Congress Approves Flawed Oman Trade Pact

One of the sub-plots in last year’s critically acclaimed film Syriana tells the story of two young Pakistani ?guest workers? in an unnamed Persian Gulf nation who, after years of resentment over miserable living conditions, are taken in by a radical cleric and recruited to be suicide bombers. The film is an all too accurate portrayal of the exploitation of ?guest workers? in many Gulf countries, and how these conditions can cause instability.

On July 19, with U.S. public attention focused elsewhere in the Middle East on the unfolding tragedy in Lebanon and Israel, the House of Representatives narrowly approved a free trade agreement with the Sultanate of Oman. The 221-205 vote could very well bring this threat home to the United States. The Senate approved the measure last June on a 60-34 vote.

Over two million people live in the Sultanate of Oman. However, at least 600,000 of these people are guest workers from the Philippines, Egypt, and South Asia, who serve as maids, drivers, and construction workers. Oman bans independent labor unions (as well as many other civil society organizations) and has been cited by the U.S. State Department for human trafficking and abuses of foreign workers.

The Oman Free Trade Agreement will do nothing to improve the conditions for workers, as its labor provisions merely require Oman to enforce its existing weak laws.

Recently, The New York Times reported on an expose instigated by the National Labor Committee (NLC), which chronicled the conditions of foreign factory workers in the Kingdom of Jordan since a similar free trade pact was ratified in 2001. The NLC found that the Jordan Free Trade Agreement had resulted in a surge of sweatshops producing clothes for export set up by foreign investors from China and other countries setting up factories. These owners have brought in 25,000 foreigners to work in these factories, many of whom have their passports seized, are regularly denied pay, made to work 20-hour days and are physically abused. When workers complain, they are subjected to jail, beatings, and summary deportations.

The abuse and marginalization of guest workers in countries such as Oman presents a key challenge for the security of this vital region and the United States. James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute has referred to the situation as a ?time bomb.?

It is profoundly disturbing that Congress would approve a free trade agreement that will exacerbate conditions that are likely to trigger a reaction which could threaten the security interests of the United States. Without efforts to significantly improve the conditions of guest workers, primarily from poor Muslim countries, the United Nations and other international observers predict that the Gulf States could see severe political unrest in the years ahead. Trade pacts that create economic incentives for such abuse make the United States a source of the problem. Signs of future unrest can already be seen in last year’s protests and riots by foreign guest workers in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar and?in March of this year?in Oman’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates. The climate of anger and alienation created by the current situation facing guest workers is just the type of environment in which radical Islamic groups thrive.

As a strategic ally of the United States, it is important to encourage further economic development in Oman. However, by promoting a trade model that encourages the further import of guest workers without any mechanisms to ensure decent work conditions, the United States is contributing to the instability of the region and undermines efforts to fight Islamic extremism.

Israel Will Create More Terrorists Than It Kills

The Bush administration’s contempt for the United Nations Charter, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the other fundamental principles of international law has once again been laid bare by its defense of the ongoing Israeli assault against Lebanon.

The seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militiamen, apparently taken in retaliation against Israeli attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip, was clearly wrong.

Israel would have a right to engage in a targeted paramilitary action to free the hostages and, if necessary, kill their captors.

However, large-scale attacks against civilian targets unrelated to the kidnapping is an act of collective punishment, a clear violation of international law.

Israel holds thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners seized within the territory of those nations by Israeli forces. Most of these Arab prisoners have not engaged in terrorism and many are non-combatants. How is Israel’s seizure and detention of these people different from Hezbollah’s seizure and detention of the two Israeli soldiers? Does Israel’s refusal to release its hostages give Lebanon or Palestine, if they were capable of it, the right to engage in a massive bombardment of civilian targets in Israel?

Most of the targets of the Israeli air strikes have nothing to do with Hezbollah, which does not control the Lebanese government and is only a minority party in the Lebanese parliament. Israel has bombed the Beirut International Airport, the main seaport of Juniyah and even the historic lighthouse on the Beirut esplanade, none of which is controlled by Hezbollah. Israel has also bombed bridges, power stations, civilian neighborhoods and villages miles from any Hezbollah militia. And, despite insisting that the Lebanese army take stronger action against the Hezbollah militia, the Israelis have bombed Lebanese army facilities as well.

Close to 200 Lebanese civilians have died in these attacks so far, as well as over a dozen foreigners, including a Canadian family on vacation.

The European Union, consisting of 25 democracies, condemned Hezbollah’s seizure of the Israeli soldiers, but also noted that Israel’s military retaliation against Lebanon is “grossly disproportionate.” The United States is virtually alone in the international community in its defense of the Israeli assault.

Despite President George W. Bush’s claim on Monday that the crisis started because Hezbollah decided to “fire hundreds of rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon,” Hezbollah did not attack civilian areas in Israel until after Israel began attacking civilian areas in Lebanon last week.

In fact, until Israel began its recent assault on Lebanon, not a single Israeli civilian had been killed by Hezbollah since well before Israel’s withdrawal of its occupation forces from southern Lebanon in 2000. Virtually all of Hezbollah’s military actions since then have been against Israeli occupation forces in a disputed border region between Lebanon and an Israel-occupied portion of southwestern Syria, not against Israel.

Congressional leaders of both parties have called for tough action against Syria for allowing the transshipment of rockets to Hezbollah forces, which have killed up to a dozen Israeli civilians. However, they have refused to consider suspending the shipments of F-16 jet fighters and other weapons and delivery systems to Israel. These weapons have inflicted far more civilian casualties on the Lebanese side of the border, despite provisions of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which prohibits U.S. arms transfers to countries that use American weaponry against non-military targets.

In short, both Republicans and Democrats recognize that while arming those who kill innocent Israeli civilians is wrong, they support arming those who kill innocent Lebanese civilians. This is racism, pure and simple.

Not only is Israel’s offensive against Lebanon illegal and immoral, it does not increase Israel’s security or curb the threat of Islamic radicalism. In fact, it does the opposite.

Hezbollah gained popular support in the Shiite community in recent decades largely as a result of the failure of the central government to protect the population from Israeli air and naval attacks and the mass kidnapping and imprisonment of thousands of young men.

Israel’s current offensive will only strengthen Hezbollah’s appeal and undermine Lebanon’s pro-Western government.

This is not about Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense. As with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, it will create far more terrorists than it destroys.

Congress and the Israeli Attack on Lebanon: A Critical Reading

On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives, by an overwhelming 410-8 margin, voted to unconditionally endorse Israel’s ongoing attacks on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The Senate passed a similar resolution defending the Israeli attack earlier in the week by a voice vote, but included a clause that ?urges all sides to protect innocent civilian life and infrastructure.? By contrast, the House version omits this section and even praises Israel for ?minimizing civilian loss,? despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The resolution also praises President George W. Bush for ?fully supporting Israel,? even though Bush has blocked diplomatic efforts for a cease-fire and has isolated the United States in the international community by supporting the Israeli attacks.

The resolution reveals a bipartisan consensus on the legitimacy of U.S. allies to run roughshod over international legal norms. The resolution even goes so far as to radically reinterpret the United Nations Charter by claiming that Israel’s attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure is an act of legitimate self-defense under Article 51 despite a broad consensus of international legal scholars to the contrary.

In short, both Democrats and Republicans are now on record that, in the name of ?fighting terrorism,? U.S. allies?and, by extension, the United States as well?can essentially ignore international law and inflict unlimited damage on the civilian infrastructure of a small and largely defenseless country, even a pro-Western democracy like Lebanon.

Below are the key provisions of the resolution followed by a critical annotation:

Whereas in a completely unprovoked attack that occurred in undisputed Israeli territory on July 12, 2006, operatives of the terrorist group Hezbollah operating out of southern Lebanon killed three Israeli soldiers and took two others hostage;

Though clearly an illegal and provocative act, Hezbollah’s action was not ?completely unprovoked.? Israel has held three Lebanese citizens for several years who were seized by Israeli forces from within Lebanon and Hezbollah had apparently hoped to work out some kind of swap, as both sides have successfully negotiated previously on several occasions. The seizure of the Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border was also apparently done in retaliation for the ongoing Israeli assaults on civilian population centers in the Gaza Strip.

Whereas Israel fully complied with United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 (1978) by completely withdrawing its forces from Lebanon, as certified by the United Nations Security Council and affirmed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on June 16, 2000, when he said, ?Israel has withdrawn from [Lebanon] in full compliance with Security Council Resolution 425;’

Israel’s current re-conquest of Lebanese territory along its northern border places Israel once again in violation of UN Security Council resolution 425 and nine subsequent resolutions demanding the withdrawal of their forces from Lebanon. Furthermore, Israel never fully complied with UNSC 425: While UN Secretary General Annan indeed recognized in his June 2000 statement that Israel had fully removed its ground forces from Lebanese territory, he has also criticized the repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese air space well prior to the recent outbreak of fighting as ?provocative? and ?at variance? with Israel’s fulfillment of the resolution’s demands for a withdrawal of ground troops from Lebanon.

Whereas despite the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, the Government of Lebanon has failed to disband and disarm Hezbollah, allowing Hezbollah instead to amass 13,000 rockets ? and has integrated Hezbollah into the Lebanese Government;

First of all, UN Security Council resolution 1559 does not call for Hezbollah or any other Lebanese political party to be disbanded, only for their armed militias to be disbanded.

Second, the only extent to which Hezbollah has been ?integrated ? into the Lebanese government? is in naming Hezbollah member Mohammed Fneish to the power and hydraulic resources ministry, one of 24 cabinet posts. Representatives of all Lebanese parties that receive more than a handful of seats in parliamentary elections traditionally get at least one seat in the cabinet.

Third, in a UN Security Council meeting this past January that considered a report on the implementation of resolution 1559, the United States and the other members approved a statement that ?notes with concern the report’s suggestion that there have been movements of arms ? into Lebanese territory and, in this context, commends the Government of Lebanon for undertaking measures against such movements.? In other words, the Lebanese government has not ?allowed? Hezbollah to amass new weaponry; the problem is that their small and weak security forces?now weakened further by Israeli attacks?have simply been unable to prevent it.

This clause in the Congressional resolution therefore appears to be designed to try to justify Israel’s decision to attack not just the Hezbollah militia, but Lebanon as a whole.

Whereas Hezbollah’s strength derives significantly from the direct financial, military, and political support it receives from Syria and Iran

Both Syrian and Iranian support for Hezbollah has declined significantly over the past dozen years, particularly since the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from southern Lebanon.

In reality, Hezbollah’s strength derives primarily from popular support within the Shiite Muslim minority in Lebanon which has suffered from heightened poverty and displacement as a result of the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon between 1978 and 2000, the U.S.-backed Israeli bombardment of the Shiite-populated areas of the country from the 1970s through the 1990s, and the U.S.-backed neoliberal economic policies of the Lebanese government that have decimated the traditional economy. As a result of the violence and misguided economic policies, hundreds of thousands of Shiites were forced to leave their rural villages in the south to the vast shantytowns on the southern outskirts of Beirut where many found support through a broad network of Hezbollah-sponsored social services. As a result of gratitude for such assistance and anger at Israel and the United States for their situation, many became backers of Hezbollah’s populist, albeit extremist, political organization. In the wake of the forced departure of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the destruction of the secular leftist Lebanese National Movement by successive interventions from Syria, Israel, and the United States during the 1980s, the radical Islamist Hezbollah rose to fill the vacuum. In other words, ?Hezbollah’s strength? was very much an outgrowth of U.S. and Israeli policy. Indeed, the group did not even exist until a full four years after Israel began its occupation of southern Lebanon.

Whereas Iranian Revolutionary Guards continue to operate in southern Lebanon, providing support to Hezbollah and reportedly controlling its operational activities;

The vast majority of Iranian Revolution Guards returned to Iran years ago. While they played a critical role in the initial setup of Hezbollah’s armed militia in the early to mid-1980s following Israel’s invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, their presence today is quite small and they are certainly not ?controlling Hezbollah’s operational activities.? The number of active Hezbollah combatants declined significantly since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 (until the call-up of reserves following the initial Israeli attacks) and the movement had long since shifted its primary focus to electoral politics and providing social services for the Shiite community. Furthermore, despite claims by the Bush administration and its supporters that Hezbollah is simply acting as a proxy for Iran, it seems highly unlikely that a populist political party would instruct its militia to provoke a devastating war simply to please a foreign backer.

Whereas the House of Representatives has repeatedly called for full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559;

The House of Representatives never called for the full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 425 and nine subsequent resolutions calling for Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon during Israel’s 22-year occupation of the southern part of that country. Nor has the House ever called for the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 446, 451, 465, and 472 calling on Israel to withdraw its illegal settlements from the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights or dozens of other UN Security Council resolutions currently being violated by Israel, Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, or other U.S. allies. As in the Bush administration, there appears to be a strong bipartisan sense in Congress that UN Security Council resolutions should only apply to governments and movements the United States does not like.

Whereas President George W. Bush stated on July 12, 2006, ?Hezbollah’s terrorist operations threaten Lebanon’s security and are an affront to the sovereignty of the Lebanese Government. Hezbollah’s actions are not in the interest of the Lebanese people, whose welfare should not be held hostage to the interests of the Syrian and Iranian regimes,’ and has repeatedly affirmed that Syria and Iran must be held to account for their shared responsibility in the recent attacks;

As the pro-Western government of Lebanese Prime Minster Fuad Siniora has insisted and as recent events have confirmed, the major threat to Lebanon’s security and the most serious affront to its sovereignty is clearly the U.S.-backed Israeli government, not Hezbollah. And Hezbollah’s political and military activities, like that of other Lebanese political parties, are based primarily upon what the movement’s leadership?however wrongly and cynically?believe is in the best interest of advancing their political agenda and not that of the Syrian and Iranian governments (whose interests in Lebanon are often at variance with each other as well.) It is also disappointing that such an overwhelming majority of Democrats would be willing to cite President Bush as an authority on the situation in Lebanon following a series of demonstrably false claims he has made about that country and the current conflict.

Resolved, That the House of Representatives condemns Hamas and Hezbollah for engaging in unprovoked and reprehensible armed attacks against Israel on undisputed Israeli territory, for taking hostages, for killing Israeli soldiers, and for continuing to indiscriminately target Israeli civilian populations with their rockets and missiles;

Though such condemnation is appropriate, it is noteworthy that this resolution does not also condemn Israeli attacks against sovereign Lebanese territory and its targeting of civilian population centers, essentially backing the racist notion that Israeli territory and Israeli civilians are more important than that of Lebanese territory and civilians. It is also important to note that not a single Israeli civilian had been killed from Hezbollah attacks since well before Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago until Israel started killing Lebanese civilians when it launched its attacks on July 12.

further condemns Hamas and Hezbollah for cynically exploiting civilian populations as shields, locating their equipment and bases of operation, including their rockets and other armaments, amidst civilian populations, including in homes and mosques;

This clause appears to be designed to blame the Lebanese, not the Israeli armed forces, for the deaths of innocent civilians. As Human Rights Watch has noted, ?Deploying military forces within populated areas is a violation of international humanitarian law, but that does not release Israel from its obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian property during military operations.? While it is not unusual for outgunned guerrilla movements with popular local support to have equipment in close proximity to civilian population, none of the offices of members of Congress who supported the bill which I have contacted has been able to cite any independently documented cases in the current conflict where Hezbollah has engaged in ?exploiting civilian populations as shields.? (Two offices cited Israeli government claims to this effect, but the Israeli government has previously made similar claims that were later proved false.)

recognizes Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and welcomes Israel’s continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties;

This runs directly counter to reports by international journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations that indicate that Israel has not been committed to ?minimizing civilian loss? or preventing civilian casualties. As of this writing, well over 300 Lebanese civilians have been killed, the vast majority being nowhere near Hezbollah military installations. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court Justice, declared that Israel’s ?indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians. Similarly, the bombardment of sites with innocent civilians is unjustifiable.? (She also correctly criticized Hezbollah’s attacks into civilian areas in Israel.)

None of the Congressional offices I contacted was able to provide me with any data countering these reports. In supporting this resolution, 410 House members have gone on record challenging the credibility of these reputable human rights organizations and UN agencies, which have courageously defended the rights of victims or war and repression for decades. Supporters of this resolution have apparently demonstrated their willingness to misrepresent the truth in order to strengthen President Bush’s efforts to undermine international humanitarian law.

demands the Governments of Iran and Syria to direct Hamas and Hezbollah to immediately and unconditionally release Israeli soldiers which they hold captive;

Regardless of whether Iran and Syria are willing to work for the release of Israeli soldiers, neither government has the power to ?direct? Hamas and Hezbollah to do anything. The decision by Congress to overstate the leverage that Iran and Syria have over these movements?like similar exaggerations of Soviet and Cuban leverage over leftist revolutionaries in Central America during the 1980s?appears to be based less on reality and more on helping to promote the right-wing global agenda of a Republican administration.

affirms that all governments that have provided continued support to Hamas or Hezbollah share responsibility for the hostage-taking and attacks against Israel and, as such, should be held accountable for their actions [and] condemns the Governments of Iran and Syria for their continued support for Hezbollah and Hamas in their armed attacks against Israelis and their other terrorist activities;

This appears to provide the legal justification for future military action against Syria and Iran.

Ironically, however, the biggest supporters of Hamas have not been Syria or Iran but Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-backed monarchies in the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, the ruling parties of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government and their militias have long maintained close ties to Hezbollah. By only mentioning Syria and Iran, however, Congress is clearly not concerned about ?all governments? that support these groups but only governments that the United States does not consider allies.

Furthermore, given that Israeli attacks have taken far more civilian lives than the Hezbollah and Hamas attacks, why should not the Bush administration also be condemned for its support of Israel’s armed attacks against Lebanese and Palestinians?

supports Israel’s right to take appropriate action to defend itself, including to conduct operations both in Israel and in the territory of nations which pose a threat to it, which is in accordance with international law, including Article 51 of the United Nations Charter;

Article 33 requires all parties to first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice,? which Israel has refused to do. Article 51 does allow countries the right to resist an armed attack but not to use a minor border incident as an excuse to launch a full-scale war against an entire country, particularly when the armed group that violated the border was a private militia and not the army of the country in question.

Article 51 also states that self-defense against such attacks is justified only ? until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security,? which may explain why the Bush administration?with the near-unanimous support of Congress?has blocked the UN Security Council from imposing a cease fire or taking any other action. Such a radical reinterpretation of Article 51 allows the Bush administration and future U.S. administrations to justify massive military strikes against foreign countries in reaction to relatively minor incidents provoked by irregular forces within that country.

The International Red Cross, long recognized as the guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, has declared that Israel has been violating the principle of proportionality in the conventions as well as the prohibition against collective punishment. Similarly, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour?who served as chief prosecutor in the international war crimes tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia?has gone on record declaring that the armed forces of both Hezbollah and the Israeli government have been engaging in war crimes. None of the Congressional offices I contacted was willing to provide documentation that challenged these assessments.

commends the President of the United States for fully supporting Israel as it responds to these armed attacks by terrorist organizations and their state sponsors;

President Bush is virtually alone among the United States’ Western allies and the international community as a whole in his unconditional support for Israel’s assault on Lebanon. Since President Bush’s most significant role since the outbreak of the fighting has been to block diplomatic efforts by the United Nations, the European community, and others to arrange a cease-fire, this resolution is essentially an endorsement of indefinite war. It is disappointing that all but seven of the House’s 201 Democrats would once again give their unconditional support for President Bush regarding a Middle East policy based primarily on the use of force. In backing President Bush in this resolution, Congress has gone on record challenging the broad international consensus that, however reprehensible the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas may be, Israel’s actions are excessive and in violation of international legal norms.

urges the President of the United States to bring the full force of political, diplomatic, and economic sanctions available to the Government of the United States against the Governments of Syria and Iran;

Given that the Bush administration and Congress already have implemented strict political, diplomatic, and economic sanctions against Syria and Iran, it is unclear what more could be done. Indeed, with such strict sanctions already in place, it is difficult for President Bush to exercise any additional leverage short of military action.

demands the Government of Lebanon to do everything in its power to find and free the kidnapped Israeli soldiers being held in the territory of Lebanon;

Israel has been bombing Lebanese army and other government facilities and has destroyed virtually every bridge connecting the central part of the country (where most of the central government’s police and military apparatus is based) to Hezbollah strongholds in the south (where the Israeli soldiers are presumably being held). It is hard to understand, therefore, how the Lebanese government could do much at this point to find and free the Israeli soldiers. It is also noteworthy that the resolution says nothing about Lebanese citizens kidnapped by Israeli forces who are currently being held in Israel.

calls on the United Nations Security Council to condemn these unprovoked acts and to take action to ensure full and immediate implementation of United Nations Security Council 1559 (2004), which requires Hezbollah to be dismantled and the departure of all Syrian personnel and Iranian Revolutionary Guards from Lebanon;

First of all, it is the United States that has prevented the UN Security Council from passing a resolution condemning the capture of the Israeli soldiers and the rocket attacks on Israel because of the threat to veto any resolution which is also critical of the Israeli attacks.

Second, UNSC resolution 1559 requires the ?dismantling and disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias,? which would certainly include Hezbollah’s militia, but not Hezbollah’s far more extensive political apparatus and social service networks. With the Lebanese government unable to force the dismantling and disarming of Hezbollah as long as its armed forces and its transportation infrastructure are under U.S.-backed Israeli attacks, it is hard to understand how the Security Council could ?take action to ensure full and immediate implementation? of the resolution other than to authorize the use of force by other countries under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. But such use of force cannot legally be implemented in an internal security issue without the consent of the recognized government.

Third, the report to the UN Security Council on the implementation of UNSC 1559 in January of this year noted that Syria had complied with provisions for the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon and did not note the ongoing presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guard. (There are reports of a small number of Iranian advisers still in the country, though it is unclear whether foreign military advisers constitute ?foreign forces? under the resolution, particularly since a number of Western nations, including the United States, have sent military advisers to Lebanon since the Syrian withdrawal last year.)

In any case, after its forces entered Lebanon last week, Israel clearly violated UNSC resolution 1559. The resolution calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon. Congress, however apparently believes Israel is somehow exempt from this resolution.

Democrats Versus the Peace Movement?

The U.S. Congress failed in recent weeks to take even symbolic steps to encourage a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, even though the majority of Americans support an end to the war. Many anti-war advocates are hoping that the mid-term U.S. elections in November will push Congress into Democratic hands and thereby increase the chances of ending the war. Don’t hold your breath.

The Democratic leadership of both the House and Senate supports continued funding of the Iraq war and has been reluctant to force the Bush administration to set even a tentative deadline for the withdrawal of American troops. Indeed, the Democrats?who controlled the Senate in 2002?share responsibility with the Republicans for creating the tragic conflict in Iraq by voting to authorize the invasion in the first place. The majority of Democratic senators as well as the Democratic leadership of both houses gave President George W. Bush free rein to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his choosing in direct violation of the United Nations Charter, which the United States is legally obliged to uphold. These pro-war Democrats teamed up with the Bush administration to mislead the American public by making a series of false claims regarding the ongoing presence of ?weapons of mass destruction? (WMDs) in Iraq and the ?threat? supposedly posed by that government.

Just as a solid majority of Congress members blindly supported the Bush administration’s lies about WMDs, they now blindly support the Bush administration’s argument that the United States must continue prosecuting a counter-insurgency war that has taken the lives of more than 2,500 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, primarily civilians.

As a result, Congress will not likely stop the war?unless the anti-war movement forces it to do so.

In Search of Democratic Backbone

On June 15, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly defeated a resolution calling for the withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraq by the end of this year. Only six of the 100 senators voted in favor of the resolution, even though public opinion polls indicate that the majority of Americans and the vast majority of Democrats nationwide support such a deadline. Furthermore, a recent Le Moyne College/Zogby International poll revealed that 72% of U.S. troops serving in Iraq believe that the United States should end its operations in that country by the end of 2006, thereby giving the Democrats a concrete way of demonstrating that they ?support the troops.?

During the same week, the House of Representatives, by a 256-153 vote, claimed that the ongoing war in Iraq was part of the ?war on terror? and explicitly declared that ?it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq.? Forty-two Democrats joined all but three Republicans in supporting the resolution. Although the former Iraqi regime rid the country of WMDs years earlier, allowed UN inspectors to return to verify dismantlement, and maintained no ties to al-Qaida or other Islamic extremists, the House resolution claimed that the deposed government ?constituted a threat against global peace and security and was in violation of mandatory United Nations Security Council Resolutions? and ?supported terrorists.?

Faced with a lack of support in the Senate for a withdrawal of American forces by the end of the year, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts put forward a resolution the following week calling for a withdrawal by July 1, 2007. The Democratic leadership reportedly put enormous pressure on Kerry to withdraw even this tepid resolution from consideration, but the bill went to the floor anyway. Kerry’s bill was also soundly defeated, with no Republican senators and only 13 of the 44 Democratic senators voting in favor. The 87% of the Senate that believes U.S. forces in Iraq can stay indefinitely is also the percentage of Iraqis who want the United States to have a timetable for departure?but the sentiments of Iraqis have never been of particular concern for American politicians of either party.

A second resolution, sponsored by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, simply called for the beginning of a withdrawal of some troops by the end of the year with no timetable for a complete withdrawal. This, too, was defeated, by a vote of 60-39. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman declared that adopting the Levin resolution would result in ?the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 being able to claim victory in Iraq and going on, emboldened, to attack us again here at home.? Lieberman failed to mention that al-Qaida found recruitment opportunities inside Iraq only after the U.S. invasion. Lieberman was joined by Democrats Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. All but one Republican senator opposed Levin’s resolution.

Both these Senate resolutions were non-binding. Even if the stronger Kerry resolution had passed, the Bush administration would have still been allowed to prosecute the war indefinitely. Resolutions like Kerry’s and Levin’s enable Democratic senators to have it both ways: to go on record opposing the war while continuing to fund it.

Dealing with the Dems

Because the Senate unanimously votes to fund the war in Iraq, Peace Action PAC, the political action committee of the country’s largest peace organization, will for the first time not endorse any senators for re-election this year. Some anti-war activists have gone further, not just withholding support but actively calling for the defeat of every pro-war senator regardless of party affiliation, even if it means supporting Green Party nominees or other anti-war challengers. Such strategists believe that Democrats will not likely change their pro-war positions as long as they can assume the support of their anti-war constituents.

Constituent pressure does indeed make a difference. Two of the half dozen most outspoken anti-war senators?Tom Harkin of Iowa and Kerry?voted in favor of the original resolution in October 2002 authorizing the invasion. Grassroots anti-war efforts in their home states forced these formerly pro-war Democrats to reverse their stance.

However, apologists for the Democratic Party reply that efforts to defeat pro-war Democrats could result in electing enough Republicans to prevent the Democrats from re-taking the U.S. Senate. However, it should be recalled that the last time the Democrats controlled the Senate (2001-2002), they voted to authorize the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not only might a Democrat-controlled Senate fail to end the war in Iraq, it may well authorize President Bush to launch yet another tragic war. Already, leading Democratic senators and presidential hopefuls like Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh have attacked the Bush administration for being too eager to pursue diplomatic means in the Iran crisis. They have been more willing to entertain the exercise of military force to end the current impasse over that country’s nuclear program. On other national security issues, these hard-line Democrats have defended the already-existing nuclear weapons arsenals of U.S. allies Pakistan, Israel, and India. And last month, an overwhelming majority of Democrats in the House voted in support of a resolution criticizing President Bush for not sufficiently punishing Palestinians who suffer under Israeli military occupation. In short, a Democratic majority in Congress will not necessarily mean a more enlightened foreign policy.

One might think that partisans of the Democratic Party would be in the forefront of the anti-war movement, given the imperative of completing a withdrawal prior to the end of President Bush’s term. Otherwise, the final withdrawal of U.S. forces will likely take place under a Democratic administration, leading Republicans in subsequent years to blame any anti-American terrorism or upsurge of violence and instability in the Middle East on the failure of Democrats to ?finish the job in Iraq? started by the Bush administration.

Mobilizing for the Alternative

Having already authorized the invasion of Iraq back in October 2002, Congress can only stop the war at this point through its constitutionally mandated power of the purse. There is precedent for such congressional action. Following President Richard Nixon’s decision to launch an invasion of Cambodia at the end of April 1970, Senators John Cooper of Kentucky and Frank Church of Idaho introduced a resolution that banned funding of ground troops in Cambodia. Over strong objections of the Nixon administration, the resolution passed and troops were withdrawn.

The Cooper-Church amendment succeeded in 1970 because of massive protests throughout the country against the invasion of Cambodia. Such protests included large-scale civil disobedience and other forms of nonviolent action, which, among other things, shut down over 200 college campuses nationwide. It will probably take a similar outpouring of protests before Congress reflects the will of the American public and forces the Bush administration to withdraw from Iraq.

Fortunately, plans are in the works for just such a national mobilization. A broad coalition of peace groups calling itself the Declaration of Peace has planned, should Congress not implement a withdrawal plan, a massive nonviolent action campaign for September 21-28. The anti-war movement hopes that shutting down congressional offices and governmental and commercial centers throughout the country will undermine the current bipartisan support for Bush’s war. Endorsers include Clergy and Laity Concerned, Code Pink, United for Justice and Peace, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Pax Christi USA, Peace Action, War Resisters League, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Americans who oppose the war are already the majority. Whether we can actually stop the war will depend not so much on the composition of Congress but on how many Americans will be willing this September to put their bodies on the line in the cause of peace.