war, raised questions about the country’s spending priorities, and opposed President Bush’s recent escalation of the war. However, as she has taken these public stands opposing certain aspects of the war, Stabenow has given her full support for the ongoing occupation of Iraq by voting in favor of every funding request that has come from the Bush administration for the Iraq War. These stands have essentially rendered her opposition mute as it has meant little when she has continued to give her consent to the policies of the Bush administration.
Over the past several months, Senator Debbie Stabenow has remained a critic of the way in which the Iraq War has been waged, yet has not undertaken a substantive effort to alter the way in which the war has been waged. Stabenow’s actions have remained largely symbolic, either raising criticisms of the war through non-binding resolutions opposing Bush’s policies or by issuing statements that question the way in which the war has been fought. For example, in February Stabenow issued a statement in reaction to President Bush’s proposed FY 2008 budget stating that Bush’s budget, which “sends billions of dollars in new reconstruction funds to Iraq” is “out of step with the majority of Americans.” However, this has not meant that Stabenow has taken a lead in organizing her fellow Democrats against the measure. At a meeting with Grand Rapids area members of the Michigan Peace Network late last month, Senator Stabenow’s staff person Mary Judnich indicated that Stabenow was not yet sure how she would vote on the upcoming supplemental appropriations bill and stated that she would pass along the group’s recommendation that Stabenow vote “no” on the bill. Judnich also indicated that Stabenow would likely consider amends to the appropriations bill that would restrict how the money would be used in Iraq. However, Judnich did say that Stabenow was unlikely to support a bill proposed by Representative John Murtha that would restrict the funding of the war. It is worth noting that Murtha’s proposed bill, which would appropriate the full amount requested by the Bush administration, would still essentially be a vote to continue funding the war since it does not cut the funding.
Even as far back as October of 2003, Stabenow criticized the amount of money being spent in Iraq, arguing that it comes at the expense of programs in the United States. However, as the cost of war has continued to grow and has reached more than $400 billion, Stabenow has voted to give President Bush money for Iraq. An examination of Iraq War appropriations bills since 2003 reveals that Stabenow has voted for every proposal and has never undertaken any measure to oppose the funding. Stabenow’s votes should each be seen as a support in favor of the continued occupation of Iraq, meaning that if one considers her votes in favor of funding and her initial vote against giving President Bush the authority to use force in Iraq, Stabenow essentially has an 8-1 record in favor of supporting the war. Moreover, the money appropriated for Iraq has consistently grown over the past several years. Statements issued by Senators and Representatives alike that “question” the priorities of the Bush administration’s budgets have meant little when they have been entirely symbolic and never coordinated in such a way that threatens their passage. In the end, most have registered small objections–such as Stabenow’s statement earlier this year–but have voted in favor of the bills.
Aside from her consistent voting to keep funding the Iraq War, Senator Stabenow has also sanctioned some of the most egregious acts committed by the Bush administration in Iraq and beyond by voting in support of the Military Commissions Act. Stabenow was one of only twelve Democrats who supported the legislation that gives president of the United States the authority to “interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” The bill eliminates Habeas Corpus for detainees Iraq and the “War on Terror” and denies detainees the right to challenge their detention in United States courts, instead confining detainees to special military courts established by the White House. In addition, it bans “grave” interrogation tactics such as mutilation and murder, but allows the White House to determine the legality of other forms of torture such as simulated drowning and sleep deprivation. The bill also gives government and military officials immunity from legal liability for violations of the Geneva Conventions.
In addition to voting to continue to fund the war and for torture, Senator Stabenow has also promoted the idea that the United States has the right to impose its will on the country of Iraq. In her statement supporting a resolution opposing Bush’s escalation of the war, Stabenow assigned “responsibility” to the Iraqis for the present situation, arguing that the Iraqis have failed to embrace “the responsibility of collective security” that comes with “the freedom of self-determination.” Stabenow made similar statements on January 10, 2007 in reaction to Bush’s escalation plan, arguing that it is time for the Iraqis to “step up” so that responsibility for Iraq can “shift” to the Iraqis. In June of 2006, Stabenow voted in favor of a measure proposed by Michigan Senator Carl Levin that called for a “phased redeployment,” a concept that again accepts the idea that the United States has the legal right to determine the United States should stop occupying the country. In June, Senator Stabenow voted against an alternate measure proposed by Senator John Kerry that called for a complete withdrawal by July 1, 2007. Her February 2007 statement made no mention of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want the United States occupation to end, nor did it mention Iraqi opinion at all. Instead, the Iraqi population was treated as a subject–given a set of conditions to which they have little input–rather than with the respect and autonomy that should be granted to them. Moreover, Stabenow acknowledged only the human costs of the war to the United States–3,000 soldiers dead–and failed to acknowledge the more than 655,000 Iraqis that have been killed since the invasion.