To draw attention to the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Orlando, and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, have co-sponsored legislation to limit defense spending to $548.9 billion and use the savings to eliminate federal income taxes on the first $35,000 of every American’s income.
Grayson is on a mission to end the Iraq War. As of Monday, 191 troops from Florida have been killed in Iraq, fifth most among the states, behind California, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York. He has filed successful lawsuits against Iraq War contractors and forced them to return funds to the government after they were found guilty of overbilling fraud.
We’ve spent $3 trillion on the war including post-war veteran rehabilitation. “The purpose of this bill is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars,” Grayson has said.
But the real question is where are the withdrawn Iraq troops? Conyers has said, “It won’t do any good if we just move the troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.”
In a speech to veterans on Aug. 2, President Obama reiterated his plans to bring troops home. “I made it clear that by Aug. 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end,” he said. “And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised, on schedule.” After the combat brigades are withdrawn, a transitional force made up of about 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in the country to support the Iraqi government.
This could be the hidden jewel for the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. It would represent American politics in the best sense of the word: This is what the American people wanted regardless of party. The American people elected Obama, in part, because of his commitment to a timeline to end the Iraq war.
But it’s a stealth withdrawal. Where are the troops? Where are the celebrations of the homecomings of the withdrawn 70,000 men and women? Are they coming home or simply being sent to Afghanistan? Patriotic homecoming events in Orlando and cities across the nation would prove to the American people that the Iraq War is over; moving troops from one internal war in Iraq to another one in Afghanistan will just make them angry.
Democrats gained a majority in the House and Senate in 2006 largely because of their commitment to end the Iraq War. Americans could not then, and do not now, understand how misstating where al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction are located justified going to Iraq, the location of neither. Because the 2010 midterm elections are only two months after the scheduled Iraq troop withdrawal date, a successful troop reduction in Iraq will be perceived as a promise kept and will help incumbents.
Even the withdrawal from Iraq, regardless of where-to, is far from a done deal. Obama must ignore the military excuse that poor ground conditions should delay the withdrawal. Take it for granted — conditions will be poor. Ethnic fighting won’t end in 2010. “It is not our responsibility to have the Shiites, Sunnis and the Kurds love each other,” said Grayson.
Conyers pointed out, “There has rarely been a general who hasn’t wanted more troops and equipment or who has given up turf.”
If Obama fulfills his promise to withdraw the troops by the end of August, and not simply move them to Afghanistan, it will reinvigorate the American people’s faith in the election. But we want the parades.
Robert Weiner is a former spokesman for the Clinton administration and the House Government Operations Committee. Noah Merksamer is a policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates.