By Ron Walters
The concept of victory that George Bush is pursuing in Iraq, is fallacious for a number of reasons that I could spell out, but I want to concentrate here on just one, the economic cost.
The rate spending for the Iraq War has now exceeded that of Vietnam, which is $8 billion per month, and it is growing exponentially. For example, the successive addition to the budget brought the total cost to $436 billion, and last October another supplemental in the budget added $70 billion, bringing the current total to $506 billion. But it doesn’t stop there, another increase of $130-$160 billion is being considered to ramp up sending American personnel over to do training. That will bring the total up to $700 billion if it passes in 2007, but out in the distance, there is the possibility of a decision by Bush to beef up American forces by another 30,000 troops that will cost even more.
Where do the Democrats stand on this scenario? To begin with, Nancy Pelosi made a monumental mistake by declaring that Democrats would not withhold funding for the troops–in other words, they would support the increases that are on the table and perhaps more. This commitment merely follows the Bush administration concept of equating support for funding the troops, to funding for the war itself. Let us be clear, the troops are merely the instrument for a policy and should not take precedence over the policy itself. The Bush people have artfully used the troops as a shield to protect them, while they pursued a corrupt, immoral and badly flawed policy in Iraq.
One major reason why Democrats should have communicated to the American people their lack of support for further funding for the war is that they have been placed in a box by the departing Republicans. The Republicans have completed only 2 of 11 spending bills and because of that, passed a law, funding the government at the current level, until February of 2007. But because it is reported that Democrats will extend funding at the same levels to cover the rest of the year, it is an act that will amount to cutting many domestic programs. This budget scenario would appear to run contrary to the so-called 11th hour agenda, some of which will have financial implications, like cutting college costs by restoring the funding for Pell Grants, passing the Minimum Wage, fixing the prescription drug benefit program and the like.
Here, it is notable that Richard Nixon did not stop the War in Vietnam, he was busy following his own concept of victory for six years when he was impeached in 1974 over Watergate, even though Lyndon Johnson had announced a policy of Vietnamization in 1968. It took the Congress to stop the war by passing Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 cutting off funding to the South Vietnam Government, which started the wheels rolling toward closure. Absent control of the White House, Congress becomes the only tool that Democrats have in 2007 for being accountable to the overwhelming vote of Americans to close down this fiasco in Iraq. But they must have the courage to act.
But by agreeing to continue to fund the troops, Democrats buy into the proxy for funding the war and now become part of the problem. By pursuing this course, they could not only weaken the position of their party in future elections, they could also place the constituencies of the party who need policy changes for health, education, income and other things in an unnecessary limbo as well.
I see no recourse to take bold action that will break Bush’s frantic search for an illusive victory and success, while Democrats only criticize, but essentially follow. The only question with this failed war is by what agency will it be brought to a close, and how long Americans continue to buy the hollow promises of victory and success that stretch out our commitment until substantial lives and material resources are lost.
(Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership Institute, and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park.)