“Cowardice asks the question— is it safe? Expediency asks the question— is it politic? Vanity asks the question—is it popular? But conscience asks the question— is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While the battles rage in Iraq, the fog of war that has so impaired the vision of those residing at the White House has also descended upon the newly elected Congress. Congressional leaders who said that ending the war was their top priority have been concocting inside-the-beltway maneuvers designed more to criticize George Bush and play party politics than to end the war. With our soldiers dying every day in an unwinnable war, this is not a moment for cowardice or expediency, but a moment for profiles in courage.
The first opportunity to show true courage will come this month when Congress votes on the $93 billion defense supplemental funding request. Right now, Democratic leaders are meeting behind closed doors to come up with convoluted, watered-down amendments to the bill: forcing the President to sign a waiver if he sends troops to Iraq without proper training, equipment or rest periods; putting the blame on the Iraqi government by cutting funds if they don’t do enough to stem the violence; calling for troops to be removed from combat areas by the end of 2008. All of these would allow the war to drag on and on.
The sole sensible amendment under discussion is one that says the funds can only be used for a full withdrawal under a set timetable, no later than December 2007. If that amendment is quashed, however, Congress should respond to the request for billions more of our tax dollars with a simple, dignified, audacious “NO.”
Democrats who truly want to end the war should tune out the heartless cynics in their party who are content to let the war rage on until 2008 so Bush’s popularity will continue to plummet and the Democrats will win the House, the Senate and the White House. Life and death issues must trump party politics.
And for those in Congress who are terrified of being accused of abandoning the troops, it’s time to stand up and reframe the debate. As a group of military families and veterans wrote in an open letter to Congress, “Voting more funds for this war would be abandoning our troops. It would leave them with the possibility of joining the over 3,160 who have died, or the tens of thousands who have been wounded, physically, psychologically, or both.” The best way to support the troops is get them out of harm’s way and back into the arms of their loved ones. And with the present scandal about the dreadful treatment of returning soldiers at our nation’s Veterans Hospitals, Congress would do well to argue that the money for war would be better spent on taking care of the soldiers we have abandoned here at home.
Congress should take heart at the fact that since the 2006 election, polls show an even greater number of Americans oppose the war and want U.S. troops withdrawn. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released February 27 showed that 66 percent of those surveyed oppose the president's planned troop buildup and a majority—53 percent—say a deadline should be set to withdraw U.S. forces. And let’s not forget that back in February 2006, a Zogby poll found that 72% of the troops themselves thought they should be out of Iraq by the end of 2006.
Our elected officials should listen to their impassioned constituents who are calling, visiting and sitting in at their offices all over the country, saying that if the newly elected Congress betrays the voters by funding Bush’s war, it will no longer be Bush’s war but their war as well. In a variation of Colin Powell’s “Pottery barn rule,” constituents are saying: “If you fund it, you own it.”
Congress might not have enough votes to block the funding this time around, but the only way to build momentum to stop the next funding request is to heed the prophetic message of Dr. Martin Luther King now: Stop seeking a position that is safe, politic or expedient. Have the moral courage to do what’s right and within your Constitutional mandate. Use your power of the purse to stop funding this dreadful war.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange
CODEPINK has just launched a Don’t Buy Bush’s War campaign. Join us in DC or send a letter to your member of Congress. www.dontbuybushswar.org.