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William Rivers Pitt: And Then, Something Went Bump

And Then, Something Went Bump

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Tuesday 03 April 2007

So all we could do was to
Sit, sit, sit, sit.
And we did not like it,
Not one little bit.
And then,
Something went bump ...

- Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel

When the new Democratic majority successfully attached a troop withdrawal deadline to the $124 billion supplemental Iraq spending bill in late March, the newspapers described it as a stunning development. If this bill made it through the Senate, Bush would be faced with a choice he wanted no part of: swallow an exit deadline, or veto a pile of money needed to keep the Iraq meat grinder spinning.

At the time, many antiwar activists were far from enthused by this development. An MSNBC report from March 23 explained why: "The supplemental spending bill would continue to pay for the US mission in Iraq and would authorize that mission at least for 12 more months and possibly longer. The bill tries to limit the length of deployment of Army soldiers to 365 days in Iraq and of Marines to 210 days. But it permits President Bush to waive those restrictions. It also permits US forces to be kept in Iraq beyond the bill's August 2008 exit target date if they are training Iraqi soldiers or if they are engaging in missions to kill or capture members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations."

So, yes, there was this withdrawal deadline, and that was good. The bill, however, carried the provision allowing Bush to "waive those restrictions," which amounted to a pre-emptive signing statement that essentially rendered the whole thing moot. Along with this were the bits that would keep US troops in Iraq past the deadline if they were "training Iraqi soldiers" or "engaging in missions to kill or capture members of al-Qaeda." This has been the description of the "mission" for years now, and will be so in the Fall of 2008, which once again pulled the teeth from any real hope of an actual withdrawal coming from this bill.

It was a political victory for the Democrats, to be sure; at a minimum, watching a vote-passing Democratic majority in the House walk in the same direction long enough to pass anything with "Iraq" and "withdrawal" in the text was something new and interesting. Beyond that, the reaction from a flustered White House was worth the price of admission. Yet the bill itself had no hope, or so it seemed to many at the time, of actually putting a halt to the carnage. Beyond that was the commonly-held assumption that this legislation would die a swift death upon its arrival in the Senate.

And then, something went bump. Senate Democrats passed their own version of this bill, and will work after the recess to reconcile the details with the House before sending it on to the White House. The theoretical became actual, and the tooth-grinding decision facing Bush - eat the deadline or nix the cash - is now an unavoidable reality.

A lot of people within the antiwar majority of the American public have been forced these last years, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, to sit, sit, sit, sit and wait for the Democrats to get something done about Iraq. After November, when majority control finally changed hands, the frustration that had been endured became explosive. The immediate reaction to this withdrawal bill, a tepid happiness over a political win tempered by the fact that no true withdrawal would come of it, was understandable.

It took a while for the truth of what happened in all this to sink in, for the real muscle behind this withdrawal legislation to show itself. The fact of the matter is plain: the only people in America not talking about leaving Iraq are the ones in the White House and Pentagon, because they never intended to leave in the first place and want no part of any exit plan, no matter how bloody and awful it gets over there. Therefore, no withdrawal plan can be effected in a tactical sense until the Bush administration is forced into abandoning its stay-forever pipe dreams.

The only way to do that is through political victories, through a chess game of legislation and brinksmanship, through forcing Hobson's Choices upon Bush like the one delivered by this legislation. It isn't as immediate as many would like, and will take time, but that can be blamed on an administration that refuses to face the reality of the disaster it has created. We aren't leaving Iraq until the White House decides to do so, and they won't make that decision unless and until the politics of the equation leave them no other choice.

There is more to come. A Monday press release from Sen. Russ Feingold read, "Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced today that they are introducing legislation that will effectively end the current military mission in Iraq and begin the redeployment of US forces. The bill requires the president to begin safely redeploying US troops from Iraq 120 days from enactment, as required by the emergency supplemental spending bill the Senate passed last week. The bill ends funding for the war, with three narrow exceptions, effective March 31, 2008."

Monday's Washington Post reported that, "Even as their confrontation with President Bush over Iraq escalates, emboldened Congressional Democrats are challenging the White House on a range of issues - such as unionization of airport security workers and the loosening of presidential secrecy orders - with even more dramatic showdowns coming soon. Democratic lawmakers expect to open new fronts against the president when they return from their spring recess, including politically risky efforts to quickly close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; reinstate legal rights for terrorism suspects, and rein in what Democrats see as unwarranted encroachments on privacy and civil liberties allowed by the USA Patriot Act."

Bump ...


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

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