Yesterday, Grand Rapids area Representative Vernon Ehlers voted against an Iraq supplemental spending bill (H.R. 4156 — The Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Act). Joining Ehlers in voting against the funding request was West Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra as well as the rest of Michigan’s Republican delegation.
While many in the antiwar movement have called on Congress to stop funding the war, this most recent funding bill is part of a Democratic Party strategy designed to pass legislation against the war regardless of its practical effect on the war. The strategy was first reported back in October, when Michigan Senator Carl Levin said that passing a bill that funded the troops but at a significantly lower amount than what was requested by the Bush administration would be a “positive step.” Many in the Democratic Party have expressed frustration that various proposals for timetables for “withdrawal” have been defeated by the Bush administration and “compromise” measures that have completely funded the war.
Facing criticism of their inability to pass legislation restricting the war, the current bill was developed by Democratic Party leadership. In this limited sense, the Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Act is a step forward in that rather than giving the Bush administration the full amount it requested, the amount was reduced. However, it is a significant step backwards in other areas. The bill is the height of “political calculation,” as it designed to give the Democrats the appearance of being strongly against the war when the actual text of the bill says something different.
The bill says that it is the “sense of Congress” that “the war in Iraq should end as safely and quickly as possible and our troops should be brought home” and that “the primary purpose of funds made available by this Act should be to transition the mission of United States Armed Forces in Iraq and undertake their redeployment, and not to extend or prolong the war.” While this sounds good, the further one reads into the bill, the worse it gets. There are loopholes that allow President Bush to deploy additional troops to Iraq if he notifies Congress of a justification pertaining to “national security.” Rather than setting specific timetables, the bill describes “goals”–one of which is the removal of a significant number of troops by December 15, 2008–and does not mention what will happen if the “goals” are not met. Like other bills considered in the House and the Iraq plans offered by many Democratic presidential candidates, the bill would allow an unknown number of U.S. soldiers to remain in the country. Soldiers can remain provided that they are “Protecting United States diplomatic facilities, United States Armed Forces, and American citizens,” “Conducting limited training, equipping, and providing logistical and intelligence support to the Iraqi Security forces,” or “Engaging in targeted counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda affiliated groups, and other terrorist organizations in Iraq.” The last is incredibly vague and it is reasonable to assume that almost any insurgent group could be cast as a “terrorist organization.” Finally, the bill calls for the president and the Secretary of Defense to submit plans for reducing the United States’ presence in Iraq and describing the expected U.S. presence in the Middle East over the next five years.
Interestingly, the text of the bill was not released until the day of the vote, making it difficult for antiwar forces to mobilize against it. President Bush has said that he will veto the bill if it passes the Senate.