The Bush Veto, the Democrats’ Response, and Why Millions Must Break with the Politics of Empire


This past week President Bush vetoed a $124 billion emergency war funding bill (Congress’s Supplemental Appropriations Bill). He said he did this because it contains language requiring some U.S. combat troops to begin redeploying from Iraq in October 2007—although there are no mechanisms in the bill to enforce a troop withdrawal. 

The substance of the bill, Bush’s veto, and the ongoing clash between Democrats and the Bush administration over Iraq once again highlight s three things. 

First, Bush is making it clear that he does not support any moves to end the war. Second, while the Democrats have deep concerns about the damage Bush is doing to the U.S. empire, they are unable and unwilling to end the war.  And third, this immoral and unjust war—which has already killed as many as 650,000 Iraqis (as reported by the British medical journal, Lancet) and made refugees of another 3 million—could continue indefinitely unless millions who are “troubled” about the war break out of their current “wait til 2008″ paralysis, fully confront the unjust, criminal nature of the war and act courageously to stop it. 

Bush also made clear with this veto that he demands unchecked authority to continue the Iraq war (and the whole “war on terror”) regardless of what Iraqis or people in this country want (poll after poll has shown that most Iraqis and Americans want a U.S. withdrawal). He demanded a “clean” bill—a blank check—without any restrictions or timetables. 

Bush’s arguments for the veto are a mixture of lies, double-talk, and truth (about how the U.S. ruling class look at their necessities). 

First the big lie. What the Bush Regime portrays as a noble effort to make the world safe from terrorism and bring democracy to the Middle East is actually a vicious war of empire to deepen the U.S. stranglehold on the Middle East and Central Asia —a war that is part of a broader effort to create an unchallenged and unchallengeable imperialist empire.

This goal is not viewed as capricious or incidental by those in charge—whether Democrats or Republicans—rather it flows from the deepest needs and drives of their system: U.S. hegemony in the Middle East and global dominance is crucial for U.S. capitalism’s ongoing functioning and U.S. global power. 

So when Bush says, “Even if you thought it was a mistake to go into Iraq, it would be a far greater mistake to pull out now,” he’s expressing a fear — from an imperialist viewpoint – that a U.S. pullout would leave the empire weaker. And he is saying this in opposition to other forces in the U.S. ruling class who, also coming from an imperialist viewpoint, now think it’s a big mistake for the U.S. not to withdraw.

Bush also vetoed the bill because he fears  that setting a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawals could signal to the region and world that the U.S. is losing momentum in Iraq and the “war on terror,” and/or that the U.S. rulers are losing their “will” to continue.  Bush fears that such a trajectory could be fatal to the whole U.S. war for greater empire, so the White House labels any timeline for withdrawal as a “surrender date.” 

Finally, Bush vetoed the bill in order to continue his regime’s quest for presidential power unchecked by other branches of government (Congress and Judiciary). The website Swoop.net, considered by the bourgeois press to provide reliable assessments of government thinking, wrote that a White House official told their reporter, “At the end of the day, Bush does not see Capitol Hill as a legitimate player.” (Washington’s World, April 30th- May 6th, 2007)

The Democrats: A Ruling Class Party Unable and Unwilling to End the War

Despite protestations by leading Democrats like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (who claims, “make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war”), the bill they sent to Bush and their response to his veto illustrate that their position on the war is a thoroughly imperialist one, making them unwilling and unable to really end the war.

First, the appropriations bill they drafted never called for a complete withdrawal from Iraq—much less the Middle East.  It called for a phased withdrawal of most combat forces, but envisioned leaving thousands of soldiers in Iraq indefinitely to fight “terrorists,” protect U.S. installations, and train Iraqi forces. And U.S. forces redeployed to other countries in the region would be available to re-invade Iraq and/or be used to attack other countries in the region. It is also very exposing that  the Democrats refused to include language in the bill requiring Bush to consult Congress before attacking Iran .

Second, the logic of the bill was to threaten troop withdrawals to force the Iraqi government to meet U.S. “benchmarks” such as passing an oil bill, building their armed forces, disarming militias, and curbing the civil war/sectarian violence dynamic now gripping Iraq. These are the same goals Bush spelled out in his January 10 address to the nation, aimed at creating a stable, pro-U.S. government in Iraq. The Democrats also want to cut U.S. losses, preserve the military, and regroup to defend broader U.S. regional interests.

When Bush vetoed the bill, and the Democrats failed to override it, they immediately began talking about concessions: giving Bush the money he wanted and removing any timetables for troop withdrawals. Simply refusing to fund the war (including by filibustering) wasn’t considered. (For more, see “No Good Choices in the Halls of Power: Democrats Vote $100 Billion to Continue the War,” by Larry Everest, Revolution #83, http://revcom.us/a/083-special/toolempire-en.html)

This whole dynamic of riding the anti-war vote to power, then voting to fund an ongoing war while claiming to be ending it, reflect the conflicting necessities the Democrats face. As representatives of U.S. imperialism, they are committed to maintaining U.S. global dominance. Yet they fear the U.S. is sliding toward a strategic debacle of epic proportions and may already have lost the war in Iraq.  So they’re trying to find a way to extricate most U.S. forces and reposition and strengthen the U.S. in the region.

And they’re trying to carry out this “redeployment” while making clear to the world and the powers-that-be in the U.S. that they can be just as tough and ruthless as Bush.  At the first Democratic Party candidates debate, both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards forcefully responded to a question about terrorist attacks with declarations that they’d act “swiftly” and “strongly.”

At this debate Sen. Mike Gravel briefly spoke some unwanted truth when he condemned the other candidates for refusing to rule out an attack on Iran, exposing that “no options off the table” is imperialist-speak for a preemptive nuclear strike.  He said: “And I got to tell you, after standing up with them [the other Democratic candidates for President], some of these people frighten me—they frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there’s nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that’s code for using nukes, nuclear devices…

“I got to tell you, I’m president of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices. To my mind, it’s immoral, and it’s been immoral for the last 50 years as part of American foreign policy.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats also have to try to maintain the loyalty of their supporters (to both the party and the system), millions of whom have turned against the war and are furious at the Democrats. So we get all the talk of carrying out the “will of the voters” and “moving to end the war”—while horrendous crimes continue to be carried out in Iraq and they do nothing to really put an end to the war.

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