It is odd that a seemingly straightforward piece of legislation could be a sort of political Rorschach test, with different people seeing in it very different things. But that's exactly the case with a new bill introduced by U.S. Rep. John Dingell.
The long-serving Democrat from Dearborn has authored legislation setting a timetable to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. The withdrawals would begin 30 days after the bill becomes law, and would have to be completed by Jan. 20, 2009, when President George Bush leaves office.
"For years now, the American people have been told that progress in Iraq is just around the next corner," Dingell announced. "Over and over again, the president has told us that we need to be patient, to allow him more time to show results. The sad reality is that President Bush has no strategy for Iraq, and has instead adopted a policy of running out the clock so that he can lay the blame for his failures on the next president.
"Because the president refuses to take responsibility for his failed strategy, I believe it is time for Congress to act," explained Dingell. "My bill would allow the United States to safely and responsibly begin bringing our troops home from Iraq, while at the same time allowing us to fulfill our responsibilities to the Iraqi people."
Simple enough, right?
It is for longtime Detroit-area peace activist Al Fishman, who expressed elation over having a legislator of Dingell's stature — in office since 1955, he's the House's longest-serving member — take such a prominent role in attempting to bring about an end to this misbegotten war.
"This was the shock of the year," said Fishman about Dingell's bill. "He's not a chicken hawk, but he's never been an ardent peace activist, either. He's always been pretty solid on most domestic issues — he's a strong labor person — but he hasn't been an initiator of peace proposals. So for him to take the initiative like this is really outstanding. Now we're going to do everything we can to get other members of the Michigan House delegation to sign on to this."
As he talked, Fishman was preparing to leave for Chicago to participate in one of the regional anti-war demonstrations held in major cities across the country last weekend. As he talked to people in advance of the trip, says Fishman, they were "ecstatic" about the action Dingell had taken, and considered his introduction of the legislation to be "very significant."
The way Fishman sees it, Dingell's bill is a sign that Republican attempts to characterize Democratic opponents of the war as being "soft on terrorism" are losing their sting.
Fishman added that he was particularly encouraged by the strongly worded criticism of Bush contained in the bill, which states that it is "unconscionable for President Bush to leave this situation for the next president to fix."
Others viewed the bill much differently, calling it nothing more than political posturing that will have no real effect. Even if the bill were to somehow able to beat extremely long odds and make it through both houses of Congress, Bush would certainly veto it.
"This is all theater and all nonsense," said David Swanson, co-founder of the activist group After Downing Street, which is calling for the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
The way Swanson and others see it, if the Democrats in Congress were serious about bringing abut a quick end to the war, they could do it by blocking funding. By stopping legislation from getting passed they wouldn't have to worry about Republican filibusters or presidential vetoes getting in the way.
"You could argue that this bill is a step in the right direction," said Swanson, but given the razor-slim majority Democrats hold in the Senate, the only truly effective option they have at this point is to block bills, not trying to pass them. "As long as they refuse to recognize that basic fact, a bill like this doesn't necessarily get us anywhere."
John Stauber, executive director of the Center for Media & Democracy in Madison, Wis., and co-author of six books, including the bestseller Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, is equally critical. He contends that Democrats, instead of taking effective steps to actually end the war, are content to "just hang this rotten, stinking quagmire around the necks of Republicans." The hope among Democrats, he said, is that the same sort of frustration among voters that allowed Democrats to gain control of the House and Senate in 2006 will lead to more congressional victories in 2008.
In Stauber's view, Democrats, lacking the political courage to actually stop the war, are content to use it as a campaign tool.
"It's pretty damn cynical," he said.
Somewhere between those celebrating Dingell's bill and those decrying it as nothing more than political posturing is political scientist J. David Singer, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.
"I'm slightly optimistic this could lead to a more genuine drawdown," said Singer. With public sentiment against the war, Dingell's legislation will force Republicans to show voters how serious they are about bringing troops home. And, if there is strong support for the measure, it will signal Iraqi leaders that they need to move more quickly to stabilize the political situation in their country.
Asked in a phone interview with Metro Times about the criticism that his bill is at best only symbolic, Dingell said such criticism isn't worthy of a response.
"There's no option which does not contain great danger and great humanitarian, economic and political costs to this country," said Dingell. "What I've done is attempt to come forward with the best solution I can. I don't want to see George Bush walk away and dump this in the lap of someone else, Republican or Democrat."
Dingell is right that there are no good options. And no one can look into his mind and discern his motivations. But if the goal is to have troops out of Iraq by the time Bush leaves office, this bill isn't going to make that happen.Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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