Point Austin: Act Against the War
Doggett: "We have to do everything we can"
The latest, most visible escalation the "surge" of 21,500 troops, supposedly to pacify Baghdad and Anbar province smacks both of feeble military desperation and a reflexive determination to defy homefront interference of any kind, even from bipartisan moderates (e.g., the GOP Congress-instigated Iraq Study Group). At the same time, rhetorical chest-beating about Iranian "outsiders" (the Bushites always have hypocrisy to spare) and increasing military moves against Iran suggest they may well bumble their way, step by arrogant step, into an even wider war. Certainly they are capable of much worse than they've already done. But the ubiquitous conspiracy theories about the administration's ultimate intentions all have a fatal flaw: These vainglorious idiots simply don't know what they're doing.
Last week Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett took the House floor and spoke frankly about the current situation. "President Bush has been wrong at every step along the descent into chaos in Iraq, and he is wrong once again," Doggett said. "The terrible price for his repeated miscalculations is paid for by the blood of the brave, by hundreds of billions of dollars squandered, and by greater insecurity for our families. He has no new plan; just an old delusion."
Doggett is one of the few Members (Democrat or Republican) who can claim a clear conscience on the war, having unambiguously opposed it long before it officially began, and in October of 2002 vainly leading the effort to halt Congressional authorization for the invasion. A few days after his floor speech, we talked over the phone about what it might take finally to end what he had described as the Bush administration's "spend and bleed" policy. Most importantly, Doggett insisted, "There's no one way to address this problem. We have to do everything we can to bring this conflict to a halt, all means that we have at our disposal."
Looking for Leverage
Doggett is cautious about hoping for a dramatic, immediate reversal of U.S. policy. "There is no doubt that this administration's goal is to pass this war on to the next administration," he said, "as with so many other problems: the debt, climate change, and so on." He was also critical of the self-serving shrugs of some prominent Democrats for example, Sen. Joe Biden's recent remarks there is essentially "nothing" Congress can do to affect the course of the war. "There's a lot we can do and should do," Doggett insists, "even while the administration continues to exhort its fanatics to continue to support whatever it wants to do." He said the Senate appearing to be backing off from a proposed resolution opposing the Bush "surge." "Maybe they don't have the votes," he said, "but I also have a concern that a largely symbolic resolution might just be a way of avoiding a vote on actual funding of the war."
Yet for a couple of reasons, Doggett is skeptical that a direct resolution to cut off war funding, demanded by some Dem partisans, holds much promise. In the first place, the Senate Democratic majority hangs by a hair (that of ailing Sen. Tim Johnson) and a (Joe) Lieberman, "who is part of the majority in name only, at least on this issue." Moreover, any free-standing funding cut would readily be subject to a Bush veto "We don't have the votes to overcome that." He pointed more optimistically to a tactic suggested by Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha, which is to tie specific conditions e.g. closing the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo or denying funding for additional troop "surges" to any further defense appropriations. "We've got to determine what they must have," said Doggett, anticipating upcoming defense budget hearings this week, "and apply significant conditions to it."
Cynicism a Luxury
Doggett is concerned that many citizens disheartened that no amount of public opposition (even an overwhelming electoral rejection in November) appears to affect administration actions or priorities may readily drift into cynicism, and he believes that "large numbers of people must continue to publicly express their opposition to the war." Asked if he thought there is sufficient congressional opposition to maintain momentum against the escalation, he said there are roughly three groups on the issue. "Some were wrong early, supporters of the war, and are now reassessing their position; others are frankly afraid to touch it for fear of being accused of being soft on national security." He is more hopeful about a third group, "some of the new members, who literally owe their election to voters' reaction against the war, [telling] the Dem leadership that we have to deliver on this issue, or we won't be back here."
Recent comments from new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, said Doggett, suggest that the administration may now either try to put the "surge" troops in place before Congress has time to respond or else claim that they can pay for any additional troops out of last year's defense budget. Whatever they try, he said, "We can't give them a blank check. The noises about Iran are very alarming. ... We must oppose any widening of the war. ... We must not waver from anything other than 'no attack on Iran.'"
In sum, said Doggett, in a voice audibly reinvigorated after 12 years of minority exile, "We must keep acting against cynicism. We must keep acting against the war."
Next Saturday, Jan. 27, in solidarity with a national demonstration in Washington, local anti-war groups will host a march and rally calling for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. Participants will gather at 3pm at City Hall for a 3:30 march to the Capitol. For more information, see www.thirdcoastactivist.org.