In his primetime address to the nation Wednesday night, President George W. Bush only made official what was known in advance: that he was willing to defy the voters in last November’s elections, the majority of Iraqis who want U.S. troops to leave their country, the Iraq Study Group, and many of his top military commanders.
Amazingly, the President plans to escalate the war in Iraq by sending over 20,000 more troops into a war that is now widely recognized as a disaster. Some will surely die; many more will suffer grave injuries.
Four thousand troops would be sent to al-Anbar province, where a secret report prepared by a Marine colonel concluded in August that U.S. and Iraqi troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency.” If the administration’s war aims cannot be met there, why send more young men and women into harm’s way?
Troop surges have been tried â€“ and have failed â€“ before. In fact, just this summer, under the name “Operation Together Forward II,” thousands more U.S. troops were sent into Baghdad. Sectarian violence there skyrocketed.
Testifying before Congress in November, General John Abizaid, the head of Central Command who recently announced his retirement, said, “I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the Corps commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no.”
Rather than tamping down violence, this surge of troops will increase violence. Escalation of the war by the Americans will trigger a parallel escalation by insurgents. Many more Iraqis and more Americans will suffer an early death if the President’s plan is implemented.
Congress could stop that. Thanks in large part to an anti-war vote last November, the new Congressional leaders have pledged to let Congress vote soon on a resolution opposing shipping more soldiers to Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised debate on such a resolution next week, and on Wednesday Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed her commitment to such a vote after meeting with the President.
Such a resolution would not have the force of law, but would isolate the President and his war policy politically. It is likely to attract a large majority in both the House and the Senate as more Republicans jump ship. Reid says 12 Republican senators have indicated they will vote for the resolution.
This is a very positive step; it would be the most substantial action toward ending the Iraq war taken by Congress to date. It also sets up the Congress for a confrontation with the President if he opts to escalate the war regardless of strong opposition from Congress.
Luckily, unlike the American people, military commanders, or troops, Congress is able to enforce its position in that confrontation. The Constitution grants it the power of the purse and the power to declare or not declare war under the Constitution. The next step is for this Congress to use its power to stop the troop surge and, ultimately, end the war.
It has been done before. Similar action was taken by Congress in the early 1970s when President Richard Nixon moved to extend the Vietnam War into Cambodia. With provision in a funding bill, Congress banned US troops from operating in Cambodia and Laos. A similar thing was done against President Reagan’s Contra war in Nicaragua, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal when Reagan sold arms to Iran in order to fund the Contras.
We need to give Congressional leaders the encouragement they need to do what many politicians will see as politically risky. Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Ed Markey have introduced legislation that would prevent the President from sending in more troops without Congressional authorization. The American people deserve a vote on that.
At Just Foreign Policy, we have set up a petition commending the position against a troop surge, but urging the next step of legally preventing the President from escalating the war. You can sign at:
This is an exciting moment. There is new momentum behind the movement to end the Iraq war. Just think: Would anyone have expected the U.S. Congress to take a strong position against escalation of the war one year ago?
Now that we have the momentum, we need to keep pushing ahead, pursue more victories and end the war.
Patrick McElwee is an organizer with Just Foreign Policy and a former legislative assistant with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He can be reached at pmcelwee at justforeignpolicy.org.
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