Heroes and Hypocrites: Black Caucus Shattered on Iraq

More than two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus signed on as members of the Out of Iraq Caucus, but when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic corporate cohorts turned up the fire, all but four melted into the mass of hypocrisy that joined the U.S. war machine while pretending to resist it. The heroes are mostly heroines: Reps. Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Diane Watson, and the only man in the bunch, John Lewis. The collapse of the CBC is not a morality play, but the story of a power play. The lesson: the CBC will not stand up to Power, and is a politically spent force as presently constituted. The same must be said of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, only four of whose non-Black members stuck by their guns.



“National Democratic party leaders hope to conduct the same “hopeful”, nonspecific and vaguely oppositional national campaign as in 2006, reaping antiwar Democratic votes for pro-war Democratic candidates”


George Bush predicted more than a year ago that no matter who won the 2006 mid-term election, withdrawal from Iraq will be the next president’s problem, not his.  Few Bush predictions on Iraq have come true. But last week Congressional Democrats made a prophet out of the Republican president.


From all the gloating, backslapping and high-fiving in the House of Representatives last Friday afternoon, a casual viewer might imagine Democrats had pulled off some decisive stroke against the Bush regime’s unjust and illegal war on Iraq.  In fact, they did not.


What House Democrats actually did was pass a special budget bill giving George Bush every dollar he requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus a few billion extra, and little more for vets health care, with a few tens or hundreds of millions worth of legislative pork on the side to secure the votes of reluctant Democrats on each flank.  The “withdrawal measures” in the Democrat-approved war budget are unenforceable suggestions, a patchwork of loopholes held together by the empty pretense that President Bush and the Pentagon will not lie to us.


First, the “withdrawal” suggestions in the supplemental war budget don’t apply to any military personnel the president certifies are engaged in “training” Iraqis or fighting insurgents, or those who guard the US embassy and America‘s city within a city, the Green Zone.  Entire battalions have already been certified as “trainers” by the stroke of a Pentagon pen.


Second, Democratic “withdrawal” suggestions do not apply to the 100,000 or more Pentagon-paid mercenary troops, who are believed to have sustained more than a thousand dead, several thousand casualties, and inflicted their share of the monstrous Iraqi death toll.


Third, the withdrawal suggestions only kick in if and when the president “certifies” Iraq‘s puppet government and its forces are “ready to stand on their own”, whatever that means;


And fourth, the suggested deadline for beginning – not ending, but beginning the partial, conditional and suggested withdrawal of US armed forces from Iraq, if it ever happens, is March 2008.  Until then Democratic House leaders have granted the president a free, unobstructed, and bloody hand to continue his genocidal war against the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps Iran.


“A casual viewer might imagine Democrats had pulled off some decisive stroke against the Bush regime’s unjust and illegal war on Iraq.  In fact, they did not.”


All the so-called “withdrawal” measures in the House – approved war budget are empty theatre, concealing the boundless hypocrisy of Democratic party leaders.  Like Abe Lincoln, who is said to have been willing to let slavery be if that’s what it took to preserve the union, Nancy Pelosi and her team cynically chose to leave untouched both the Iraqi and Afghan wars themselves, and their overarching justification, the imaginary “war on terror” in place for the remainder of the Bush Administration, as their surest hope of gaining the White House in 08 without having to do anything in particular to deserve it.    Military necessity, however compelled Union armies and President Lincoln first to free the slaves, and soon afterward to grant freedmen seats in postwar southern state legislatures.


Democratic party leaders have utterly betrayed Democratic voters, and granted the Bush-Cheney administration’s parting wish.  The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the next one in Iran, and the phony “war on terror” which justifies wars of choice anywhere on the planet are bipartisan affairs now. With the help of the same corporate media that sold the war and the climate of fear, national Democratic party leaders hope to conduct the same “hopeful”, nonspecific and vaguely oppositional national campaign as in 2006, reaping antiwar Democratic votes for pro- war Democratic candidates, including a pro-war Democrat for president.  It worked last year.  They think they can do it again.


Perhaps the unfolding defeat of American arms in Iraq or the coming expansion of the war to Iran will force Democrats to move beyond symbolic poses of opposition, but it doesn’t look promising.  In a possible response to Dick Cheney’s latest assertion that all options are still on the table concerning Iran, and recent incidents including a US raid on an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq, Team Pelosi removed provisions from their “no blank checks for the president” war budget requiring him to consult with Congress before attacking Iran.  Meanwhile corporate mainstream media incessantly and uncritically repeat Pelosi’s breathtakingly false claim that Congressional Democrats have finally stood up, doing their part to insulate pro-war congressional Democrats from antiwar Democratic voters, and the American public from the truth.


There was an alternative proposal on the table. Introduced by Lynn Woosely and Maxine Waters of California, both co-founders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, the “Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act” would have required, not requested all US military personnel, mercenaries and other contractors to come home within 6 months, prohibited the construction of permanent US military bases and the US theft of Iraqi oil, and expanded the level of present day veterans health care benefits to match those enjoyed by previous generations..  The Waters-Woosely bill had attracted about 70 co-sponsors in the House, and if members had been allowed to vote on it, would have received about a hundred votes.


But the corporate media would not explain its provisions to the public, and misrepresented the measures put forth by Democratic leaders as the only “practical” alternative.  MoveOn.org followed Democratic leaders on this one, pushing out a misleading poll of a tiny fraction of its membership that Team Pelosi used to sway reluctant members of the Out of Iraq Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.  In the end, the war appropriation with its suggested and conditional withdrawal provisions passed the House of Representatives by the slimmest possible margin.  When the margin is slim, every vote counts.


The Congressional Black Caucus and the Out of Iraq Caucus


The Progressive Caucus and the Out of Iraq Caucus, whose memberships largely overlap, proved unwilling or unable to resist pressure from Democratic House leadership to strike the opposition pose while giving Bush the free hand in Iraq for another year.  The members of the Congressional Black Caucus listed below, who make up more than a third of the House Out of Iraq caucus once again proved the near uselessness of the CBC as presently constituted.


Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.)


Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.)


Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.)


Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.)


Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)


Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.)


Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)


Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.)


Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.)


Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas)


Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.)


Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas)


Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio)


Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.)


Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.)


Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.)


Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.)


Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)


Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)


Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.)


Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.)


Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Co-Founder


Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), Co-Founder


This is doubly shameful, as the black electorates who sent these members to DC are among the most antiwar and reliably progressive in the nation.  For whatever reason, those listed above failed to do what voters sent them to DC last year – meaningfully oppose the illegal, unjust war in Iraq.  House Judiciary Chair John Conyers, should be all but invulnerable, but he knuckled under.  Bobby Rush was reported by C-SPAN to have been persuaded to switch his vote for some large slice of legislative pork at the last minute.  Danny Davis caved, as did Sheila Jackson-Lee.  Promising freshman Yvette Clark of Brooklyn and even Keith Ellison, the first African American Muslim elected to Congress also cast their votes in the end for Pelosi’s hypocritical “prolong the war till 2008” strategy.


Of more than 70 members of the Out of Iraq Caucus only eight refused to support the Speaker’s hypocritical “prolong the war till next election” measure.  Here’s who they were.


Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chair & Co-Founder, Out of Iraq Caucus  (202) 225-2201


Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Co-Founder, Out of Iraq Caucus    

(202) 225-5161


Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Co-Founder, Out of Iraq Caucus

(202) 225-2661


Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Co-Founder, Out of Iraq Caucus

(202) 225-3801


Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA)   202-225-7084


Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)   (202)225-5871


Rep. Mike Michaud (D-MN)   202-225-6306


Rep. Mike McNulty (D-NY)   (202) 225-5076


Along with two Republicans who opposed the measure, they are all heroes.  Kucinich is a candidate for president in 2008.  Waters, Watson, Lee and Lewis are members of the Congressional Black Caucus.  In keeping with past patterns it’s no surprise that three-fourths of CBC members with the guts to stand for and with their constituents are women.  Congresswoman Watson deserves special praise, because as a legislative whip, she is actually on the House leadership team, but refused to be bent to Pelosi’s will.  The irreplaceable Maxine Waters was co-sponsor of the real Out of Iraq bill.  Barbara Lee was the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against the original authorization to use force against Iraq in 2002.  And John Lewis recalled and stuck by the spine and the principles he fought for as a leading member of SNCC four decades ago.


Readers should take the time to call or email and thank Waters, Watson, Lee and Lewis for doing what the entire Congressional Black Caucus would have done, if it represented the will of African American voters.



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