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Jason Leopold: Democrats Divided on War Remedy

Democrats Divided on War Remedy

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Thursday 04 January 2007

Democratic lawmakers can start to flex their newfound political muscles today. Their party is formally assuming control of Congress for the first time in 12 years, in one of the most-anticipated Congressional sessions in history.

Setting aside the niceties for the time being, the 110th Congress's new Democratic leadership plans to get right down to business. The first half-dozen bills will likely be passed in two weeks, said Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the incoming majority leader, and deal with ethics reforms, an issue that embroiled Republicans in a slew of scandals last year. Hoyer said new ethics rules will prohibit the use of corporate jets by lawmakers and more transparency of lawmakers' pet projects that are routinely inserted into legislation, as well as stem cell research, minimum wage, student loans and recommendations sent to Congress by the 9/11 Commission.

Insulating the bills from attack by Republicans, Hoyer said GOP lawmakers will not be permitted to amend the six bills during Congress's first 100 hours.

"We view the first 100 hours as essentially a mandate from the American people," Hoyer said.

Additionally, the 110th Congress's new Democratic leadership will tackle the Iraq war debacle by introducing a flurry of legislation that would establish a clear-cut timetable for withdrawing U.S. soldiers.

On Wednesday, Senator Russ Feingold, (D-Wis.), the newly appointed deputy whip, said he has drafted legislation affording the Bush administration a six-month deadline to give lawmakers a date when a majority of US troops can return home. His proposal, however, would allow a minimal number of troops on the ground in Iraq. These troops would help train Iraqi security forces and stabilize the violence between Sunni and Shiite factions that has cost the lives of more than 3,000 US soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

"The way to win a war against global terrorist networks is not by keeping over 140,000 brave American troops in Iraq indefinitely," Feingold said Wednesday. "The President's failed, Iraq-centric policies are preventing us from effectively countering serious threats around the world. The American people sent a strong message in November to fix the administration's failed Iraq policy. So far, the administration has ignored that message and is considering sending more troops to Iraq - something that would run counter to our national security and the wishes of the American people. Congress can't afford to make the same mistake."

But Democrats by and large are divided on which plan to support. Although a majority of them favor a timetable for withdrawing troops, some also support increasing the number of soldiers to quell the violence. Others object to that scenario.

One upcoming 2008 presidential hopeful, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), has drafted a comprehensive 10-point plan. Some of his Democratic colleagues say that plan seems destined to fail because it would strictly limit spending for the war - a position many Democrats said they were unwilling to stand behind. Kucinich said the Iraq War cannot be won militarily, and it's crucial that the remaining funds to finance the war be spent on crafting an immediate exit strategy.

"How many more people have to give their lives before this administration and politicians in Washington realize that the quagmire in Iraq cannot be solved by military force?" Kucinich said. "The time is now to bring an end to the US occupation. The money is in the pipeline right now to bring our troops home. On October 1, Congress appropriated $70 billion for the war in Iraq. The money is being spent at a rate of about $8 billion a month. This means that as of today, there is roughly $46 billion which can be used to immediately put into effect the Kucinich Plan to bring our troops home."

Moreover, Kucinich proposes that the United Nations assist in organizing an international security force with a majority of military personnel coming from nearby Muslim nations; to close US bases in Iraq, pay reparations to the Iraqi people and end efforts to privatize Iraqi oil interests.

"It is urgent that we begin to take a new direction," Kucinich said. "The administration must listen to what the American people said on November 7. The people put control of Congress back into the hands of the Democrats because they want a new direction in Iraq - out. We should not send one more soldier to death in Iraq."

An increasing number of active-duty soldiers support Kucinich's plan, according to the Appeal for Redress, an organization spearheaded by 29-year-old Navy seaman Jonathan Hutto. Hutto has collected more than 1,000 signatures of military personnel on a petition demanding the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Many of the signers are currently serving in Iraq. Appeal for Redress plans to lobby Congress on January 15, which is Martin Luther King's Birthday, to deliver the signatures and ask lawmakers to push for an end to the war.

The situation in Iraq has deteriorated rapidly over the past month, with the loss of 113 soldiers in December - the worst month in terms of casualties since 2004 - and news that the 3,000th US soldier died in combat just as the country welcomed the arrival of 2007.

As the violence escalated and Iraq fell into civil war, President Bush slid further into the depths of denial. It has become all too apparent, according to critics of the administration. They say Bush has failed to fully grasp the gravity of his decision to invade Iraq and also how his failed policy and total disregard for postwar planning have played out over the past few years. He is under intense pressure to swiftly change the White House's policy - yet, Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley said policy changes will be made when the president is ready and "comfortable."

A report filed by the BBC and NBC News Wednesday said Bush may hold a news conference next week to announce that he is sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq in an attempt to stabilize the violence and train Iraqi soldiers. According to NBC News, the plan is being called "surge and accelerate." The White House would not comment on the veracity of the report.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), said sending in tens of thousands more soldiers is merely applying a bandage to the situation.

"The president gave no indication ... that he is willing to make the changes needed to reverse the disastrous situation in Iraq," Pelosi said. "Unless there is a fundamental change in policy and in the mission of our troops in support of that policy, events in Iraq are unlikely to improve. Regardless of how many of our troops are in Iraq, they should not be expected to be primarily responsible for dealing with sectarian violence associated with a civil war. As long as that remains their task, the situation in Iraq will remain grave."

Ironically, deploying a larger number of troops is exactly what career military officials had urged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to implement, before the start of the war nearly four years ago. Rumsfeld rebuffed the request and fired some of the military brass who objected to his war plans. Rumsfeld resigned under pressure in November.

Back in October 2002, Rumsfeld said too many of the military plans on the shelves of the regional war-fighting commanders were freighted with outdated assumptions and military requirements. He said those assumptions and requirements have changed with the advent of new weapons and doctrines.

It has been a mistake, he said, to measure the quantity of forces required for a mission and "fail to look at lethality, where you end up with precision-guided munitions, which can give you 10 times the lethality that a dumb weapon might, as an example," according to a report in the October 2, 2002, edition of the New York Times.

"Through a combination of pre-deployments, faster cargo ships and a larger fleet of transport aircraft, the military would be able to deliver fewer troops but in a faster time that would allow you to have concentrated power that would have the same effect as waiting longer with a bigger force," Rumsfeld said, the Times reported.

According to the Defense Department, Rumsfeld at first insisted that vast air superiority and a degraded Iraqi military would enable 75,000 US troops to win the war. General Tommy Franks, the theater commander in chief, persuaded Rumsfeld to send 250,000 US troops (augmented by 45,000 British). While Army officers would have preferred a larger commitment, even what was finally approved for Operation Iraqi Freedom was reduced on Rumsfeld's orders, with the blessing of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Still, if Democrats are hoping for a quick exit strategy, or even a phased withdrawal from Iraq, they must be prepared to enter into a fierce battle with President Bush. The president has said he intends to veto legislation that attempts to make political statements, or bills that seek to alter his vision for Iraq.

"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," Bush said during a press conference early last month. The conference was held in response to a scathing report prepared on his Iraq policies by the Iraq Study Group. "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done. This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took umbrage with Bush's threats of vetoing legislation.

"There is nothing political about finding a policy to end the war in Iraq, raising the minimum wage, achieving energy independence or helping kids afford college," shot back Reid. He will become majority leader at the stroke of noon today. "In fact, politics has prevented progress on these issues for too many years."


Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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