Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Iraq war protests becoming more organized

By Carol Gee

Clouds of dissent are gathering into what may be a stormy summer of organized objections to our current president's war in Iraq. The movement actually has a name:

Iraq Summer -- While the situation in Iraq gets worse and worse, the number of casualties increases, and the adminstration demands more time, the American people may be starting to formally organize into a loose coalition of war protestors. Summer is a good time. Students are out of school, people take vacations, and we try to get out of the house to find cool breezes. And lawmakers have returned to Washington to work on appropriating money to fund this hated war. Here is the good news about what is coming. Politico.com carried a great article about the " 'Iraq Summer' campaign," written by Jeanne Cummings and John Bresnahan, from which I quote,

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, an umbrella organization of anti-war groups, began a extensive robocalling project aimed at constituents of 12 senators and 52 House members, urging them to call the congressional offices of the targeted members and press them to vote for expected anti-war amendments.

. . . The intense lobbying campaign comes as Senate Republican leaders are scrambling for a response to the latest Iraq developments, including an escalation in violence and signals from the White House that a mid-July progress report will show that Iraqi political leaders are failing to meet the benchmarks for progress sent out by President Bush, party insiders say.

. . . All this maneuvering comes in the wake of the launch of the anti-war organizations' "Iraq Summer" campaign, which included dispatching 100 grass-roots organizers to 15 states and 40 congressional districts.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are back in session. And Republican legislators are increasingly uncomfortable. Their time back in the district may have forced them to pay attention to their constituents' soured opinion of the Iraq war. As Republican lawmakers begin to talk with each other they will inevitably begin to shift position. It has already begun. Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard calls them "The Nervous Caucus."

Update around noon, Washington time: Republicans blocked a vote on Senator Jim Webb's amendment to insure adequate "dwell time" at home between deployments, 56-41, four votes short of the 60 votes needed. A few "defectors" voted with the Democrats, including Senators Warner, Collins, Snowe, Sununu, Smith, Coleman, and Hagel, the amendment's co-sponsor.

My list of Republican senatorial critics of our current president's war policy follows: Senators Alexander, Brownback, Coleman, Collins, Domenici, Gregg, Hagel, Hutchison, Lugar, Smith, Snowe, Voinovich, and Warner. See also this ( 7/7/07) L.A. Times article by Noam Levey, discussing how facing reelection next year is often what motivates these defectors.

It is best to look to foreign news sources, in my opinion, for the most accurate coverage of what is happening with the change of direction of a beginning number of Republican senators and House members in the United States Congress. Fortunately previous congressional legislation has attempted to hold both the current U.S. administration and the Iraqis to some simple benchmarks, the first of which happens in a few days. Two good sources:

  • The (7/8/07) Financial Times headlined, "Republican rebellion over Iraq escalates." Andrew Ward wrote the excellent story, from which I quote:

    The Republican rebellion against the war in Iraq widened over the weekend as more of the party’s senators voiced dissent from President George W. Bush’s strategy.

    Republican unity on Iraq has shattered in recent weeks, amid mounting pessimism about the ability of US forces to bring stability to the country.

    Weakening Republican support for the war has left Mr Bush increasingly isolated as congressional Democrats prepare for a fresh barrage of votes aimed at forcing a US withdrawal.
  • For an example of a very good situational overview, the BBC News (7/10/07) headlined, "US Senate steps up Iraq pressure" yesterday. I quote:

    The US Senate is debating amendments to the annual military budget designed to put pressure on the White House to start withdrawing US forces from Iraq.

    . . . The administration is to report to Congress on Iraq progress by 15 July. The interim report on 18 measures of progress is required by law under a previous funding bill. Bush administration officials say the picture will be mixed.

    Reports quoting unnamed officials have said it will conclude that the Iraqi government has failed to meet any of the political and economic benchmarks it has been set.

Specifics of Republican strategy - Senators John Warner and Susan Collins, according to the Washington Post, are among several Republican Senators joining with Democrats on key amendments to the war spending bill, often in opposition to party leaders. Individual senators are behaving in remarkably bipartisan ways. And they are looking for existing vehicles within which they can act. Senator Collins is looking to the Iraq Study Group Report for inspiration for an alternate plan, according to the article:

The Maine moderate, who faces reelection next year in her antiwar state, is part of another bipartisan effort that would make last year's Iraq Study Group recommendations the new policy for Iraq, with a goal of removing combat forces by March 31, 2008.

. . . Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), a respected GOP voice on war policy, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, are collaborating on an amendment that would meld the bipartisan efforts. Warner said that he will not comment on the initiative until after Bush presents an interim progress report on Iraq, which could come as early as tomorrow. But, according to lawmakers familiar with the deliberations, Warner and Lugar will try to merge some of the Iraq Study Group recommendations, such as a renewed diplomatic push, with forced mission changes similar to those in the Nelson-Collins amendment.

Using the Iraq Study Group's report is also looking like the best "cover" for wavering Republican House members, including my favorite, Rep. Christopher Shays, according to (6/27/07) CNN.com. Quote:

Earlier in June, several Republican members of Congress called for the Bush administration to follow the recommendations made by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which Bush had resisted to follow.

This week, Republican congressmen Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Frank Wolf of Virginia are calling to reconvene the ISG to review Iraq policy and offer new recommendations.

The pace of Republican defections has not been dizzying. But, happily, it has been steady. I am cautiously optimistic. Time with the folks back home, a goodly number of whom are now organized and applying pressure, may have gotten these folks' attention when the time to cast votes arrives. I will keep you posted, so you can join in the application of citizen pressure as needed.

My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Good Second Mondays is about Native American dancers.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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