Defund the War

The twisting and turning, the double- and triple-talk, the obfuscation and evasion – is there any limit to the Democrats’ duplicity when it comes to ending the Iraq war?

Apparently not. Listen to newly-installed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, appearing on this Sunday’s Face the Nation, as she tries to make some dubious “distinction” between funding the war and paying for Bush’s “surge.” Asked by interviewer Bob Schieffer what the Democratic response would be if the president goes ahead with his “surge” in spite of widespread opposition, Madame Speaker replied:

“If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now. The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon them.

“But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it. And this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions. And we’ve gone into this situation, which is a war without end, which the American people have rejected.”

Appropriations for military operations in these theaters have, up until now, been put off-budget, on the grounds that spending requirements in wartime are unpredictable. However, an obscure provision of the defense bill, passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in October, requires the president to include a detailed justification for his Iraq and Afghanistan spending requests, and directs that this be included in the official budget, to be submitted no later than the first Monday of February. Yet the money for the “surge,” as well as maintaining our present level of spending, will come in the form of another “emergency” supplemental, due to come up around the same time in the House Defense Appropriations Committee, chaired by antiwar congressman Jack Murtha.

Murtha tells Arianna Huffington that he has some cockamamie plan to “fence the funding” and deny the president funds for the “surge” on the grounds that our tax dollars are better spent on taking care of traumatic brain injuries sustained by our fighting men and women, the “signature injury” of those wounded in Iraq. Whether this can work, politically, is one question, but it’s clearly contingent on a number of entirely unpredictable factors, one of which is the strength of the Democrats’ spine when it comes to opposing this war – not, in short, a hopeful picture, considering their skittishness when it comes to this issue, especially considering the very real divisions on this issue within the party. What is likely to happen is that extra funding for medical care will be voted in, in addition to the “surge” funds.

In any event, there is no way Congress can micro-manage military strategy in Iraq. As congressman Dennis Kucinich has pointed out:

“The Administration does not have to pay any attention to Congress’ attempt to guide the administrative conduct of the war. Once Congress gave its consent for military action, it literally did not have the authority to guide the conduct of the war. At this point, the only option Congress has to guide the conduct of the war is to withdraw approval for the war through a cut off of funds. Even a substantial reduction of funds could leave open the door for a legal claim that Congress still intends to keep troops in Iraq. The Administration can rummage through the DOD budget and find money to keep its desired troop levels. Unless the Congress totally cuts off funds, it leaves itself open to an imposition of Presidential will through the Food and Forage Act of 1861 which gives the president the authority to directly spend money for troops in the field absent a congressional appropriation.”

Nancy Pelosi is talking out her … hat when she avers:

“If the president wants to expand the mission, that’s a conversation he has to have with the Congress of the United States. But that’s not a carte blanche, a blank check to him to do whatever he wishes there.”

Bollocks. If Nancy and her friends hand the president the dough, he can spend it as he pleases. There is only one way to squash the “surge,” and stop the war, and that is to vote down the money to pay for it in toto.

Like a frat-boy who’s overspent on his credit card, the president needs to be reined in by responsible adults – that is, if we can find any. Congress must exercise parental control, and put its collective foot down, by saying “Enough is enough!” When an errant adolescent habitually spends his entire allowance on candy – or, in this case, the equivalent of crack cocaine – there is only one course to take: cut him off. That the American people can understand, and surely sympathize with, far more than Pelosi’s ludicrous and constitutionally dubious efforts to transform Congress into the joint chiefs of staff.

We are told that cutting off the funding for the war means not “supporting the troops,” but this is another bipartisan lie: the money for ongoing military operations in 2007 is already in the pipeline: HR5631 [.pdf], the Defense Department appropriations bill authorizing spending on Iraq and Afghanistan for this year, passed overwhelmingly, 394-22, with the full support of the Democratic leadership. So what is Nancy nattering on about?

The idea that, if Congress cuts the funding, the GIs will soon run out of bullets and body armor is complete BS. That’s what they want you to believe so they can sit on their hands while the casualties pile up and the war spreads beyond the boundaries of Iraq.

The big argument that many in both parties have been making is that the Iraqis have become so totally dependent on the American military presence that they have not had to stand on their own feet and keep order in the country. The Iraq Study Group report recommends letting the Iraqis know that there is a limit to our indulgence – that at some point the Americans must threaten to start downsizing their commitment so as to give the Iraqis some incentive to cooperate. Congress must apply this same principle to the Bush administration. Like an over-indulgent parent, we’ve let the Bushies get away with spending money – and lives – hand over fist for far too long. It’s time to let them know that there is a limit to our indulgence, and our patience.

What is needed, in short, is some shock therapy, a sharp rebuke that will make the administration sit up and take notice – the legislative equivalent of a fairly hard slap upside the head. Nothing short of that is going to convince either the White House, or the electorate, that the Democrats are serious about ending this war.

Don’t be distracted by the 11 different “investigations” mounted by various congressional committees – as valuable as some of these may turn out to be in uncovering who lied us into war and how they went about it. Keep your eye on the ball, that is, on the question of ending this rotten and increasingly dangerous exercise in empire-building. And there’s just one way to do that: de-fund the war.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].