How We Can End the War
by Stephen Zunes

On January 25 members of the Peace Council’s Local Cost of the War Campaign delivered giant postcards to Rep. Jim Walsh at the Syracuse Federal Building. The messages, signed by hundreds, call on him to “End the Occupation.” The gathering was part of an ongoing effort to pressure all three of our federal representatives to use words and the power of the purse to end the war. Photo:Ian Kowaleski

In recent months, the growing anti-war movement has demonstrated its power through the growing opposition among the public to US policy in Iraq, the more skeptical analysis by the news media of administration policy and the Republican defeat in the 2006 mid-term elections. Unfortunately, these positive developments will not in themselves be enough to actually end the war. One key variable is whether Congressional Democrats, who owe their new Congressional majority in large part to the anti-war movement, are willing to do so.

With power comes responsibility. Now that the Democrats control both houses of Congress, they have the responsibility to remove US troops from Iraq immediately.

The United States has been at war in Iraq longer than it fought the Axis powers in World War II. The American public has lost patience; public opinion polls show that less than 30% of the population supports Bush's Iraq policy. A majority wants Congress to block Bush from sending more soldiers and take steps to force at least a gradual withdrawal. A majority of Democratic voters support an immediate withdrawal.

Beyond Vague Critiques
However, in defiance of their constituents and oblivious to the polls, few Democrats in the House and none in the Senate have called for an immediate withdrawal of American forces, at most supporting some kind of "phased withdrawal" or "strategic redeployment." Although most Democrats have criticized the way the Bush administration has conducted the war and have gone on record opposing his escalation, they have fallen short of declaring the war itself illegal and immoral. Nor have many acknowledged that the conquest by a Western power of such a large Middle Eastern nation was doomed from the beginning.
As long as a member of the House and Senate supports funding for the war, they are pro-war!

It is certainly a positive sign that more and more Democrats in Congress are finally distancing themselves from Bush's Iraq policies, a shift that can be attributed to the power of the anti-war movement. However, Democratic calls for "strategic redeployment" may mean little more than concentrating US forces in Kuwait or other nearby pro-US dictatorships where they can escalate the air war, resulting in fewer American casualties but far greater Iraqi civilian casualties.

The year 2006 may be likened to 1968, when elite opinion finally caught up with the public - recognizing that an increasingly costly counter-insurgency war was unwinnable and that the US needed to leave. Thanks to continued support for the Viet Nam War by the Democratic-controlled Congress, US troops remained until 1973 when the strategic situation was no better than five years earlier. Unless the anti-war movement forces Democrats to act more quickly this time, US forces could continue to fight in Iraq for years.

The Power of the Purse
As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the president has enormous power over the deployment of the US military in Iraq ever since Congress - with the support of Democratic leaders - authorized the invasion in October 2002. However, Congress holds the power of the purse. The House and Senate could force the withdrawal of American troops by withholding funding for US military operations in Iraq after a certain date.

Congress has precedent for using this power. In May 1970, the Cooper-Church amendment eliminated funding for US ground forces in Cambodia just weeks after President Richard Nixon launched a US invasion. In January of 1976, the Clark amendment banned funding for US military operations in Angola's civil war (this was later repealed during the Reagan administration when Republicans captured the Senate). The 1982 Boland amendment restricted US support for the Contras, forcing the Reagan administration to use illegal means to fund its war against Nicaragua.

However, the Democratic leadership in Congress has categorically ruled out forcing a withdrawal of US forces through fiscal measures, the only real means at their disposal. Essentially, their public statements and forthcoming nonbinding resolutions are designed to give the imppression that they oppose the war when in fact they continuing to support it via unconditional funding.

While non-binding resolutions and Congressional hearings critical of Bush's Iraq policy can serve a positive function, it is critical that anti-war activists make it clear that as long as a member of the House and Senate supports funding for the war, they are pro-war. Special pressure must be placed on the news media so they do not label Democratic politicians who support funding for Bush's Iraq policies as "anti-war" just because they vote for symbolic legislative initiatives or ask tough questions of an administration official at a hearing.

Every member of Congress who supports continued war funding should be subjected to leafleting, demonstrations, vigils and civil disobedience at their offices and public appearances, regardless of their press releases. Preliminary planning should begin to put forward strong anti-war challengers in the Democratic primaries and/or credible Green Party nominees for the general election in 2008 to take on pro-war Democratic incumbents if they do not change their position.

Our Historical Precedents
With only a few conscientious exceptions, Democratic politicians have rarely led on foreign policy. They have generally come around to taking progressive positions only as a result of persistent constituent pressure. For example, in 1980 Vice President Walter Mondale and others in the Carter Administration strongly opposed the call for a nuclear weapons freeze. By the time he ran for president in 1984, however, Mondale was an outspoken freeze supporter. In the intervening four years, the Nuclear Freeze Campaign and disarmament activists had mobilized grass roots initiatives across the country, including the massive 1982 rally and civil disobedience action in New York City.

In 1977, Andrew Young - the African-American clergyman and former aide to Martin Luther King who then served as President Carter's ambassador to the UN - vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against South Africa. By 1986, the Republican-dominated Senate joined the Democratic-led House in overriding a presidential veto to impose sanctions against the apartheid regime. This dramatic shift resulted from the divestment campaign and other actions of the anti-apartheid movement that sprung up on college campuses and elsewhere throughout the nation. The imposition of sanctions was instrumental in the downfall of white minority rule.

Grassroots movements also proved essential in shifting US foreign policy on El Salvador, East Timor, Burma, and many other issues. Both Democrats and Republicans have had to respond to organized pressure from an outraged citizenry. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.

The Democratic victory in the midterm elections, then, does not automatically translate into meaningful legislative action to end the war. But the anti-war movement now has the ability, which it lacked when the Republicans were in power, to make that possible.

Stephen ( is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003) and the principal editor of Nonviolent Social Movements (Blackwell Publishers, 1999). He serves as the Middle East editor for Foreign Policy in Focus ( and as a board member and consultant for a number of peace and human rights groups.

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