Truthout, January 2, 2007
There has been no shortage of deceptions surrounding the prosecution of the Iraq War, beginning with the original justification - Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, supporters of the war continue to use deception to advance their agenda. The latest lie is that Congress doesn't have the ability to end the war, because if they cut off funding they would jeopardize the safety of our troops.
I will explain in a moment why this is completely untrue, but I first want to call attention to the "hide behind the troops" mode of argument. From the beginning, supporters of the war have regularly insisted that they support our troops, implying that opponents of President Bush's agenda want to see our troops harmed.
The argument over the conduct of the war is with President Bush, his advisors and his supporters in Congress. It is not an argument against the troops. It is an incredible act of cowardice for anyone to try to justify pursuing the war as somehow based on supporting our troops. It has absolutely nothing to do with supporting our troops. The troops are doing what President Bush ordered them to do - they are not the ones who decided to go to war in Iraq. If supporters of the war felt that they had an honest case, they would not feel the need to hide behind the troops to push their agenda.
The latest version of the "hide behind the troops" mode of argument is to claim that Congress lacks the ability to end the war. The story goes that President Bush is commander in chief of the armed forces, and that if he does not want to end the war, then Congress cannot force his hand. According to this argument, if Congress were to use its control of the budget to restrict funding, it would jeopardize our troops stationed in Iraq by denying them the supplies and ammunition needed to defend themselves.
This argument is garbage. Congress has the authority to require the top military commanders in Iraq to produce a plan for safely withdrawing our troops from the country. It can also require these commanders to give their best estimate of the cost of this plan. It can then appropriate this money, specifying that the funds be used for the withdrawal plan designed by the military.
President Bush would then have the funding required to safely withdraw our troops from Iraq. He would not have the money to continue his war. If he chose to defy Congress by misusing the funds (and thereby jeopardizing the lives of our troops), then the law provides a simple and obvious remedy: Impeachment. While it is possible that Bush would choose to violate the law, jeopardizing both the lives of our troops and his presidency, it is reasonable to assume that he would comply with the law and not exceed his authority as president.
Reasonable arguments could be made that this sort of decisive measure from Congress is not desirable. It could be argued that allowing President Bush more discretion in the conduct of the war would be the better route. But it is important to understand that Congress does have the authority to shut down the war without abandoning our troops. If Congress does not pursue this option, then it is because it has chosen not to. President Bush cannot continue to wage a war in Iraq if Congress is really determined to stop him.
Congress should have a real debate over how best to bring the war to an end. And, the supporters of the war should not be allowed to hide behind our troops.
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (www.conservativenannystate.org). He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's web site.