Thursday, May 17, 2007

Congress Doesn't Learn Vietnam's Lesson, Iraq War Drags On

The war is dragging on. It has now lasted longer that World War II. Yesterday, Congress failed to authorize a plan that would block funding of the Iraq war beyond April 1 of next year, meaning, in all likelihood, that the war will continue past that date. President Bush has said the war will not end on his watch, which means it will continue at least until his successor is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009.

Withdrawl of funding for the war is the best chance anyone has to stop the Bush administration and end the war. Congress is authorized to do so under the law, and with public sentiment running so high against the war, it's a wonder they did not.

The bill introduced by Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) would have limited funds after April 1 to training Iraqi forces and for counter-terrorism efforts. A tepid, competing bill from Republicans, which was also defeated, would only have required Bush to present "progress reports" in July and September, with only the possibility that foreign aid could be withheld if certain benchmarks weren't met. A provision added to the Republican bill at the insistence of the White House would have allowed Bush to waive any penalties. In short, it was a bill with no teeth and did not challenge the administration.

To their credit, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted for the Democratic measure, which will no doubt please their Democratic supporters. John Edwards has been calling on Congress to cut off funding for the war for months now. By contrast, all of the Republican presidential candidates have said they will continue the war in one fashion or another (although their tune may change when they reach a general election where they have to appeal to a majority of Americans rather than the rapid right-wing base).

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) described the need to end the war as soon as possible. He said, "How many more soldiers do we have to bury? How many more do we have to bring into our military and veterans hospitals? How many more thousands of innocent Iraqis have to die before we finally accept our responsibility to bring this war to an end?" In a statement, Edwards stressed the historical need for the war funding to be cut: "In 1971, Congress repealed the resolution authorizing the Vietnam War - and the war continued for four long years until Congress stopped funding it."

When generals and analysts have said there is no military solution to the war in Iraq, what can be gained by continuing the U.S. military presence there? It seems what U.S. politicans who have supported the war feel is most at stake is their careers. There's no other logical explantion for continuing this effort, which seems, like Vietnam, fated to end badly for the U.S.

In the early 1970s, Congress considered 18 proposals to restrict funding for military operations in Southeast Asia, and only five were enacted. Congress never actually cut off funds for U.S. combat operations in Vietnam itself while American troops were there, despite efforts to do just that. Combatting calls for the end of war funding, President Ford said the U.S. couldn't "abandon our friends while our adversaries support and encourage theirs." Sound familiar? Congress eventually stopped funding, and the war ended.

It's unfortunate that in more than 30 years, Congress hasn't learned anything. The deaths of many more Americans and Iraqis are sure to come in the next few years, while the countdown to the end of the war ticks away. By not ending the funding now, Congress and the Bush administration are causing the misery of thousands. All of which isn't necessary, since the lessons of history show that the end of the war - without what Bush considers "victory" - is inevitable.