Vt. delegation fights an uphill battle in D.C. (Brattleboro Reformer)


Back when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were building up to their loathsome war in Iraq, very few people were brave enough to call the bullies' bluff.

Here in Vermont, however, we called. Our entire congressional delegation -- Rep. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Jim Jeffords -- voted against the war in 2002. We were the only state to have that honor.

Today, a vast majority of Americans (not to mention Iraqis) want the U.S. forces out of Iraq. And still our soldiers are remaining for the foreseeable future.

A few weeks ago, on the radio, I was talking about the futility of calling and writing our congressmen -- because they're all already against the war. A passionate antiwar activist called to challenge me. "It's not what they say," he said. "It's what have they done?"

Jeffords is out of office now, and Sanders has taken his place. So I called the offices of Sanders, Leahy and new Rep. Peter Welch and asked their press officers to name concrete actions against the war. All three replied with long lists. And yet the war continues. How is that?

Leahy, whom we in Vermont call St. Patrick, is highly respected for being the only senator to be publicly told to "F@#$ off" by Dick Cheney on the Senate floor. In October 2002, Leahy was one of only 23 senators to vote against the resolution that originally authorized the war in Iraq. In October 2003, he was one of only 12 senators to vote against the Fiscal Year 2004 Emergency Appropriations Bill, which funded the war -- despite the fact that the bill included major legislation he authored to expand eligibility for health insurance for members of the National Guard and Reserve.

In June 2006, Leahy was one of 13 senators to vote for the Kerry Amendment, which mandated redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq. In January 2007, he spoke out against the so-called troop surge, which he accurately labeled "a troop escalation." In April 2007, Leahy and Majority Leader Harry Reid co-authored and cosponsored the (Russell) Feingold (D-Wis.) Amendment, which called for pulling out our soldiers. The amendment was defeated in votes in May, September, October, and December 2007 during efforts to attach the amendment to various spending and policy bills.

Leahy voted against funding again in May of 2007, even though the bill included $1 billion for National Guard equipment. And the very first bill he introduced when he became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee a year ago was an anti-war-profiteering bill.

Moving on to Sanders. In 2007, along with Feingold and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), he introduced another redeployment bill. It appears to have come to rest in a drawer in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where it sits like a lump of lead.

Another 2007 bill Sanders introduced, S 2398, called for the phasing out of private military "contractors," or mercenaries. It's in a drawer somewhere in Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Sanders was one of only three senators to vote against the current National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, both because of his objections to increased spending on the war and on the continued use of private military contractors. It passed; the president signed it into law this week.

Sanders also introduced S Con. Res. 13, which warned the president to not take action in Iran without Congressional authorization. The bill is probably sitting on top of that other one in the Foreign Relations Committee drawer.

Now to Welch. When he was still president pro tem of the Vermont Senate, on Jan. 29, 2003, he sent a letter to Bush urging him not to go to war with Iraq. Once he got to Washington, he wrote a few more letters to the president. One -- signed by almost 80 members of Congress -- refused to support any additional funding for the war other than what was necessary to bring the troops home safely. That was in July 2007. And the war marched on.

Welch then went on two fact-finding trips to Iraq. In addition, he voted to condemn the troop "surge." He voted to get our soldiers out of Iraq at least six times. He voted against war funding several times. He voted against establishing permanent bases in Iraq. He voted to increase the time troops have at home between deployment. He voted to hold American "contractors" accountable for criminal acts, and against war profiteering.

His name is on legislation to block funds to escalate the war, and he's voted against carrying the war to Iran.

Just reading about how hard these guys have worked to end the war -- I counted over 40 pieces of legislation -- is exhausting. And still the war continues. What more can we ask of them? Introduce more legislation? (That drawer in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's desk is probably pretty deep.) Go on a hunger strike? Picket the White House? Hold their breath?

Impeachment comes to mind. But maybe, just maybe, after the futility of such reasonable actions as trying to stop war profiteering or keeping Blackwater from gunning down whole towns for target practice, they just didn't have the heart -- not to mention the support from their leadership.

What can we do to help? Financially support antiwar candidates for Congress. Financially support an antiwar presidential candidate. Before I began this research, I was prepared to excoriate Sanders, Leahy and Welch. Now I think they might be unsung heroes. Maybe we should write and thank them for doing such a thankless, exhausting and frustrating job.