Congress capitulates to Bush's
call for war
by Doug Ireland
In These Times magazine,
That both houses of Congress would pass
a resolution giving George W. Bush a free hand to take the country
to war against Iraq whenever he felt like it-and that this blank
check would be supported by quite large majorities-was never in
doubt over these past few terrible and depressing weeks.
Why? Because the horrors of the 9/11 attacks
produced a tectonic shift in our nation's politics. The slow movement
of the country's political center of gravity to the right was
given hugely increased momentum by 9/11 and its aftermath. It
accelerated the Democrats' drift toward the center-not just on
foreign policy- and cowed a majority of the party's incumbents
into a fearful reluctance to confront head on a deeply flawed
but highly popular Republican president whose "crusade"
against terrorism had already given him the Teflon aura of a "wartime"
leader. All year long, the so called opposition party has failed
to oppose. So no one should have been surprised at the lopsided
vote in Congress for an unjustified war in Iraq.
What became unmistakably clear in the
days before the vote, however, was the degree to which the Democratic
congressional leadership, by falling into the trap so artfully
laid for them months ago by Karl Rove and the rest of Bush's political
cabal, had connived in undercutting their own party's chances
When Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman raced
to the White House to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dubya in
the Rose Garden to announce their co-sponsorship of the administration's
war resolution, they did more than simply give Bush "the
beautiful picture he wanted" for November (as George Will
gleefully crowed on ABC's This Week). Their dastardly deal with
Bush also guaranteed that Iraq will continue to dominate the news
right through Election Day, and thus suck the oxygen out of the
bread-and-butter issues (the economy, Social Security, Medicare
and the like) on which the Democrats had hoped to take back the
House and preserve the Senate. Just as Rove had wanted.
Tom Daschle, too, fell neatly into the
White House's pocket when he decided to fast-track the war resolution,
instead of waiting until after Election Day. The country was not
clamoring for an immediate decision. In fact, all the polls showed
growing discomfort with the notion of a war whose purposes-as
described by Bush-seemed to change every week. Those same polls
also showed that a majority of voters believed Congress, not the
president, should play the deciding role in committing the country
to war, as indeed the Constitution demands.
The strategic mistake of Daschle and Gephardt
in agreeing to Bush's timetable mercilessly truncated the congressional
debate; and put a gun to the head of Paul Wellstone, forcing him
to go on record with a vote against the war that may wind up costing
him his seat (in any case, it will certainly be interpreted that
way if he loses). And a Wellstone defeat could be the loss that
costs the Democrats their one-vote Senate majority.
The irony is that the Daschle-Gephardt
sellout, which greenlighted the shredding of the Constitution's
balance of power, came just as the savvy trackers at the National
Committee for an Effective Congress concluded for the first time
in months that the Democrats had "a glimmer-with the emphasis
on glimmer-of a chance" to pick up 33 of the 55 battleground
House races. "If the Iraq vote had been put off until after
the election," fumes veteran NCEC boss Russ Hemenway, "it's
just now become clear that the Democrats would have won the House.
But with less than a month to go after the vote, that's just not
enough time" for the Democrats to get traction on domestic
issues. And in any case, Iraq will continue to dominate the mass
media at least until the U.N. Security Council makes its decision.
Moreover, now that Bush has what Bobby
Byrd called "another Gulf of Tonkin resolution" in his
pocket, he can play with war like a political yo-yo, throwing
out new threats and heating up his rhetoric every time his popularity
is menaced by another conflict ~ of-interest petro-scandal or
the sinking economy, and then-most likely of all-saving the actual
first strike to re-ignite jingoistic fervor and jump-start his
The Tom-and-Dick-and-Harry capitulation
(Harry is Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic whip who managed
the floor debate and voted for war) was most clearly denounced
in the Senate by its president pro tempore, crusty West Virginia
octogenarian Byrd. The Democrats' one-time Senate leader rose
the day after the Rose Garden sellout to proclaim his opposition
a unilateral, pre-emptive attack on a
sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United
States. This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation
of the president's authority under the Constitution of the United
States nor to mention that it stands the Charter of the United
Nations on its head.... What a shame! Fie upon the Congress! Fie
upon some of the so-called leaders of the Congress for falling
into this pit ... this rushing to vote on whether to declare war
on Iraq without asking why.
Returning again and again to the Senate
floor, Byrd, in his historically erudite perorations-many of them
ad-libbed- spelled out how the blank check for war risked fundamentally
and permanently tipping the Constitutional balance of power to
the president's advantage-not just for little Dubya, but for all
future presidents. The very character of our democracy has thus
Byrd-like Dennis Kucinich in the House-also
kept hammering away at the resolution's depraved authorization
of aggressive war. Teddy Kennedy finally joined him on that issue
in the best of his major Iraq speeches. So too did gutsy Russ
Feingold, who scornfully flayed Bush's prime-time Cincinnati address
as "a shoddy piecing together of flimsy evidence that contradicts
the very briefings we have received" in linking Iraq to 9/11.
In the House, safe-seat Henry Waxman was
one of many sellout liberals who followed Gephardt's lead-even
though he said his constituents' mail and phone calls were overwhelmingly
anti-war-on the grounds that it would send a message of "unity"
to get the United Nations to act. But his fellow Californian,
senior liberal George Miller, refuted that argument, saying, "the
resolution suggests to the United Nations that they really need
not act, because somehow the United States alone will take care
of Saddam Hussein."
By a significant majority, House Democrats
wound up voting against the war (126 to 81 )-a much larger no
vote than anyone expected, and a stinging black eye for Gephardt.
Grassroots sentiment was so massively against the war in a lot
of districts that it turned the votes of many who were wavering
and gave them spine. The Democratic leadership in both houses
seriously misread the mood of their own party as well as that
of the country.
Still, the world's only hopes for avoiding
a war with the most sinister long-term geopolitical consequences
now rest in the hands of two of the world's most notorious crooks:
Vladimir Putin, KGB. trained spawn of the Russian kleptocracy,
and Jacques Chirac, saved from prosecution only by the presidential
immunity he won with re-election last year. Both Putin and Chirac,
who have Security Council vetoes, can be bought off by Bush.
The purchase of Putin is well under way.
The Financial Times reported on October 3 that the partly state-owned
company Lukoil, which controls 68 percent of Russia's $6 billion
investment in Iraq's oil fields (the world's second-largest) has
"been assured" by Putin that "it will be able to
keep its huge stake" in Iraq if Saddam is deposed-a guarantee
impossible without a secret deal with Washington. Putin's veto
threats at the United Nations are simply raising his price to
include the $1 billion Iraqi debt to Russia, the security of Putin's
$40 billion oil-based trade deal with Iraq, and U.S. passivity
when Putin invades nearby Georgia.
And the French are already waffling in
public. To take just one example, on October 9, Le Monde-reporting
a series of declarations by Chirac's top political lieutenants,
including his foreign minister-concluded that "the government
appears to be preparing [French] public opinion for the use of
force" once a deal is made at the United Nations.
Bush's something-for-everybody Cincinnati
speech gave an excuse to Democrats who wanted to jump on the war
train before it left the station. As John Kerry said in explaining
his decision to vote yes to give Bush carte blanche: "The
administration ... recognizes that war must be our last option
to address this threat, not the first."
Kerry, like Gephardt and Daschle and Lieberman,
wants to be president, and this self serving declaration was pure
political pandering. But David Gergen (spinmeister to four presidents,
both Republican and Democratic) nailed it right when he said on
MSNBC that what Bush said in Cincinnati was "blunt, hardline
... a prelude to war." He added ominously: "The logic
of the speech would suggest that Iraq is our first stop in the
Middle East, not our last."