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Matt Renner: Senate Stalls on Iraq

Senate Stalls on Iraq

By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report

Wednesday 28 February 2007

A weekend of confusion among Democratic senators over possible action on Iraq was capped off by an announcement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada that the Senate would wait on any Iraq-related legislation.

"Iraq is going to be there ... it's just a question of when we get back to it," Reid told the Associated Press, citing action on a national security bill as a higher priority.

Senator Reid is waiting to attempt to begin debate on a bill that would have begun initial troop withdrawals within 120 days of enactment, with the goal of withdrawing almost all combat troops by March 2008.

Sunday, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), declared that he, along with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden (D-Del.), would pursue a change in the 2002 Congressional Authorization of Force against Iraq.

On NBC's "Meet The Press," Levin outlined a Democratic attempt to force a scale-back of the US military involvement in Iraq. The senator believes that by altering the law that Congress passed to give President Bush authority to invade Iraq, Democrats could change the mission in Iraq and limit President Bush's ability to escalate the war.

"Hopefully, we're going to come up with a resolution which ... would modify that ... earlier resolution to a more limited purpose," Levin Said. The goal would be to limit the US involvement in Iraq to training Iraqi forces and hunting al-Qaeda operatives who infiltrated the country after the invasion. Democrats claim that this could be accomplished by altering the outdated Authorization of Force against Iraq to reflect the current situation.

Levin said that a change in the Authorization of Force could push the Bush administration into a "constitutional battle" with Congress because members of the Bush administration have suggested that attempts to curtail the president's war powers would simply be ignored.

Critics of this tactic describe it as a worthless public relations stunt: a politically guarded maneuver meant to appease the growing antiwar movement without taking any real political risks.

Congress tried a similar tactic to end the war in Vietnam. In 1970, President Nixon ignored the repeal of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution by Congress and continued the war in defiance.

University of Illinois Law Professor Francis Boyle described this Democratic maneuver as an attempt to act and sound like the Senate is taking action, without putting their political futures in jeopardy. "The Senate has two options to end this war: cut funding or impeach Bush and Cheney," Boyle said. Boyle also pointed to the precedent set by Nixon during Vietnam. "Revoking the [Iraq] authorization would do nothing. Senator Biden knows this, he is a lawyer, he was around back then [referring to the Vietnam era]." According to Boyle, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon's insolence was not a violation of the law.

While questioning the effectiveness of their strategy, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dared the Democrats to attempt to cut funding for the war. McConnell pointed out the futility of the Democratic effort: "altering the original use of force authorization could best be described as trying to unring a bell." McConnell continued, "The truth of the matter is there's really only ... one way to end the war, if that's what our Democratic friends want to do. That is to cut off the funding for the war."

Over the weekend, Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Levin made statements that effectively assured that they are not going to attempt to cut funding for the war in Iraq, as Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) had proposed earlier. Because the Senate Democrats cling to a razor-thin one vote majority, the threat of Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) switching sides and caucusing with Republicans could hamper any attempt to cut funding. Lieberman told The New Yorker that a move by Democrats to cut funding for the Iraq occupation would be "very hurtful," and that he'd be "deeply affected by it."

One factor in Reid's decision to hold off on a Senate Iraq debate may be the lack of Republican support for binding action on Iraq. He would need at least ten Republicans to cross over and support a debate that might further weaken a president whose war policies they have endorsed since 2002. A Republican filibuster stalled an attempt to consider a nonbinding resolution expressing disapproval of the president's escalation plan on February 17th. Senator Lieberman was the only member of the Democratic caucus to vote for the filibuster.


Matt Renner is a reporter and radio producer and a recent graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.

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