$87 billion for war: senseless & reckless

Congress voted to approve the Bush administration’s $87 billion package for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, but not without vocal and sometimes vehement opposition by lawmakers and peace activists.

Mindful of the costs of the package, both economic and political, many members of Congress spoke out against the bill. They reflected the growing opposition to the Bush administration’s lies, the occupation, and the mounting U.S. and Iraqi casualties.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of 12 senators who voted against the $87 billion, said a no vote was not a vote against the troops, “but the president’s war has been revealed as mindless, needless, senseless, and reckless. The American people know all this. Our allies know it. Our soldiers know it.” Pointing to a crisis of public confidence, he said, “No foreign policy in our free society can succeed for long unless it is supported by our people.”

Hany Khalil, organizing coordinator of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), told the World, “As The New York Times noted, Congress felt the heat from our movement, pushing more of them to distance themselves from the occupation.” At the same time, he said, lawmakers failed to give Iraqis “the resources they need to repair the damage done by the U.S. war, sanctions, and occupation.”

Public opinion polls show growing rejection of Bush’s foreign policy and rising concerns about domestic issues. Khalil asked, “How about $87 billion for U.S. cities, for jobs?”

“The Republicans and the Democrats need to look at the war’s impact at home,” Khalil said. “Bush wants money for war but denies support for those who die for his policies.”

The pressure to reject Bush’s foreign policy was reflected in a series of bipartisan votes for amendments funding U.S. troop support services and making part of the $87 billion a loan to Iraq, rather than an outright grant. Bush threatens a veto unless his original request stands. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the loan votes revealed splits among the Republicans.

The congressional votes came within days of the announcement of a record-breaking $374 billion federal deficit. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said nearly half of the deficit was caused by Bush’s tax cuts for the rich.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), one of 125 House members who voted no, noted that U.S. troops are not even receiving basic necessities in Iraq. “The Bush administration cannot be trusted to make our troops a priority, so how can we trust them with $87 billion?” she asked, adding, “Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent already on no-bid contracts for major U.S. corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel for reconstruction efforts that Iraqis say can be performed for pennies on the dollar if given to local contractors.”

Zack Exley, MoveOn.org organizing director, commented that “the Bush administration is trying to give blank checks out to Pentagon contractors,” while some wounded soldiers returning from Iraq are waiting a month or more for appointments with a military doctor, “It’s disgusting,” Exley said.

Even right-wing think tanks deplore the cronyism of Bush’s contract awards, Exley told the World. “The vast majority of this money is just being flushed down the toilet, going into profits for Pentagon contractors, most of whom happen to be big Republican campaign contributors.”

In stark contrast, the White House has strongly opposed increasing health benefits for reservists and National Guard members and veterans’ health care.

Kennedy outlined other negative impacts of the $87 billion appropriation. He noted that $87 billion is 87 times what the government spends annually on after-school programs, and 58 times what it spends on community health centers.

Angie Larson, an activist in the Oak Park, Ill., Coalition for Truth and Justice, told the World, “It’s not just the $87 billion – it’s who’s getting it. It’s not the people in Oak Park or the people of Iraq.”

UFPJ’s Khalil told the World the peace movement needs to “continue to reach the people who are questioning the occupation, who know that Bush lied about the war and are upset with Bush’s foreign policy.” He said, “We need to redouble our efforts to bring out people who were active in January, February and March, when large sections of public opinion opposed a preemptive war on Iraq.” The movement needs to be “focusing our pressure on Congress to reject the policies of Republicans or Democrats that are pro-war,” said Khalil.

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org