On the evening of May 25 the U.S. House of Representatives considered an amendment offered by Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) calling for an exit strategy from Iraq. Amendment No. 26 simply stated:
“It is the sense of Congress that the president should --
(1) develop a plan as soon as practicable after the date of the enactment of this Act to provide for the withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq; and
(2) transmit to the congressional defense committees a report that contains the plan described in paragraph (1).”
The simple resolution was a moderate one. It set no specific timetable for withdrawal -- in an effort to make it easy for members of Congress to agree. After all, we always claim we intend to leave Iraq. This amendment was an opportunity to make leaving Iraq the policy of the United States. The amendment, part of the debate on the authorization for the Department of Defense, was allotted 30 minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives -- 15 minutes for each side.
In the end the amendment failed by a vote of 300 to 128 with 5 not voting. Because Rep. Woolsey insisted on a roll call vote we now know who needs to be convinced. There were some disappointing votes including the Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as members generally seen as liberals including: Rep. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Stenny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Sanchez (D-CA) and Rep. Udall (D-CO). Five Republicans voted for the amendment, most notably Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) who is well known for insisting that the French Fries sold in the Capitol be re-named “Freedom Fries.”
Rep. Woolsey opened the debate noting that her amendment was in honor of the “brave men and women who are serving in Iraq” as “the best way to support them is to establish a plan to bring them home.” She went on to point out:
“[O]ur continued presence in Iraq after the election has caused America to be seen by the Iraqi people as an occupying power, not as a liberating force. Our continued presence in Iraq works against efforts for democracy, provides a rallying point for angry insurgents, and ultimately makes the United States less safe.”
She also made it clear she does not want to abandon Iraq, recognizing it is a country that has been devastated saying: “We must assist Iraq, not through our military but through international humanitarian efforts to rebuild their war-torn economic and physical infrastructure.”
Leading the opposition to the amendment was Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA). He portrayed the amendment as sending a message to U.S. opponents:
“This amendment is a message-sender. It is a message-sender to people like Al Sadr who are considering even now continuing to foment rebellion against the elected government in Iraq. It is a message-sender to Zarqawi and his followers, who think that perhaps the United States doe not have the stomach to continue to oppose them. It is a message-sender to our troops, who might, in seeing if this amendment should pass, feel that the resolve of the American people is fading away.”
In an ironic use of Mohandas Gandhi, certainly no advocate of war, Rep.Geoff Davis (R-KY) argued that because Iraqis have shown they want democracy we should continue our occupation of Iraq, saying: “Mohandas Gandhi said, ‘The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.’ The people have democracy in their hearts. They can feel it within their grasp. They can look up and see it shining near them. We just have to stand and give them a hand to reach it.” Rep. Davis made clear what the exit strategy of war supporters is:
“Let our foes understand one thing. Our exit strategy from Iraq is simply this: winning the war on terror. We must hold firm to the course and be resolved in our determination to with this fight.”
Perhaps the most important speech in favor of an exit strategy came from Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). His district in North Carolina is one that is very supportive of the military. His opposition to the continuation of the war is of interest because he had been a supporter of the war, a point he highlighted in his opening: “This is about a policy, that I believed when I voted 2 years ago to commit the troops that I was making my decision on facts. Since that time I have been very disappointed in what I have learned about the justification for going into Iraq.” He explained:
“[A]ll this amendment does is just say that it is time for the Congress to meet its responsibility. The responsibility of Congress is to make decisions whether we should send our men and women to war or not send them to war. What we are saying here tonight is we think it is time for the Congress to begin, to start the debate and discussion of what the exit strategy is of this government . . .”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) echoed Rep. Jones’s concern for Congress doing its “constitutional duty.” She pointed out that it “is a constitutional duty by this Congress to declare war. We failed in that duty a couple of years ago.” She argued that by now debating withdrawal, the Congress would be correcting that constitutional error.
A majority in Congress requires 218 votes. From this vote, it is evident that those advocating an end to the war -- a view that now represents the majority of the people of the United States -- are 90 votes away from success in the House of Representatives. With an election year coming in 2006, support for the war diminishing, the cost in human lives and the U.S. treasury escalating, a concerted effort by the anti-war movement to convince members of Congress should be the focus. Success is achievable.
As Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA), noted: “[W]hen he was Governor of Texas, this is the advice that George W. Bush gave President Clinton about the war in Kosovo. Victory, he said, means exit strategy, and it is important for the President of the United States to explain to us what the exit strategy is.”
The case for an exit strategy in Iraq is even stronger than for Kosovo. The current strategy is failing. As Rep. Meehan said: “Without an exit strategy to win the peace and bring our troops home, our policy is going in circles.” Let us hope that President Bush listens to the advice of Governor Bush.
Other Articles by Kevin Zeese
Pretext for War: An Interview with James Bamford