Prepared by Dave Blakeslee
On Friday, January 19, 2007, Betty Ford and I met with two staffers for U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI): Paul Troost, Regional Representative, and Dave Casey, Staff Assistant. They were very hospitable and I believe genuinely interested in hearing our views.
Our interest in this meeting was to advise the Senator that he should align himself with efforts to withdraw American troops from Iraq using funds that Congress has already approved. We were very pleased to be able to represent many people in this area who want to see the war end in the shortest possible time. We talked briefly about our involvement with the Institute for Global Education, the West Michigan Justice & Peace Coalition, and the statewide Michigan Peace Network.
We entered the meeting with the purpose of sharing a list of talking points developed by Military Families Speak Out and getting their response. The central thrust of the argument is that de-funding the war is the most humane and effective way of opposing President Bush’s announced plans to escalate the conflict by sending in an additional 21,000 + troops over the next several weeks. The list of points that I presented is posted online.
Knowing in advance (based on public statements that he and others in the Democratic Party leadership have made) that Sen. Levin was unlikely to agree with our stance, we sought to learn more about the approach he plans to take regarding future funding and troop deployments in Iraq.
One day prior to our visit, Senator Levin made headlines by co-sponsoring a bipartisan, non-binding resolution expressing opposition to Bush’s plan. His idea is to develop a broader consensus against the “surge” that includes as many Republicans as possible. His reasoning for disagreeing with the de-funding proposal is that it would change the argument, fragment a developing bipartisan agreement and wind up portrayed in the news media as “Democrats abandoning the troops.”
Sen. Levin is using political tactics in an attempt to obstruct Bush’s plans to deepen U.S. military involvement in Iraq. He wants to help create an environment where prominent Republican politicians will be willing to speak critically against the Iraq occupation and Bush’s handling of his responsibilities as Commander in Chief.
We asked about what effect this approach will have on future appropriations bills, which will come up on the congressional agenda beginning in February. On this point, the staffers were non-committal, acknowledging that it’s hard for them to anticipate where matters will stand, politically speaking, several weeks from now. They recognize that many thousands of lives are on the line as the conflict drags on. Levin’s interest is in sending a message to the administration that their ability to prosecute the war without checks and balances no longer exists as it did under the previous Congress.
However, they offered no details on any specific limitations, conditions or directions for military spending that Sen. Levin or his colleagues have in mind. They did mention some current hearings that are taking place aimed at creating more oversight and accountability on the numerous no-bid contracts that have been doled out to corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel since before the invasion took place in 2003.
Betty shared some very interesting observations and reflections from the months, in the early 1960′s, when she lived in Baghdad that put the human suffering of the Iraqis in the forefront of our thinking.
Though we were not able to come to a point of agreement on the immediate next steps to be taken regarding U.S. involvement in Iraq, I believe that we had a candid and open exchange. I see this as a first step in building a stronger sense of understanding and clear communication between the Senator and the community of peace activists here in Grand Rapids and across the state. We let the staffers know that there are a number of others in our area who would appreciate a chance to meet with them (or better yet, the Senator himself). They indicated a willingness to meet again, but due to space limitations indicated that they would like to meet with no more than three or four people at the next meeting.
At this point in the political process, a significant difference remains between our senator and those of us who want to see the troops withdrawn immediately. However, I believe we need to persevere and press for continued movement in that direction. Political momentum is definitely on the side of the antiwar perspective, and we need to do all we can to encourage that trend, as frustrating as it is having to wait. Senator Levin occupies a uniquely influential position when it comes to determining U.S. military policy and I sense an opportunity on our part to help bolster his willingness to strongly oppose the misguided and destructive policies that President Bush continues to foist upon our nation and our world.