Just days before flying back to the district to observe Memorial Day, Santa Barbara Congressmember Lois Capps (D) voted against a $120-billion war spending bill, $95 billion of which will actually be used to sustain U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan through September 30. Despite Capps’s opposition, the bill passed the House-as well as the Senate-by overwhelming margins late last Thursday and Friday. Like many Democrats, Capps opposed the spending measure because it lacked any requirements-“benchmarks” and “timelines” in the terms of the political debate-by which Iraqis would assume an increasing burden of the military effort as a condition of continued U.S. support. Such benchmarks had been included in a previous bill approved by the Senate, but vetoed by President George W. Bush.
In a prepared statement, Capps accused the Bush administration of mismanaging the war over the past four years, describing the spending provision as “more of the same failed policies that got us into this quagmire.” Capps voted against the initial war authorization act and has opposed all but one of the war appropriations bills. Before the start of the war, the Bush administration estimated it would cost $50 billion, while the Department of Defense acknowledged in the worst case it could be four times that. With the recent appropriations approved, the total will be closer to $400 billion, while some academics estimated last year the total costs could wind up as high as $2 trillion.
The House vote came just hours before a congressional subcommittee released a report showing there had been widespread pre-war concern among the U.S. intelligence community that efforts to “democratize” Iraq would be exceptionally difficult, slow, and risky. According to the report-released by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence-the White House had been warned in advance that Iraq lacked the political infrastructure needed to transition to a functioning democracy and that any invasion would likely provide Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations a toehold in Iraq that they had never previously enjoyed.
Four years later, Bush is now acknowledging that the war will continue through the duration of his second term in office. The terms of combat have gotten steadily gorier recently, with car bombs and suicide killings routinely taking out 30 Iraqis at a clip. On Monday, one such attack claimed the lives of 36 Baghdad residents, bringing the Iraqi death toll to 7,257 so far this year. As of deadline, 112 American servicemembers were killed in Iraq this month. Of those, 10 were killed on Memorial Day.
Despite the war’s plummeting popularity -polls indicate that 76 percent of those surveyed disapprove-the Bush administration shows little sign of backing down. Its only concession to the war’s critics-whom Bush dismissed as “fatalists or cynics” in a Memorial Day address-was to write into the spending bill a provision tying reconstruction aid for Iraq to the Iraqi government’s ability to institute certain democratic reforms by certain dates. But included in the bill is language that would allow even these benchmarks to be overridden.
All this proved too much for longtime antiwar protester and icon Cindy Sheehan, the Texas activist whose son was killed in Iraq three years ago. Sheehan announced that she was quitting the antiwar movement in disgust, castigating Democrats and Republicans. “I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have left,” Sheehan said in a written statement.
Although the Democrats failed in their efforts to impose new oversight of the war, they did not emerge from their showdown with the president empty-handed. Bush approved $17 billion in spending measures that will help underwrite the first increase in the federal minimum wage in 10 years-from $5.15 an hour to $7.25. The spending bill also includes $8 billion for hurricane relief, farm aid, and healthcare for indigent children.