With the New Year, the Democrats have now taken over the Congress. In the last election the public turned against the mismanagement of the war in Iraq and against the war itself, leading the voters to throw out the Republicans. To respond to the voters, the politicians must rein in the war and bring it to a quick end. Bush, on the other hand, has apparently learned very little. He has belittled the Iraq Study Group report and its recommendations. If he brings the troops home, as the public wishes, he is admitting defeat. Rather than “cutting and running” he will almost certainly send more soldiers to Iraq, in a move that should be called “Operation Target,” since it will provide more soldiers for Iraqi shooting practice.
Sending more troops will not only result in more casualties but is likely to damage our army and marine corps. Military experts, such as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, Army Chief of Staff, Gen Peter Schoomaker, retired General Kevin Ryan, and retiring General John Abizaid have warned than the military is “being broken.” Recruiting is becoming more difficult with standards being lowered to meet the need for more volunteers. Equipment is falling apart faster than it can be replaced. Morale is sinking as it is becomes more and more obvious that we are losing the war.
Since the Constitution makes the president the Commander-in-Chief, giving him control over the military, Congress has little direct say over where and how the troops are deployed. The Congress does have the power of the purse, however. It can restrict the spending of funds in any way it sees fit. Congress can also specify policy goals, including setting objectives for the Administration to meet.
The new Congress should do the following:
- As recommended by the Baker-Hamilton report (recommendation 22), pass a binding resolution that the U.S. has no intention of establishing permanent bases in Iraq. This will remove one of the major factors contributing to the insurgency. Currently the Pentagon is building at least four major bases, complete with swimming pools, movie theatres, McDonalds, Wendys, Burger Kings, and Starbucks. While the administration has never stated that these facilities are being built for the military to use for decades, they have never denied that these structures are for long-term use.
- Reduce the size of the U.S. embassy in Iraq. The embassy has 21 buildings on 105 acres. Some 5500 Americans and Iraqis work there, more than in any other U.S. mission in the world. The size of this complex is extraordinary and suggests that we plan to run the country as a colony for decades. The U.S. embassy in Iraq should be no larger than our embassies in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, two very important Arab countries.
- Refuse to authorize any funds for increasing our military forces in Iraq. In addition, require that the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars be included in the annual budget. The Bush administration up to now has sent supplemental requests to Congress periodically, thereby preventing the second branch of government from carrying out its responsibilities of allocating government resources over the entire spectrum of federal activities.
- Vote funds for reducing our presence in Iraq by bringing home most of our troops by the end of 2007. Any remaining troops would be there only to train Iraqi soldiers and would have to be out by the end of 2008. Appropriations for the Pentagon can specify that certain funds be spent only on returning troops to the U.S. while at the same time prohibiting that any funds be used to send new soldiers to Iraq.
- Congress should repeal the PATRIOT Act or, at the very least, amend it to allow prisoners the right of habeas corpus. All inmates in Guantánamo should either be tried or released, not kept indefinitely. Torture should be fully abolished. The practice of extraordinary rendition should be prohibited. Electronic eavesdropping should be allowed only when a warrant has been issued by a competent, independent court.
If the Congress has the will, it can bring this nightmare to a close. Unless it acts, however, Bush and Cheney will continue the bloody occupation of Iraq and might even extend their reach to Iran. It is time to say “Enough” and bring the soldiers home.