WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – In Washington politics, things are not always what they appear to be. The current debate over continued funding of the war in Iraq is an example.

The conventional wisdom insists that the debate over ending the war is all about the looming veto showdown between President George W. Bush and Congress over continued funding for the $2 billion-per-week Iraq war and whether or not funds, which must be approved by Congress, should include mandates for any withdrawal of U.S. forces.

On the one hand, the Bush administration wants no conditions on the massive amounts of money it says it needs as it escalates the bloody war now in its fifth year, and that strings attached by the Democratic-led legislature are reckless, dangerous, and undermine his commanders and their troops who are “in harm’s way.”


Democrats, on the other hand, argue that their tactic of providing full funding for “Bush’s war,” while setting non-binding timetables for troop withdrawals is the best way to force a change in the war policy.

But that’s just part of the story.

A growing number of war opponents complain that Democrats, who now control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, have gone back on their promise to voters last year to end the war outright.

The comments of a member of Code Pink, who identified herself only as “Liz from Arizona,” are typical. “I want to say that I’m very disappointed. We voted for a mandate of peace, and peace platform candidates on Nov. 7, which changed Congress. And we are expecting Congress to do their jobs, and support our troops. Bring them home out of this illegal, failed, endless occupation,” she told The Final Call after a protest at a banquet for Congressional radio and television correspondents held Mar. 28.

“We’re tired of it. Our families are tired. We want our families united. We want to move on. We want our moral standing in the world back,” she continued.

“Liz” is not alone.

“In the labor movement, we love what they’re [Code Pink] doing, and when they come to Ohio, we’re going to turn that state ‘blue,’” a sheet-metal worker who identified himself only as “Ted” told The Final Call.

The next day, the Senate voted its version of a $122 billion off-budget, emergency supplemental appropriation, which included a troop pullout timetable. But that was not before dozens of protestors set up a mock grave site in the Hart Senate Office Building, with pictures of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians “killed in this illegal and immoral war,” organizer Kevin Zeese, a member of Peace Action from Montgomery County, Maryland told The Final Call Mar. 29 just after the Senate vote.

“The point of the demonstration was to say to the Democratic Party that they were not elected and put into majority power status to extend the war, they were put in there to end the war,” said Mr. Zeese. “This current bill they’re so proud of passing today, and claim is a change in course with its deadlines or goals, extends the war for another year, and even after their deadline, there are such gigantic loopholes that any commander-in-chief could keep as many troops as he or she wanted to, after that goal or deadline is passed.

“I really think that what we’re seeing in Washington, D.C. around this war, is political game-playing. The Democrats, I think, are trying to position themselves for 2008. They don’t want to have the responsibility for this war, so they’re trying to put something in this bill that sounds a little different, unless you look at the details.”

The “details” of the Democratic position, mean more of the same, critics insist. For example: The Senate bill sets non-binding target dates for the withdrawal of “combat troops.” They make up about half of the 150,000 troops now in Iraq, and those numbers will “surge” to 170,000 by summer. Half of that number will still keep more than 80,000 U.S. military personnel there, “that’s a gigantic force,” said Mr. Zeese.

“But even beyond that, combat troops are allowed to stay, to: Fight terrorists; to secure the borders; to train Iraqis. Those are such gigantic loopholes,” he said. “We’re right now doing all those things with 150,000 troops, and we’re not doing it very effectively.

“We’re in fact losing this war with 150,000 troops. So, I could see a commander-in-chief saying, ‘I need more troops,’ and under the language of the Senate bill, and the language of the House bill, that would be permitted because they would be fighting terrorists, fighting al Qaeda.”

“Our Congress people are just out of touch,” said “Liz.” “I can’t even meet with them and talk to them, reasonably. I have to come to D.C. and find them in the street and walk with them, and try to converse, and try to touch some humanity in their spirit.”

But Democrats—even the Congressional Black Caucus—defend a number of initiatives that were tacked on to the war supplemental appropriation.

Some of those add-ons which were added to attract the votes of liberal Democrats, especially CBC members, include: $4.3 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster recovery grants; $1.3 billion for levee protection in New Orleans; $30 million for K-12 education recruitment assistance; $30 million for higher education assistance; community disaster loan forgiveness; $25 million for Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans; $80 million for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) tenant-based rental assistance; $400 million for low income home energy assistance; $3.7 billion in agricultural assistance; and $40 million in foreign aid security assistance for Liberia.

In all, 35 of the CBC’s 40 eligible House members endorsed the add-ons, despite the fact that almost all of those who endorsed the appropriation had earlier signed on as members of the “Out of Iraq Caucus.”

In the end, only eight members of the 70-member Out of Iraq Caucus voted against the money, which opponents insist guarantees that the war will continue until at least 2008. Those members were: Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chair of the Caucus; Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Diane Watson (D-Calif.), presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Mike Michaud (D-Minn.), Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.), and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

In addition, war opponents complain that more than 225 U.S. forces have been killed in Iraq since the Democrats have come to power on Capitol Hill. “We are here to express our outrage at a Democrat-crafted spending bill that would continue the Iraq war into August 2008, and leave thousands, potentially tens of thousands of troops on the ground in that country, even after that date,” Deborah Abramsky, a leader of Neighbors United for Justice and Peace from nearby Mt. Rainier, Md. said in a letter hand-delivered to Congressional offices.

“The majority of U.S. voters want the troops to come home now,” the letter continues. “The Democrats were given a mandate to end the war when they gained a majority in the House and Senate in the last election. None of the Democratic leadership’s plans take into account the urgency of that mandate. It is hypocrisy that in this supplemental the Democrats will be paying for the escalation that they voted against last month.”

“The peace movement that has been working so hard to end the war is sickened by this supplemental,” said Ellen Barfield, a veteran and member of the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance and Veterans for Peace, in a statement.

“The American people gave Congress a mandate to get us out of Iraq, not to give suggestions to President Bush in the hopes he may finally listen,” said Tina Richards, the mother of Marine Cpl. Cloy Richards, who faces his third deployment in the war zone.

There are other loopholes in both the House and Senate versions of the funding bill. Critics complain that more than 100,000 Pentagon and State Department-paid “mercenaries,” or contract personnel, who are now in Iraq, will not be affected by the emergency legislation.

“It’s certainly not an end to the war when you allow to keep combat troops there to fight terrorists, train Iraqis and secure the borders, and then also keep tens of thousands of non-combat troops there to support those troops. It’s certainly not going to be an end to the war,” said Mr. Zeese. “And further, the failure to deal with the use of military force against Iran, makes it more likely that this bill will expand the war, rather than bring the troops home.”