If Tuesday July 17th is any indication, Iowa‘s longstanding liberal Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is willing to pay occasional attention to some of his constituents who oppose the illegal United States occupation of Iraq. 


I saw Harkin on C-SPAN in the U.S. Senate Chambers at around two in the morning last Tuesday.  As part of the Senate Democrats’ “sleep in” effort to break through a Republican filibuster against a Senate vote to begin withdrawing combat troops from Iraq in four months, he was reading from antiwar letters he’d received from Iowans in recent months. 




One letter came from the mother of a U.S. soldier deployed in “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”  By Harkin’s account, the military mom from rural Iowa wanted to know how many more American GIs were going to die in a “mistaken” and failed war that was sold to the American people on “fraudulent” grounds.


She would have been right to add that the war is criminal – not merely mistaken – and to note that the leading victims of Washington‘s occupation by far are the Iraqis. If she said anything along those lines, Harkin did not quote it.


After reading from her note and another one like it, Harkin pointed to a big red, white, and blue sign positioned next to his podium.  The sign read “LET US VOTE.”  The Senator accused Republicans of defying the will of the American people by blocking a vote that could force a “change of course” in Iraq. 




It’s too bad Harkin didn’t pay more attention to the large number of Iowan and other American and world citizens who opposed the White House’s Iraq war plans on and before October 11th 2002.  That’s the terrible day when Harkin joined 28 other Democratic Senators (including leading presidential candidates Hillary Clinton [D-New York] and then Senator John Edwards [then D-North Carolina]) in voting to authorize Bush to use force against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (CNN 2002). 


As many Iowans and Americans and most of the morally and politically cognizant human race could have told Harkin back then, the Cheney-Bush administration’s case for one-sided “war” (the illegal invasion of a defenseless state that posed no threat to the U.S.) was based on cooked (not “bad”) “intelligence” and on massive, media-enabled deception.  The fact that Cheney-Bush et al. were lying about the danger supposedly presented to the U.S. and the world by Saddam’s Iraq was widely understood at home and abroad.  You didn’t have to be some kind of clairvoyant, “expert,” or insider to know better than to play along with the administration’s preposterous case for the invasion of Mesopotamia.




And it’s too bad Harkin doesn’t listen more to Iowa voters like Iowa City‘s Rosemary Pesaud. Last July 6th, Ms. Pesaud gave a moving speech that Harkin ought to have quoted from in his “Let Us Vote” speech. She was speaking prior to being sentenced for “criminal trespass” at the Linn County District Associate Court in Cedar Rapids, less than half a mile from Harkin’s official eastern Iowa office.  Explaining why she had joined 10 other activists in occupying U.S. Senator Tom Grassley’s (R-Iowa) Cedar Rapids office on a cold Friday afternoon last February, Persaud brought courtroom audience members to tears with her call for peace. 


“As a mother,” she said, “I have to speak against this war and ALL wars.  I have the responsibility to teach my children to be understanding of other people and to find ways to solve problems non-violently.  It’s hard to teach your kids these lessons,” Persaud added, “when their culture is violent and when their government is provoking war as a means to an end.”


“I refuse,” Persaud declared, “to offer my children or anyone else’s children as fodder for the war machine.” 


“The American people want our troops HOME, to live,” Ms. Persaud noted (making an assertion that finds strong support in the relevant polling data), “and we want the Iraqi people to live.  It was a crime for the United States to invade Iraq and it’s a crime to continue waging a brutal war for oil.”


Persuad told the Linn County judge that she had wanted “to ask Senator Grassley, as someone who has spent years of service investigating fraud and waste in government spending, why he sees no waste in human life as this war goes on and on, year after year.  Is not a life worth more than a dollar?  It seems,” she added, “our Congress has lost its ability and courage to measure what matters and has lost its moral compass.”


Midway through her oration, Ms. Persaud registered a basic point that Tom “Let Us Vote” Harkin might wish to consider before he votes on the 2008 FY Pentagon Budget and the next Iraq War funding bill later this summer:  “Congress has the power to end this unjust war and illegal occupation. They can stop funding it.”


As Stephen Lendman reminds us: “no money, no war; it’s that simple” (Lendman 2007). 




But it’s all too simple, apparently, for Harkin and most of the Democrats in Congress.


Harkin’s party rode mass U.S. antiwar sentiment to a Congressional majority during the mid-term elections last November.  But last May 24th, Harkin joined 36 other Democratic U.S. Senators in cravenly capitulating to the Bush administration’s demand for nearly $100 billion of unconditionally granted supplemental military spending to pay for the continuing invasion of Iraq. Most Congressional Democrats (Harkin included) voted to keep spending a taxpayer fortune on the occupation with no strings attached even while polls indicated that 82 percent of Americans wanted Congress to “either kill funding for the war immediately or approve funds for the war [only] with strict conditions” (Zunes 2007) – primarily timetables for expeditious withdrawal. 


Frustrated by Bush’s veto of their earlier effort to tie war funding to (merely non-binding) timetables for troop “withdrawal” and (more to the imperial point) “redeployment,” the congressional Democratic “leadership” caved to the nation’s incredibly unpopular president.  They had no choice, they argued, claiming that the White House would be able to portray them as traitorous under-cutters of the nation’s noble freedom fighters in Iraq.  But this was transparently false cover for their continuing collaboration with an imperial White House gone wild.     Stephen Zunes’ May 31st critique of how Harkin and other Democrats voted on May 24th merits lengthy quotation:


“The claim by Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and other Democratic leaders that unconditional funding was necessary to ‘support the troops’ and to ‘not leave them in harm’s way’ is a LIE [capitalization added]. If they really supported the troops and wanted them out of harm’s way, they would have passed legislation that would bring them home. The Democrats had other priorities, however.”


“Pelosi claimed that they had to provide unconditional funding for President Bush’s war in Iraq because they could not get enough Republican support to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to override a presidential veto. However, they did not need a two-thirds majority to stop funding the war. All they needed to do was to refuse to pass any unconditional funding for the war and instead pass a funding measure that allocated money for the sole purpose of facilitating a safe and orderly withdrawal from Iraq, or, at the very least, a funding measure that set a strict deadline for the withdrawal of troops.”


“As Speaker, Pelosi could have set the legislative agenda and not allowed any funding bill to come to a vote unless it had such provisions. And, if Bush refused to sign it, he would have been the one to put the troops in harm’s way, not Congress.”


“Some apologists for the Democrats claim that to not support funding for the supplemental would have allowed political opponents to portray them as ‘not supporting our troops.’ However, three conservative Republican senators—Coburn, Burr, and Enzi—voted against the supplemental because of the $20 billion in domestic, non-war-related expenditures without apparent fear of such charges. So why should the Democrats have been afraid to oppose the measure as well?”


“And it certainly is no longer the case—as apologists for the Democrats claimed when they supported supplemental spending for the war in previous years—that it would be politically difficult to oppose a key initiative of a popular president now that Bush is one of the least popular presidents in history, a ranking that has come largely as a result of the very war policy for which the Democrats have once again given him a blank check to continue” (Zunes 2007).




Zune’s common-sense analysis helps explain why Ms. Pesaud and 30 other antiwar activists with the Iowa Occupation Project went over – I joined them  - to Harkin’s office after Pesaud and other “Cedar Rapids 11″ members were sentenced (Street 2007). 


Saying he’d been “expecting” us, Harkin’s Cedar Rapids staffer Tom Larkin gave activists a two-page position paper titled “Tom Harkin on Iraq: Change the Course, Not Stay the Course.”  This document began by praising “our brave men and women” [soldiers] for “having brilliantly completed the task for which they were sent to Iraq.” It said that Harkin “has fought hard to pass legislation containing a timetable to extricate our troops from the civil war in Iraq” and claimed that “it is now time for Iraq‘s leaders to resolve their political differences and take responsibility for their own future.”


Neither Larkin nor his handout offered any serious justification for Harkin’s decision to continue funding a criminal, brazenly imperialist oil occupation without even non-binding timetables for eventual withdrawal.


Larkin seemed flustered when I reminded him that many American and most world citizens know that “the task for which [US troops were] sent” – deepening U.S. control over strategic Middle Eastern energy resources – is criminal and imperialist in nature and that the U.S. bears enormous responsibility – and owes reparations – for the enormous damage (including the creation of civil war in Iraq) it has inflicted on Iraq.


I told Larkin that Harkin’s May 24th vote defied the majority antiwar citizen opinion that created his party’s congressional majority last fall.  I asked him why the Democrats had lacked the elementary political courage to have put the onus of not “supporting the troops” on George W. Bush.  I reminded Larkin of John Edwards’ useful slogan, “Support the Troops, End the War” and suggested that votes likes Harkin’s last spring help explain why the Democratic-majority Congress now receives lower U.S. approval rates than the least popular President in U.S. history.


Larkin said something about Harkin’s history as a World War II veteran and disappeared behind a wall. A handful of University of Iowa students and others activists sitting on the floor of Harkin’s Cedar Rapids office then held an informal teach-in on U.S. foreign policy, politics and society.  Students read aloud the names of hundreds of Iraqi children and Iowa soldiers killed by the illicit war of aggression and occupation that Harkin and Grassley have voted to fund over and over again. At 5 PM, the citizen and student occupiers were arrested and given citations for “criminal trespass.” 


I forget to remind Larkin that many of Senator Harkin’s “brave men and women” (U.S. troops) have been indiscriminately killing, maiming and torturing Iraqi civilians in the execution of a   colonial war (see Hedges and Al-Arian 2007 for some especially disturbing evidence from fifty returning U.S. occupation soldiers)




The bloody petro-colonial occupation of Iraq is a richly bipartisan CRIME – a brazenly imperialist and racist transgression that has been enabled and sustained by Democrats from the start.  Both leading U.S. political parties are responsible for this “dark and depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars and occupations, from the French occupation of Algeria to the American war in Vietnam and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory” (Hedges and al-Arian 2007).   


Harkin and other congressional Democrats’ main problem isn’t that Republicans aren’t letting them vote.  Its how they’ve been using the voting power they’ve already got.


This September, when the FY 2008 Pentagon budget comes up for congressional approval – $649 billion plus a $142 billon “war supplemental” – we should not be surprised when Harkin and hundreds of our other Democratic “representatives” fail yet again to pull the fiscal plug Cheney and Bush’s imperial adventurism within and beyond Iraq.


At the same time, we should refrain from celebration if Congress enacts “conditional” funding with some version of the (partial) withdrawal and redeployment schedules that Harkin and other Democrats tried to pass last March. As Howard Zinn notes, for antiwar activists to support “timetables” for the eventual scaling down of the invasion of Iraq is “as if, before the Civil War, abolitionists agreed to postpone the emancipation of the slaves for a year, or two years, or five years, and coupled this with an appropriation of funds to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act…Timetables for withdrawal,” Zinn argues, “are not only morally reprehensible in the case of a brutal occupation (would you give a thug who invaded your house, smashed everything in sight, and terrorized your children a timetable for withdrawal?) but logically nonsensical. If our troops are preventing civil war, helping people, controlling violence, then why withdraw at all? If they are in fact doing the opposite—provoking civil war, hurting people, perpetuating violence—they should withdraw as quickly as ships and planes can carry them home.”


“It is four years since the United States invaded Iraq with a ferocious bombardment,” Zinn adds, “with ‘shock and awe.’ That is enough time to decide if the presence of our troops is making the lives of the Iraqis better or worse. The evidence is overwhelming. Since the invasion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, and, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about two million Iraqis have left the country, and an almost equal number are internal refugees, forced out of their homes, seeking shelter elsewhere in the country” (Zinn 2007).


And what exactly do Democrats like Harkin and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Obama really mean when they say “withdrawal?”  Now that the occupation faces widespread opposition inside the U.S., leaders of both parties are “repackaging it to dampen domestic opposition, cut some of the worst losses and regroup.” As Anthony Arnove explains, the “new approach” of many congressional Republicans and Democrats is “troop reduction, not withdrawal; a greater reliance on air power and ‘over the horizon’ forces rather than boots on the ground; a retreat to bases and the Green Zone in Baghdad; and a shifting of the blame from the United States and its allies to the Iraqis.” 


“In effect,” Arnove notes, “it’s a ‘blame and hold’ strategy.  Blame the Iraqis for all the problems we created.  Hold onto whatever the U.S. military can salvage in terms of military bases in Iraq – to have some influence over the future of Iraq’s massive oil reserves and some ability to continue military operations in Iraq, and to project power against other countries in the region, particularly Iran” (Arnove 2007).


The imperial and bipartisan task is to mask continued permanent petro-imperialist occupation and control as “withdrawal” and “counterterrrorism” while deflecting and undermining legitimate calls for the payment of reparations for the monumental damage the United States Empire has inflicted on Mesopotamia.


And “here’s why” the occupation is not going to truly end until many thousands more Americans and Iraqis die, according to Lendman:    “The Afghan and Iraq wars are for resources, primarily oil, and in the parts of the world where more than four-fifths of proved reserves are located. Canadian journalist and author Linda McQuaig explains the grandest of grand prizes is ‘hidden in plain sight’ in Iraq.  It’s the country’s oil treasure – the planet’s last remaining bonanza of easily harvested ‘low-hanging fruit’ with more potential reserves than Saudi Arabia, the great majority of them untapped.” 


“It makes the country ‘the most sought after real estate on the face of the earth’ according to one Wall Street oil analyst…Even with dated information on its potential, Iraq has at least 10% of the world’s dwindling oil reserves.  But it’s potential was ‘frozen in time’  with no new development in over two decades because of intervening wars in the 1980s, economic sanctions following the Gulf war in 1991, and the current war ongoing since March, 2003.  If the country’s potential doubles or triples, as Saudi Arabia‘s did in the last 20 years, it would, in fact, have the world’s largest (mostly untapped) proven reserves making Iraq too rich a prize for America and its Big Oil allies to pass up.  It’s worth trillions of dollars and immense geopolitical power at a time of peak oil in the face of future dwindling supplies, except in this resource-rich country the US won’t ever leave as long as there’s enough of them in the ground and region to justify staying” (Lendman 2007).


Such is the deep dark and oily imperial truth – readily available to anyone with “three functioning grey cells,” according to Noam Chomsky (Chomsky 2005) – behind Harkin and other leading congressional Democrats’ need to take superficially antiwar postures while using their policymaking authority to continue funding and justifying the persistent U.S. assault on the people of Iraq.   


 Veteran radical historian, journalist, and activist Paul Street ([email protected]) is a Left commentator in Iowa City, IA. Street’s latest book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).  Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005), and the semi-weekly Empire and Inequality Report.






 Anthony Arnove 2007.  “Why Bush Won’t Admit Failure in Iraq,” Socialist Worker (July 20, 2007), available online at http://socialistworker.org/2007-2/638/638_04_Arnove.shtml.


CNN 2002. “Senate Approves Iraq War Resolution,” CNN (October 11, 2002), available online at: (http://archives.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/10/11/iraq.us/


Noam Chomsky 2005.  “There is No War on Terror,” Noam Chomsky interviewed by Geov Parrish (December 23, 2005), available online at http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20051223.html


 Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian 2007.  “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” The Nation (July 30, 2007).


Stephen Lendman 2007.  “Plan Iraq – Permanent Occupation,” ZNet (July 17, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=13304 Paul Street 2007.  “The Courage of Their Convictions: Confronting Criminal Trespass with the Iowa Occupation Project,” ZNet (July 13, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=13280 


Howard Zinn 2007. “Are We Politicians or Citizens?” The Progressive (April 2007), reproduced on ZNet (March 27, 2007) at  http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=51&ItemID=12413


 Stephen Zunes 2007. “The Democrats’ Support for Bush’s War,” Foreign Policy in Focus (May 31, 2007), available online at http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4278



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