On Thursday, the Senate passed a $123 billion bill that will fund the ongoing occupation of Iraq. The bill, which passed by a vote of 51-47, was supported by Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. While the bill continues to fund the occupation of Iraq, it makes symbolic gestures towards ending the military occupation of Iraq, with language urging President George W. Bush to begin withdrawing combat troops from Iraq within 120 days of enactment. The bill also sets a non-binding “goal” of having the withdrawal completed by March of 2008. On Tuesday, both Senators Levin and Stabenow opposed a measure that would have removed this withdrawal date from the bill. That measure failed by a vote of 50 to 48. The bill passed by the Senate differs from the bill passed last week by the House of Representatives, which had a more concrete timeframe for the withdrawal of US troops, requiring President Bush to begin withdrawing troops by July 1 and completing the withdrawal by March of 2008. This would be conditioned on the Iraqis meeting a series of “benchmarks” imposed in the bill. If the Iraqis do not meet the US imposed benchmarks, the President would be required to withdraw most troops by the end of 2007.
The two bills will go before a conference committee in the next few weeks where a compromise will be reached on the differences before a final bill is sent to President Bush. For his part, President Bush has pledged to veto any bill containing a timeframe for withdrawal because he believes that it will “substitute the judgment of politicians in Washington for that of our [the United States’] generals on the ground” and “set an arbitrary date for surrender and withdrawal in Iraq.” Despite President Bush’s claims, recent public opinion polls show that 58% of the public supports legislation that calls for a withdrawal no later than August 2008. The bill has also met widespread opposition in the antiwar movement, with prominent national antiwar groups including Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out opposing the bill because it continues the occupation of Iraq. Similarly, antiwar members of the Democratic Party such as Representatives Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Lynn Woolsey all voted against the bill recognizing that one cannot claim to want the war to end while continuing to fund it.
The antiwar movement has rejected the spending bills because they continue to fund the war, they allow the war to continue, and because their dates for withdrawal are ambiguously worded and are unlikely to require a complete withdrawal. An analysis prepared by United for Peace and Justice of the House bill points out that whole categories of troops are exempted from the withdrawal requirement including those that are “training the Iraqi military,” participating in “special operations,” or “protecting diplomatic enclaves.” The bill also purports to restrict the deployment of troops not adequately trained, equipped, or rested between deployments, but President Bush is given the authority to override these restrictions if he simply informs Congress of his intention. Similarly, the bill bans the construction of new military bases in Iraq but includes billions of dollars for “military construction” in the country. The bill also allows enforces the same US-imposed “benchmarks” sought by the Bush administration including the passage of a US-backed bill that outlines how oil revenues are to be shared, reining in sectarian militias, and taking the lead in fighting anti-US forces. Beyond that, the bill does not fundamentally challenge the underlying logic of the “war on terror” and is instead written from a perspective that accepts the underlying premise that the United States has a right to wage imperialist wars. Many troops would likely be redeployed to Afghanistan while a measure requiring the Bush administration to get congressional approval to attack Iran was removed. Others have argued that the bill is simply a “timetable for politics as usual,” with the Democrats using the vote simply as a means of giving the appearance of being against the war when they know full well that they do not have the votes to override a presidential veto. Following this logic, the Democratic Party is simply making a move to minimize the war as an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign by being able to claim that they already authored a bill to end the war.
What is clear is that the occupation of Iraq needs to come to an end and that it will not come through the political maneuvering of the Democratic and Republican parties. While the politicians do have the power to end the war by voting to stop funding it, they are unlikely to do so unless the antiwar movement continually pressures them. Around the country, activism such as the Occupation Project’s civil disobedience at congressional offices or the camp outside of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s home does have the potential to ratchet up the pressure on congress, but it must be sustained and greatly expand its current level. For that to happen, the antiwar movement must maintain its independence from the Democratic Party and avoid the mistakes of the 2004 and 2006 elections when focus shifted from antiwar organizing to getting Democratic candidates elected. The stakes are simply too high to put the aims of the antiwar movement in the hands of the Democrats, with 655,000 Iraqi civilians killed, 3,252 US soldiers killed and 24,314 wounded, the displacement of 3.2 million Iraqis, the decimation of Iraq’s infrastructure, and more than $413 billion being spent by the United States to fund the Iraq War, often at the expense of social programs.