The End Game
Farr’s recent move points to a better approach in Iraq.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Sam Farr’s response last week to President George Bush’s “new way forward” in Iraq was swift and bold—and, in the short run, hopeless.
Within a few hours after returning to his office Thursday morning following the president’s speech the previous night, our congressman made an audacious move that, in theory, would cut Bush’s legs out from under him. Farr introduced a bill, HR 413, to withdraw Congress’s basic support for the war. The proposed legislation would allow members of Congress to essentially reverse the vote that authorized the president to go to war, which was passed in October 2002.
The bill has no chance of passage—even if it won in the House and Senate it would of course be vetoed. Farr is well aware of that fact. His bill is intended to be a challenge to the president’s fundamental authority to wage the war, as one part of a clear message that the new Democratic Congress has no intention of staying the course.
In an interview from his office Tuesday, Farr said he believes his bill will be one of “dozens, if not 50 bills” that Democrats will introduce in coming weeks dealing with the war in Iraq.
“There are many ways to confront this,” he said. “And one way is to go back to the beginning, to challenge the president’s executive privilege.”
Listening to the president lay out his new plan, Farr was clearly reminded that this president has consistently pushed the boundaries of his power, especially in regards to this war.
“Bush believes it’s within his power to act unilaterally. This bill is about Congress’s authority in a time of war”.
“He believes it’s within his power to act unilaterally,” Farr said. “This bill is about Congress’s authority in a time of war to advise and consent.”
Farr says he rushed the bill to the floor without even bothering with the usual protocol of seeking co-sponsors—only two House members, Dennis Kucinich and Lynn Woolsey, have signed on. But even though HR 413 is doomed as legislation, Farr promises that it will have an impact as one piece of a bigger Democratic strategy to wrest some control of foreign policy from the Bush administration.
“Congress will not be able to direct this war, because that is the president’s job,” Farr says. “But Congress can hold hearings. We can question, and push, and withhold, and debate. And that’s what we are going to do. Aggressively.
“The previous Congress gave the president a blank check. That is never going to happen again. The previous Congress didn’t ask the right questions, didn’t demand a plan, didn’t provide oversight. That’s all changed now. There won’t be any more blank checks.”
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At this time last week, it was possible to believe there was a slim chance that, finally, George Bush was getting it. As we awaited the speech the president was to give last Wednesday, the optimists among us could look upon his firing of Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. George W. Casey, and his appointment of Robert Gates and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, and hold out a shred of hope—Gates, the new defense secretary, had served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, and Petraeus, who now commands ground forces in Iraq, is deeply respected, even by critics of the war.
Before he was even halfway through his address to the nation, Bush made it clear that there was no reason to believe he had seen the light. Instead of recognizing the need for a profound shift in strategy, he defended his failed strategy and the ideology that drives it. He did not take the opportunity to embrace the findings of the Iraq Study Group, or the findings of his own generals, and instead he put forward the “surge” idea that had already been roundly dismissed by countless policy analysts and military experts. Rather than make moves toward diplomacy, he poured gasoline on the fire in the region by making barely veiled threats against Iran.
Until now, many Americans, even some of us who opposed the war from the start, have been reluctant to embrace the idea of immediate withdrawal. As awful as this war is, we have had reason to believe that abandoning Iraq would be even worse.
The president’s speech last Wednesday made it clear that the time has come to end this war. Farr’s move last week represents one step toward that end.
“We were told at the start of all this, after 9-11, that this would be a global effort,” Farr says. “And yet in Iraq, we are practically all alone. This should be an international effort. If we step back, I believe the rest of the free world will step up.
“There is no quick and simple solution to this. But we’re going to start.”