The Bush Veto

  • The veto demonstrates the extent of White House extremism; it is not rejecting a “bring all the troops home and end the war” bill but rather rejecting a compromise bill that would provide $100 billion to continue the war, sets only a “goal” of removing some troops by March 2008, allows 60-80,000 troops to remain indefinitely, does not restrict an attack on Iran, allows the 100,000+ U.S.-paid mercenaries to remain with only insignificant restrictions, requires Iraq to impose a new oil bill, and allows Bush to ignore suggested requirements for adequate training, equipping and rest of U.S. troops.
  • Bush’s veto of the Iraq $100 billion funding bill should be welcomed as a victory for anti-war forces. Congressional Democrats should declare it a victory, announce that a new bill will immediately be put on the table to determine how much additional money, if any, is required to bring all the troops home safely and securely.
  • The anti-war movement should maintain clarity on our position: not one more death, not one more dollar. That means our demand remains NO new funds to go to the war effort, so we urge a no vote on any bill that provides additional funding for any part of the war other than brining all the troops home safely and securely.
  • We know that Congress is not the peace movement; Congress is an institution of compromise. We understand that if Congress continues to insist on timetable language, Bush will continue to veto the bill. That means no funds will be allocated. Our demand should remain clear: no money for war. Our clarity will strengthen congressional backbone.
  • The current “surge” escalating the U.S. occupation of Iraq has brought an escalation in death and destruction in Iraq. U.S. military officials are increasingly acknowledging the long-term nature of the U.S. occupation.
  • As the U.S. occupation of Iraq consolidates and settles in for that long-term or perhaps permanent presence, it increasingly resembles the now 40-year-old Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Building walls to divide Iraqis into separate cantons is perhaps the most visible example.

The conference bill that Congress sent to the White House is not a bill to end the war and bring home the troops. It is a funding bill that would give the Bush administration an additional $100 billion to continue the war. It is very similar to the earlier hard-fought supplemental bill of last March (see Talking Points #49), but even weaker in some key areas. While it calls for beginning the “redeployment” of troops out of Iraq by October 2007, it sets only a “goal,” not a requirement to complete the redeployment by March 2008.

More significantly, like the earlier draft the bill exempts from the “redeployment” four categories of troops which together could constitute up to 60,000-80,000 troops. They include training, counter-terrorism, and protection of U.S. diplomatic positions (such as the huge Green Zone) and personnel. It allows for the continuation of the U.S. contracting for over 100,000 mercenaries to back up the U.S. troops, calling only for 15% of the funding for mercenaries to be made contingent on certain benchmarks being met. Like the earlier bill it makes no mention of restricting the president’s ability to attack Iran, and requires the Iraqi parliament to pass a new oil bill. (The oil bill under consideration would not simply divide Iraq’s oil wealth, as U.S. officials like to point to, but would turn over control of a huge proportion of Iraq’s oil industry and resources to private international oil companies, with likely special privileged access for U.S. companies.) And like the earlier drafts it would allow Bush to simply announce his intention to ignore the Pentagon’s own requirements regarding providing troops with adequate training, equipment, and rest between deployments.

The fact that the White House would veto such a bill, which provides only advisory “goals” and virtually no real restrictions on the conduct of the war shows the dangerous extremism of this administration.

It is likely that the Congress will respond to the veto by going into serious negotiations aimed at what the Washington Post called “a compromise to cool the red-hot war debate.” The Post goes on to predict that “the language all but certain to be dropped, or at least diluted, would require troop withdrawals to begin as early as July 1 and no later than Oct. 1.” On the other hand, the Post acknowledges that “antiwar lawmakers are pressuring Democratic leaders to seek the most stringent terms possible.” The New York Times describes Democrats recognizing that “there is no consensus among the party’s leadership on how to respond legislatively to the veto, with members of the house and Senate advocating competing options and some outside antiwar groups urging the Democrats to hold firm.”

Pundits are virtually unanimous that some compromise will be found that is weak enough for Bush to sign but with language that at least sounds firm enough to pacify antiwar forces in, if not outside of Congress.

But there is another alternative, which the peace movement should urge. As soon as Bush issues his veto, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid should immediately hold a joint press conference to declare victory for the American people, victory for the Constitution, and victory of all those concerned about U.S. troops. (They probably won’t mention Iraqi civilians….) They should name the extraordinary compromises they made in the conference committee bill – exempting perhaps 80,000 troops from the redeployment timeline; eliminating all prohibitions against a U.S. strike on Iran; allowing Bush to legally ignore restrictions on training, equipment and rest; imposing an oil law on Iraq’s parliament, etc. – and remind the White House that those decisions sorely compromised what Congressmembers knew were the views and opinions and demands of the American people. And if the Bush administration is not prepared to accept $100 billion to wage war with only those feeble and inadequate restrictions, Pelosi and Reid should go on, well, it must be because they care less about the war than about their own political posturing.

The next announcement should be of new Congressional debate over how much money, if any, is needed to insure the safe, orderly and quick withdrawal of ALL U.S. troops and mercenaries and closure of the Pentagon’s bases in Iraq.

However unlikely this scenario might be, it will have a better chance of happening if the peace movement maintains absolute clarity on our demand to end ALL funding for the war. That includes all funding for the war regardless of rhetorical restrictions. Of course a decision to authorize $50 billion instead of $100 billion would be much better; but that does not mean we should support a bill authorizing $50 billion. Rather, our continued principled opposition to ANY funding will provide the best support to those in Congress who might be considering efforts to qualitatively reduce actual funding for the war, or to impose real and not just rhetorical restrictions on White House freedom to wage unlimited endless war. Congress is not the peace movement. It is an institution designed to make compromises; we help our friends most if we don’t.

While Congress and the White House argue, conditions on the ground in Iraq continue to deteriorate. General David Petraeus, the military intellectual responsible for the surge strategy, admitted April 26 that despite the escalation of troops, “overall violence in Iraq has not declined.” But in the same briefing he took on antiwar voices in congress, stating that “an American troop pullback this fall would lead to an escalation in sectarian killings and worsening violence.” So – according to General Petraeus, sending more troops has not reduced overall violence, but pulling back (not even pulling out) the troops six months from now would lead to more death and destruction.

Sending more troops has failed, pulling back troops will make things worse…does he know how to spell quagmire?

Several weeks ago Hillary Clinton stated that U.S. troops would be in Iraq “indefinitely.” More and more analysts and military officials quoted in the mainstream media are saying the same thing. [Not all. A few days ago a high-ranking Pentagon official told me it was “ridiculous” to claim that the U.S. wants permanent occupation and control of its bases in Iraq. He posited Bosnia as a model in which U.S. troops fought for a long time, and then pulled out and turned the bases over to the Bosnians. “Last time I checked Bosnia had no oil,” I said. The general had no response.]

The recent high-profile challenge to the new 9-foot high cement wall U.S. troops are building around the Adhamiya neighborhood in Baghdad has masked the growing ubiquity of “sectarian walls” throughout occupied Baghdad. Supposedly designed to “protect” communities at risk, such as the largely Sunni residents of Adhamiya, of attack by opposing sectarian forces, the walls actually build resentment, consolidate sectarian division and restrict daily life – already reduced by violence, lack of electricity, lack of security, lack of jobs… — to tiny prison-like cantons. The parallel to Israel’s wall surrounding the Gaza Strip, and especially to the much better-known Apartheid Wall built inside the occupied West Bank, is unmistakable. Israeli occupation forces in the Palestinian territories, like their U.S. counterparts in Iraq, claim the walls are for security. In Israel’s case, it is the “security” of Israeli civilians that provides the pretext. But even if one believes that separation walls can bring security, the Apartheid Wall is not built on the Green Line that separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. Instead, 80% of the Wall’s 400+ kilometer length is inside occupied Palestinian land, seizing huge swathes of territory and crucially, all the major West Bank aquifers onto the “Israeli side” of the Wall. The city of Qalquilya, in the northern West Bank, is, like Adhamiya, completely surrounded by the Wall. The two gates are controlled by Israeli soldiers, who may or may not implement the three half-hour openings scheduled each day.

Go to www.endtheoccupation.org for more details, to sign the petition, find organizing materials, housing and ride boards, and much more.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where she directs the New Internationalism project. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and more recently Ending the Iraq War: A Primer.