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Congress Has No Choice but to Act on Iraq

As leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Out of Iraq Caucus, we are proud that the House has begun to take up the moral dilemma of our times — our continued military occupation of Iraq. Congress finally will have the opportunity to express its disapproval of President Bush’s escalation plan, a flawed strategy piled on a 4-year-old failed policy.

By deepening our engagement, escalation will further stoke the fires of civil war in Iraq while increasing the cost to Americans in lives, limbs and treasure.

The political battle lines are clear: On one side we have a bipartisan Congressional majority, roughly two-thirds of the American people, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Iraq Study Group and former military leaders such as Colin Powell. On the other: an unpopular, lame-duck president; too many Congressional Republicans; and the editors of The Weekly Standard — all of whom are willing to accept more American casualties in the name of a policy that is making us less secure and damages our standing in the world.

Last month, in announcing his decision to raise the ante in Iraq, the president announced that “America’s commitment is not open-ended.” So we hold out hope that Friday’s vote of no confidence will compel him to re-evaluate his Iraq policy and heed the calls of the American people. But if not, Congress must be prepared to go beyond nonbinding resolutions. We will not be content with a statement of disapproval that is limited to the escalation gambit. Continuing the current policy is unacceptable, as is escalating the war. Maintaining more than 130,000 brave Americans in Iraq as it plunges deeper into chaos and mayhem is simply unconscionable. If the president will not take steps to end this war, Congress must take responsible action.

Contrary to Republican claims that Democrats have no alternative plan for Iraq, there are in fact several on the table. Our own comprehensive bill, the Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act, would complete a fully funded military withdrawal from Iraq within six months while ensuring that our troops and contractors leave safely and accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces.

In addition, our bill would remove the specter of an endless occupation by preventing the establishment of permanent military bases and reiterate our commitment, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to working with the international community to assist Iraq in its reconstruction and reconciliation efforts. We also would stand ready, if asked by the Iraqis, to participate in an international stabilization force. Our bill also ensures health benefits for all of our military personnel.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) has indicated that he will hold hearings on various legislative proposals on Iraq, including our bill, next month. The nation certainly will benefit from a robust debate on alternatives to the president’s failed stay-the-course policy.

It has been a long road from marginalization to the mainstream for those of us who oppose this war and always have. While the temptation of an extended “we told you so” is there, it is suffice to say that the anti-war position turned out to be the correct one. We are focused solely on bringing our troops home.

If the president doesn’t change course, if he persists in his contempt for the electoral verdict rendered in November, then this week’s resolution will be just the beginning. A bloody military entanglement that does not enjoy popular support is ultimately unsustainable, and Congress would be derelict if it did not assert its legitimate war powers as a coequal branch of government. Using our authority to challenge and even forestall the Iraq occupation is not only constitutionally appropriate; it is a moral imperative.

Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) co-chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) chairs the Out of Iraq Caucus.

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