House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won a major victory on March 23 when the House of Representatives narrowly passed a special funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a provision that requires the president to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq by August 2008.
The bill passed 218-212, with only two Republicans joining the Democratic majority. Of the 14 Democrats who voted with the GOP in opposition to the bill, several were anti-war Dems who didn't think the bill withdraws troops quick enough.
The Out of Iraq Caucus, with more than 70 members, threatened to block the bill if it did not include language setting an enforceable timetable for bringing troops home. Many already had agreed that the bill was the best they could hope to pass out of the House, but the night before the vote Republicans circulated a list of 29 Dems who were expected to vote against the bill. Although Reps. Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey, founders of the anti-war caucus, were determined to vote against the bill, they released about 10 other liberals to support the bill, which assured its passage, John Nichols wrote at TheNation.com.
"After two grueling weeks of meetings, progressive members of Congress brought forth an agreement that provided the momentum to pass a supplemental spending bill that, for the first time, establishes a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq," Waters, Lee, Woolsey and Watson said jointly.
Waters added: "We have released people who were beginning to be pulled in a different direction. We don't want them to be put in a position where they look like they are undermining Nancy's speakership," Nichols reported.
Lee added, "I have struggled with this decision, but I finally decided that, while I cannot betray my conscience, I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war."
MoveOn.org drew fire from some anti-war activists when it cast its support to the House leaders' Iraq spending bill. Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn, noted that a poll of its members found 84.6% approved of the bill. But Farhad Manjoo of Salon.com on March 23 wrote that Cindy Sheehan, the "peace mom" who favors immediate withdrawal, described MoveOn as supporting "the slow-bleed strategy of the Democratic leadership." Gail Murphy of the group CodePink said, "MoveOn has taken a compromised position -- in fact I think they were involved behind the scenes in creating a compromised position." Other peace activists called MoveOn's email poll a sham, claiming that if MoveOn's millions of members knew the full details of the bill, they would oppose it.
MoveOn, which began with an email petition organizing opposition to President Clinton's impeachment in 1998, has grown into one of most influential progressive "netroots" organizations, but its role until now has been helping insurgents fight conservative Republicans who were in power. Now it is accused of complicity with the Democratic congressional power structure. But Pariser, who is 26, saw the Democratic leaders' bill as the left's best chance to help end the war.
"Let's play this out," he told Manjoo. "Congress passes a supplemental with a timeline attached and Bush is forced to veto it. That forces the Republicans to choose between an increasingly isolated president and the majority of the Congress and the majority of the American people." The bill is thus a starting point for future efforts, he said. It builds legislative support for an eventual congressional mandate to withdraw. But to force the president's hand will require two-thirds support in Congress.
You might damn us for our pragmatism, too, but we think it was important to put the House on record calling for withdrawal. As Pelosi said after the vote, "The American people have lost faith in the president's conduct of this war."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the military could be hard-pressed if the funding is not approved by mid-April. As the Senate took up its own version of the supplemental bill, Republicans hoped to remove the benchmarks and the goal of withdrawing troops by March 2008. The withdrawal timeline survived on a 50-48 vote March 27, in a victory for Majority Leader Harry Reid, but Republicans had other amendments in line as we went to press. Bush threatened to veto the bill if it includes anything other than the money he wants.
Dems will be pressed to back down and pass a bill that provides the money with no strings attached. They should stand fast. The House passed a reasonable compromise bill that gives Iraq more than a year to build up its own army and police force and provide for its own security. A Pew poll released March 26 shows 59% of the American public supports the House plan. If Bush isn't ready to turn over Iraq to the Iraqis next year, it is probably because he never intends to turn loose of Iraq's oilfields to a governing majority with sectarian ties to Iran.
Civil war probably will boil over after the departure of US troops, but that result has been predictable ever since Bush sent in the troops to topple Saddam Hussein four years ago. In our April 15, 2003, issue, shortly after the invasion, we observed:
"The war threatens to destabilize Middle Eastern nations, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as Pakistan. Al Qaeda will exploit the backlash in Islamic nations. The recruiting boon will fuel its continuing jihad against US and western interests. Even if we can secure our own borders, US citizens travelling abroad will have targets on their backs as long as there is suspicion of US imperialist intentions."
That was obvious to us, in our cluttered office, based mainly on reports from the international press that were available on the Internet, even if they were buried in the US press. Unfortunately, neocon ideologues prevailed and Americans, whipped into a patriotic fervor, went along for the ride. Now Bush and the GOP are experiencing the backlash.
George W. Bush welcomed auto industry executives to the White House March 26 to applaud their embrace of biofuels. Support for ethanol and biodiesel is fine, but it is way past time for US carmakers to improve mileage standards. Toyota overtook Ford as the No. 2 car dealer in the US last year and the Japanese carmaker threatens to pass GM this year, in no small part because it sells reliable, fuel-efficient cars and trucks. US carmakers developed fuel-thrifty models during the energy crisis of the 1970s but once the gas got flowing again they went back to building more powerful engines with bigger profit margins -- until we stopped buying with $2 gas.
Bush in his State of the Union address called for a modest increase of 4% a year in fuel efficiency. A bill recently filed by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.) does just that, but carmakers and their reps in Congress are dragging their feet. Dan Becker of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program noted, "This bill will not only save consumers money and help us fight global warming, but it will also help us break our addiction to oil. Within 15 years, this bill will save us as much oil as we now import from the Persian Gulf. Making cars go further on each gallon of gas is like drilling for oil under Detroit instead of our sensitive coasts and lands. Raising fuel economy standards is the cleanest, cheapest, and safest way for America to reduce its dependence on oil."
Carmakers could double the 2004 average mileage of 24.6 mpg -- the latest available stats, down from a high of 26.2 mpg in 1987 -- without seriously inconveniencing the driving public. Toyota and Honda already produce hybrid sedans that get more than 50 mpg with a fraction of pollutants. Now they are driving to record profits while the Big Three cut jobs and push auto workers to give back health benefits to save corporations from bankruptcy. Congress needs to intervene to save the Big Three from their own incompetence. -- JMC
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