Iraq exit hits Congress agenda: End date for war sets completely different course

House and Senate Democratic leaders announced new moves to begin U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq this year and set a specific timetable for ending the U.S. combat role by next fall. While not going as far or fast as some peace advocates wanted, it marks the first major congressional drive to end the war since the invasion four years ago.

The timetable is included in a House supplemental appropriations bill and in a joint resolution, SJ Res 9, introduced in the Senate March 8 by Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats.

Los Angeles Times news analyst Paul Richter wrote that while the proposals may get weakened or killed, the Democrats “in one stroke have transformed a many-sided debate about the conflict into a sharp-edged argument about the endgame.”

New possibilities

William McNary, president of USAction, said, “We’re happy there seems to be some movement in Congress. Every week, more and more seems possible.”

McNary said it is essential to find “language to unite progressive Democrats, conservative Democrats, as well as Republicans like Hagel. The name of the game is to continue to build unity and isolate this administration.”

Jim Fine, foreign policy legislative secretary for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, said he and his colleagues, who had lobbied hard for a timetable, were “surprised” that it was included in the measures.

“We did not really expect to see any of that wording actually appear,” he said.

While the dates are not as quick as his group wanted, Fine emphasized that for the first time, the majority is coming out for “setting a date-certain” to end the U.S. combat role. This “would be enough to propel negotiations forward” to bring an end to the war, he said. It would represent “an about-face” from escalation and put the U.S. on a “completely different” course.

Will take a fight

It’s going to be a fight to keep the deadlines, Fine warned. Every Democratic vote is critical, as well as those of Republicans, especially the 17 who opposed the Bush escalation.

With regard to calls to cut funding, Fine said, “Our read is that the votes are not there.” Not just in the Senate, but “even in the House there are great differences deeply held among Democrats” and it would be unlikely to win necessary Republican votes.

Eric Leaver, of the Institute for Policy Studies, said the important part to focus on is that “for the first time in four years we have Democrats bringing a proposal that has a deadline.”

Noting that provisions were still being added and subtracted to win as many votes as possible, Leaver said in a video conversation with Tom Andrews of the Win Without War coalition, “the Democrats are really working hard on trying to get a consensus.” Leaver and Andrews urged a focus on pushing Congress to adopt deadlines, and pressing Republicans to vote for them.

But Republicans are vowing to block the measures. Vice President Dick Cheney kicked into action with a speech to the right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee accusing the Democrats of “retreat” that would “leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened.”

Proposed dates

The House bill requires the administration to begin withdrawing troops by March 1, 2008, and says this must be completed by Aug. 31, 2008.

If the president does not “certify” “meaningful and substantial progress” in Iraq by July 1 this year, the bill requires pullout to begin immediately, to be completed by Dec. 31.

If he fails to certify that benchmarks have actually been achieved by Oct. 1, troop pullout must start then, to be completed by March 31, 2008.

The Senate resolution orders the president to begin troop pullout within four months. It sets a goal of withdrawal of nearly all combat troops by March 31, 2008. Exceptions are made for troop protection, training of Iraqi forces and counter-terrorism. Even so, it will be hard to pass it with the Democrats’ razor-thin Senate majority.

Lee amendment

Also in the mix is a House amendment submitted March 8 by Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), Progressive Caucus co-chair. It calls for funding “safe and complete” withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2007.

Fine said his group would “be delighted” if the Lee amendment succeeded,” but “nothing we’ve seen suggests it will.” He warned that the worst alternative would be allowing Congress to “write a blank check for the war.”

Given the political realities, he said, the restricted appropriation put forward by House Democrats is “an important goal to achieve.”

McNary said USAction is focusing on getting state and local legislatures to pass resolutions opposing escalation and calling for redeployment of troops out of Iraq. Members of Congress say such messages have a big impact on Capitol Hill.

Calling for vigils across the country on March 19, the war’s fourth anniversary, Political Action sent out e-mails saying, “After more than four years of organizing, bringing our troops home and ending the war in Iraq is truly becoming a possibility.” MoveOn said, “Let’s gather for what is hopefully our final Iraq war vigil together.”

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.