Michigan Senators Vote to Keep Funding the Occupation of Iraq

Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow–both of whom consistently claim to be opponents of the Iraq War–voted last week to fund the continued occupation of Iraq without any restrictions on the military’s conduct.

While both have positioned themselves as critics of the United States’ occupation of Iraq, Democratic Party Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both voted to provide additional funding for the Iraq War last week. Their votes were not surprising, given that they supported unrestricted funding of the war last month. The funding brings the total funding that Congress has approved to $665 billion and will allow the United States to keep troops in Iraq into 2009.

Levin and Stabenow Vote for Failed Iraq Withdrawal Amendment, Then Vote to Give Bush Money Anyway

Today, Michigan’s two Democratic Party Senators–Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow–voted in support of an amendment to a $165 billion war funding bill that would have assigned a timeline to the continued occupation of Iraq in addition to other restrictions on US military operations. However, the amendment failed via a 34-63 vote. The funding portion of the bill–which had no restrictions and no timeline for withdrawal–then passed the Senate via a 70-26 vote. Both Levin and Stabenow voted to fund the war without restriction, making their earlier votes essentially meaningless.

The spending bill is intended to pay for the continued occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan through spring of next year. The bill must now go back to the House of Representatives that voted down a funding bill last week after Republicans raised objections over non-war related appropriations.

New Project Measures West Michigan Representatives’ Wealth

A new project by the Sunlight Foundation called Fortune 535 estimates the net worth of members of the US House of Representatives and the Senate. The project–based on Congressional disclosure procedures that the group says are “seriously flawed”–still shows that most members of the legislature have increased their personal wealth since taking office. Here’s the information about legislators representing Grand Rapids:




While the data makes no statement about how or why the legislators’ wealth increased, it does show that with the exception of Senator Debbie Stabenow, the three Grand Rapids area legislators have a net worth significantly higher than that of the average family living in the United States.

Levin’s Campaign: “Getting our troops out of Iraq” Important, but says Nothing about Actually Doing It


Last week, Michigan Democratic Party Senator Carl Levin–who is seeking re-election this year–launched a new campaign website and officially announced his candidacy. His website’s opening page describes the importance of the 2008 election:

“The 2008 election is critical for Michigan’s future. From jobs and our economy, to extending health care coverage and improving education, to getting our troops out of Iraq, our state and our nation need strong, principled leadership.”

Moreover, in an email announcing his candidacy, Levin says “As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I want to keep fighting to end the war in Iraq.”

However, in his site’s Iraq section Levin says nothing about actually removing troops from Iraq. Instead, he offers the same “blame the Iraqis” rhetoric” that he has consistently advanced since 2003 while trumpeting his initial vote against the war. While Levin’s initial vote against the war is commendable, he has done little to end the war since that time. His website says, “Even though Carl Levin believes that President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was a mistake, he believes that now that we’re there it is important that we succeed.” To that end, Levin has voted in favor of every funding request for the war.

Levin offers no concrete policy proposals on his campaign website, saying only that the United States must tell that they need to make more progress towards political reconciliation. Moreover, the site contains little information about Levin’s position on Iraq over the past six years.

Will a Democratic President Really End the War?

Over the weekend, Michigan Senator Carl Levin delivered a speech to the Michigan Policy Summit in which he said that the only way to end the Iraq War is to elect a Democrat in 2008. However, neither Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama plan to end the war.

On Saturday at the 2008 Michigan Policy Summit, Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, delivered the opening address. According to various reports of Levin’s speech, he talked about tax cuts and the Iraq War. Levin–who has often positioned himself as antiwar when the reality is more complex–said that the Iraq War has resulted in $600 billion being spent on the war rather than on social programs. Levin said that the “$10 to $12 billion a month [being spent on the Iraq War] is only going to end when one of our two Democrats gets elected.” He further told the crowd “The only practical way to end that war is to vote for a Democrat.”

However, Levin’s comments are problematic as the two Democratic Party candidates for president–Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–are not talking seriously about ending the war. Last fall, Mediamouse.org reviewed the Iraq policies offered by the Democratic Party candidates and their voting records. At the time, Clinton and Obama, along with former Senator John Edwards, had recently stated that they would not commit to ending the Iraq War by the end of their first term (2012). Since that comment and our review, Clinton and Obama have refined their positions on Iraq, but neither of them has pledged to end the Iraq War. Instead, they offer policies and proposals that will maintain the United States occupation of Iraq via a reduced US force for an indefinite amount of time.

Hillary Clinton and the Iraq War

Hillary Clinton initially supported the Iraq War by voting to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 2002. She has since come out against the war, claiming that she was mislead due to faulty intelligence. Regardless of one thinks of position at the time (plenty of people questioned the rationale for war, she certainly could have), she has now made the Iraq War an issue in the 2008 campaign. On her website, Clinton offers a plan for to “End the War in Iraq” (reviewed below). However, her website contains no information about her voting record on Iraq. Last fall, Mediamouse.org provided an overview of Clinton’s voting record on Iraq. Since that time, there have been few votes on Iraq, however, Clinton did chose not to vote on a measure calling for the redeployment of US troops from Iraq in 90 days.

Clinton’s Iraq plan, calls for the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq to begin within 60 days of her taking office. She says that one of her first actions will be convening the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council to develop a plan to withdraw combat forces at the rate of one to two brigades per month. Clinton will keep “small, elite strike forces to engage in targeted operations against al Qaeda in Iraq,” although she never says how many troops would be in these forces. Moreover, at the end of her plan it includes language broadening the mission of her smaller force by stating “She would devote the resources we need to fight terrorism and will order specialized units to engage in narrow and targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region.” In a speech on March 18, 2008, Clinton also said that she wants to remove private security contractors from Iraq, but offered no specifics. Clinton has not said how many troops would remain in Iraq under her plan, nor has she announced a date on which all troops–combat or not–would be withdrawn.

The second component of Clinton’s plan involves “securing stability in Iraq as we bring out troops home.” Under Clinton’s plan, this means “focusing American aid efforts during our redeployment on stabilizing Iraq, not propping up the Iraqi government.” Clinton criticizes the Iraqi government for “failing to provide” basic services to its citizens and failing to address corruption in the Iraqi political establishment. To address the political problems in Iraq, Clinton would support the appointment of a high level United Nations official to broker a peace agreement between the different factions in Iraq.

Finally, Clinton says that she would launch a new diplomatic initiative “composed of key allies, other global powers, and all of the states bordering Iraq” to come up with a strategy for stabilizing Iraq. Clinton’s plan has the goal of obtaining “non-inference” agreements from countries in the region, establishing a mediation process, and obtaining funds for reconstruction. She also says that she will seek financial contributions to address the refugee problem in Iraq.

Barack Obama and the Iraq War

Barack Obama–who is speaking in Grand Rapids on Wednesday–has positioned himself as the antiwar candidate in the 2008 election. He has repeatedly cited a 2002 speech at an antiwar rally in Chicago as proof of his antiwar credentials. At the time, Obama said:

“I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.”

Many people also tend to forget that in the same speech in which he said he was opposed to the Iraq War, he accused Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and went to great lengths to make it clear that he is not “someone who is opposed to war in all circumstances.”

On his website, Obama identifies the Iraq War as a major issue. He has a summary of his position and a link to his plan to “immediately begin withdrawing our troops from Iraq (reviewed below).”

His website presents no information about his voting record on Iraq. While it does recount various statements he has made about the war, none of the statements are tied to his voting record making it difficult to verify the veracity of his opposition. Last fall, Mediamouse.org provided an overview of Obama’s voting record on Iraq. Since that time, there have been few votes on Iraq, however, Obama did chose not to vote on a measure calling for the redeployment of US troops from Iraq in 90 days.

Obama’s website summarizes his plan for Iraq by stating:

“Obama would immediately begin to pull out troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year. He would call for a new constitutional convention in Iraq, convened with the United Nations, which would not adjourn until Iraq’s leaders reach a new accord on reconciliation. He would use presidential leadership to surge our diplomacy with all of the nations of the region on behalf of a new regional security compact. And he would take immediate steps to confront the humanitarian disaster in Iraq, and to hold accountable any perpetrators of potential war crimes.”

At the core of Obama’s plan is his pledge for a “substantial, immediate redeployment of American troops.” According to his plan, the withdrawal would include only “combat troops”–a classification that is never defined–and would happen gradually throughout 2009 (one to two brigades per month). Obama is clear that “American troops may remain in Iraq or the region” and that the troops would act to “protect American diplomatic and military personnel in Iraq, and continue striking at al Qaeda in Iraq,” although he says he will not construct permanent bases. Obama’s plan says nothing about withdrawing contractors such as Blackwater from Iraq and he has refused to rule out their continued use in Iraq. Obama has also declined to say specifically how many troops would remain in Iraq under his plan, nor has he announced a timetable for the withdrawal of all troops–combat or not–from Iraq.

Obama describes withdrawal as a means “to finally apply real pressure on the Iraqi government” to make political sacrifices. Obama’s opposition to “the Surge” is also made in terms of the Iraqi government’s “failure” to act on the gains of “the Surge” by enacting specific benchmarks such as a national oil law.

Obama does describe some of the humanitarian consequences of the war, saying, “The humanitarian crisis that President Bush says would accompany American troop withdrawals is occurring right now.” He cites the 2 million internally and 2 million externally displaced Iraqis, as well as the deaths of 1,000 Iraqi civilians per month. However, while he calls for increased aid and accountability for those committing war crimes, he says nothing about the United States taking responsibility for the situation in Iraq.

Conclusions and Opportunities

While the positions of the Democratic Party presidential candidates are disappointing for those who have campaigned against the Iraq War since the start, the particulars of the election offer opportunities for the antiwar movement (http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/032608N.shtml). With the extended campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination, candidates may be pressured and held accountable in a way that was not possible in 2004. Clinton and Obama need all of the votes they can get and strategically undertaken actions might be able to change their positions on Iraq, particularly as they look for ways to assert differences between them. Moreover, there are indications that such pressure might work, with Senator Hillary Clinton pledging to support a ban on security contractors in Iraq shortly after the issue was raised in public. Similarly, with all the talk about “change” and “hope” there may be room to pressure candidates more than there was in the stifling atmosphere of “Anybody but Bush” in 2004

Of course, any such efforts aimed at pressuring the two candidates should be undertaken with a meaningful consideration of history of US foreign policy and the likelihood that when and if the antiwar movement announces its “support” for a specific candidate, the movement will likely be betrayed. As such, it is important that the antiwar movement remain independent of individual candidates and instead focus on specific issues and the work of building a grassroots movement capable of pressuring the two candidates.

Michigan Voters See Link between Economy and Iraq War

MoveOn.org released a new report today indicating that Michigan voters are concerned about the economy and continued spending on the Iraq War. According to the report, 69% of Michigan voters surveyed said that they “worry” about the economy. 43% of voters said that “pulling out of Iraq” would help Michigan’s economy. Moreover, 66% of Michigan voters said that they would rather invest the money spent on the Iraq War–$256 billion–at home rather than continuing the war. The report says that the United States is “on the brink of a recession” as massive job losses and war spending continue.

Here in Grand Rapids, MoveOn.org members delivered the report to Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow earlier today.

West Michigan Legislators React to Petraeus Testimony

West Michigan legislators Representative Ehlers and Senator Levin reacted to General Petraeus’s testimony about “progress” in Iraq by offering two different perspectives that should both be rejected by the antiwar movement.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, General David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testified before the United States’ Senate about the “progress” in Iraq. While admitting that many “challenges” remain for the United States, the two largely said that the US strategy in Iraq is working. As was the case in September of 2007 with the initial report on “the Surge” West Michigan’s legislators–Representative Vern Ehlers and Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow–reacted to this week’s testimony.

Representative Ehlers once again used Petraeus’s testimony to argue that the United States should remain in Iraq and that “the Surge” has worked. Ehlers issued a statement declaring:

“I was pleased to hear from General David Patraeus about the continued progress. The troop surge has obviously worked to secure key areas of the country and help Iraqi citizens have a more peaceful day-to-day life.

“Despite these signs of progress, Iraq’s security situation is still very fragile. I oppose a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq before we bring stability to the country.

“The good news is that progress is being made and Iraqis are increasingly playing a more fundamental role in the security of their country. I thank General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker for their work and dedication to a positive outcome in Iraq.”

As has been typical with Ehlers’ claims regarding the Iraq War, he offers no proof to support his claims.

Unfortunately, while Ehlers support for Petraeus’s testimony and the continued occupation of Iraq comes as no surprise, Democratic Party Senator Levin’s comments should also be rejected by those against the Iraq War. While Levin has consistently voted to fund the occupation of Iraq, much of the antiwar movement–at least here in West Michigan–has continued to support him and sees him as a critic of the war and an ally to the movement. Levin has offered praise for “the Surge” in the past and in introductory remarks to General Petraeus’ testimony, Senator Levin’s criticism of the war focused primarily on how he believes the Iraqis are not worthy of a continued US presence. As is usual for Levin’s comments, he entirely ignores the devastating impact that the Iraq War has had on Iraqis. While Levin did call for “a reasonable timetable for a change of mission and redeployment of most of our troops,” it was done so in a manner that was insulting to Iraqis.

Overall, Levin’s comments are fairly typical of the Democratic Party’s reaction to “the Surge.” Rather than evaluating “the successes” of “the Surge”–in terms of the human cost of the war and the impacts on Iraqis–Democrats have largely accepted the idea that the policy has worked in a limited sense (by reducing violence) and have refused to debate it seriously. During the Congressional hearings, Democrats seemed to treat the hearings as theater and largely avoided substantive discussion of what is happening on the ground. Had the Democrats wished to do so, they could have raised serious challenges regarding the “drop in violence” (some have suggested that violence has dropped because ethnic cleansing is almost complete), the tenuous nature of various cease-fire agreements in Iraq, and the desires of the Iraqi people and government. In response to the announcement that troop levels would drop to pre-Surge levels but that there would be no further withdrawal, Iraq’s Prime Minister said that US troops should be removed from Iraq. Democrats also largely avoided an opportunity to criticize the Bush administration’s claims that Iran is engaged in a “proxy war” in Iraq.

West Michigan Legislators Received Millions for Pet Projects in 2007


Back in January, Mediamouse.org reported that West Michigan’s legislative delegation–Representative Vern Ehlers and Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow had secured millions of dollars in “earmarks” contained within appropriations bills passed by the legislature. Earmarks, which are spending provisions requested by individual members of Congress that target taxpayer dollars to specific projects and recipients, are inserted into government spending bills with little discussion and debate.

The numbers we cited back in January were preliminary, but now Citizens Against Government Waste’s annual “Congressional Pig Book” has a complete list generated by examining the 12 appropriations bills passed in 2007. West Michigan legislators secured millions of dollars for a variety of projects including subsidies for military contractors, funding for various projects, research, assistance to various youth projects, and assistance to city governments. While some of the projects were probably worth funding, a more transparent means of doing so needs to be used. Moreover, the fact that despite all the attention that has been focused on earmarks in recent years they continue to be awarded, shows that simple transparency is not enough and that legislation regulating or banning the practice is needed.

Levin Tells Iraqis to Pay for Reconstruction

Michigan Senator Carl Levin recently issued a statement calling on Iraqis to rebuild their country. Levin–who absolves the US of any responsibility for the situation–says that the Iraqis are getting rich from oil revenues while the US rebuilds the country.


In honor of the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, Michigan Senator Carl Levin has released a statement in which he once again makes it clear that he is not an ally of the antiwar movement.

Mediamouse.org has been tracking Senator Levin’s statements on the war for months and has exhaustively documented that he has repeatedly advanced the idea that the Iraqis–and not the US occupation–are to blame for the current situation in Iraq. In the past, he has said Iraqis are “dawdling” on making political compromises and are essentially unworthy of the United States presence.

However, his most recent statement, “Paying for Reconstruction in Iraq,” may be the worst one yet. In it, Levin argues that American taxpayers have been funding Iraq’s reconstruction while Iraq is getting rich off oil revenues. Levin says, “the Iraqi Government is not doing nearly enough to provide essential services and improve the quality of life of its citizens” and that it has been US taxpayer money that has funded the reconstruction. Apparently, Levin forgot that it was the United States that has destroyed Iraq via the Gulf War, sanctions, a policy of almost daily bombing raids during the 1990s, and the most recent war. Moreover, Levin also must have forgotten that the United States’ reconstruction efforts have been woefully inadequate and that much of the money was misspent and possibly lost. Instead, Levin once again declares that the United States has no responsibility for the situation in Iraq and that the country’s problems are caused by Iraqis themselves.

Over the weekend, Levin also likened the Iraqi people to children, saying that the United States needs to “take our hands off the training wheels.”

Ehlers, Levin, and Stabenow Evaluated on Support for the Middle Class

Yesterday, the Drum Major Institute–a liberal think-tank–released its annual ranking of legislators based on their support for the middle class. The ranking tabulated votes on a variety of measures ranging from trade deals to tax bills. The Institute noted that 34 Senators and 199 Representatives received “A” grades while one-third of Representatives and nearly 40% of Senators received “F” grades.

While their methodology is far from perfect, especially with its rather limited understanding of class, the ranking is another useful way of tracking legislators and their voting records. The Institute defines “the middle class” in the following way:

“The middle class is more than an income bracket. Over the past fifty years, a middle-class standard of living in the United States has come to mean having a secure job, the opportunity to own a home, access to health care, retirement security, time off for vacation, illness and the birth or adoption of a child, opportunities to save for the future and the ability to provide a good education, including a college education, for one’s children. When these middle-class fundamentals are within the reach of most Americans, the nation is stronger economically, culturally and democratically. Most Americans identify themselves as middle class. Yet DMI is concerned not only with those who currently enjoy a middle-class standard of living, but also with expanding the middle class by increasing the ability and opportunities of poor people to enter the middle class. The middle class is strengthened when more poor people are able to work their way into its ranks. In a nation that is increasingly polarized between the very wealthy and everyone else, DMI sees the poor and middle class as sharing many of the same interests. Simply put: what strengthens and expands the middle class is good for America.”

Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both received “A” ratings, although Stabenow received an “A+” because she voted in what the Institute determined to be the middle class’ interest on every vote. Levin’s rating was less because he supported the Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Representative Vern Ehlers, who represents the Grand Rapids area, received an “F” ranking for the third time in a row. Ehlers voted against legislation designed to address housing prices, lower the price of college, make it easier to form unions, and to lower the price of subscription drugs. At the same time, he voted in support of the Peru Free Trade Agreement, a trade agreement that is based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has been devastating to the middle class.

Last year, Ehlers was named a “Public Enemy of the Middle Class” by Americans for Change.