by Stephen Zunes | Tikkun Mazagine, June 26, 2009
Congressional approval to continue funding of the ongoing war in Iraq, a major segment of the $90 billion supplemental appropriate package, passed on Tuesday thanks to heavy-handed pressure by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., against anti-war Democrats.
This has led to great consternation here in her home district in San Francisco, where anti-war sentiment remains stronger than ever. The timing of the measure is particularly upsetting given that California’s record budget deficit has resulting in the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers, the incipient closure of almost all of our state parks and draconian cuts in health care, housing, public transportation,the environment, social services and other critical programs. While unwilling or unable to get Congress to provide some financial support for the crisis here at home, our most powerful member of Congress was quite willing to work hard to insure continued financial support for war.
What few people outside of San Francisco realize is that despite representing one of the most liberal congressional districts in the country, Pelosi has been a strong supporter of the Iraq war for most of past seven years.
In 2002, public opinion polls showed that the only reason most Americans would support a U.S. invasion of Iraq was if they were convinced that Iraq was somehow a threat to the United States, such as possessing “weapons of mass destruction.” Unfortunately for those supporting a U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, independent strategic analysts were arguing that the evidence strongly suggested that Iraq had rid itself of its chemical and biological weapons some years earlier.
In an apparent effort to discredit those of us who — correctly, as it turned out — were insisting that Iraq had in all likelihood already disarmed, Pelosi categorically declared on NBC’s Meet the Press in December 2002 that “Saddam Hussein certainly has chemical and biological weapons. There’s no question about that.”
By giving bipartisan credence to the Bush administration’s unprincipled use of such scare tactics to gain support for the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, she negated a potential advantage the Democrats would have otherwise had in the 2004 campaign. After it became apparent that administration claims about Iraq’s alleged military threat were false, the Democrats were unable to attack the Republicans for misleading the American public since their congressional leadership had also falsely claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
During the first twelve weeks of 2003, there were a series of large demonstrations against the war here in Pelosi’s district, including one on Feb. 16 that brought out a half-million people. While Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee — congresswomen from a neighboring districts — spoke at the rally, Pelosi was notably absent.
On the day the war began the following month, San Francisco’s downtown business district was shut down by thousands of anti-war protesters in a spontaneous act of massive civil disobedience. In response, Pelosi denounced the protesters and rushed to the defense of President George W. Bush, voting in favor of a resolution declaring the House of Representatives’ “unequivocal support and appreciation to the president … for his firm leadership and decisive action.” She personally pressed a number of skeptical Democratic lawmakers to support the resolution as well.
Pelosi also sought to discredit those who argued that Iraq was not a threat to the United States and that United Nations inspectors — which had returned to Iraq a couple of months earlier and were engaged in unfettered inspections — should have been allowed to complete their mission to confirm that Iraq had disarmed as required. She joined her Republican colleagues going on record claiming that “reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone” could not “adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”
As a counter to those who argued that the war was a diversion of critical personnel, money, intelligence and other resources from the important battle against al-Qaida terrorists, Pelosi tried to link the secular regime of Saddam Hussein with that Islamist terrorist network by declaring that the Iraq invasion was “part of the ongoing global war on terrorism.”
Furthermore, despite a CIA report that al-Qaida terrorist Abu Musab al-Zaqarwi had not received sanctuary or any other support from the former Iraqi regime, Pelosi went on record claiming that, under Saddam “the al-Zarqawi terror network used Baghdad as a base of operations to coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies.”
In the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, Pelosi helped lead an effort to undermine the anti-war candidacy of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, insisting that Americans must “raise our voices against all forms of terrorism” and that “this is not the time to be sending mixed messages.”
Instead, she endorsed the hawkish Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., who co-sponsored the House resolution authorizing Bush to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his choosing. When Gephardt dropped out of the race, Pelosi threw her support to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who was also among the minority of Democrats on Capitol Hill who had voted to authorize Bush’s war.
Pelosi’s assertions that the Iraq war was part of the “war on terror” proved costly to the Democrats in the 2004 election, which the Democrats had been expected to win, as exit polls showed that 80 percent of those who did believe that the war in Iraq was part of the war on terrorism voted to re-elect Bush and a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.
In response to the consensus of disarmament experts that the U.S. invasion of Iraq hurt the cause of nuclear nonproliferation, Pelosi voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored amendment that claimed that the elimination of Libya’s nuclear program in late 2003 “would not have been possible if not for … the liberation of Iraq by United States and coalition forces.” Her support for this Republican-sponsored measure came despite testimony by U.S. negotiators who took part in British-initiated talks with the Muammar Qaddafi regime that the outline of the deal had come prior to the invasion and that the war played no role whatsoever in the agreement.
As the armed resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq grew in the wake of the invasion, Pelosi dismissed the growing consensus that it was part of a popular nationalist reaction to foreign occupation and instead went on record insisting that it is simply the work of “former regime elements, foreign and Iraqi terrorists and other criminals.”
As far back as 2004, the voters of San Francisco, in a citywide referendum, voted by a nearly 2-to-1 margin calling on the United States government to withdraw all troops from Iraq. Pelosi, however, insisted on ignoring her constituents and continued to support Bush’s policies.
By 2005, as Bay Area Reps. Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and Sam Farr joined Democratic colleagues from across the country in signing a letter to Bush calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Pelosi was notably absent from the list of signatories.
By this point, even prominent Republicans like James Baker and Gen. Brent Scowcroft were calling for the withdrawal of American forces, yet Pelosi held firm in her support of the war. Back in 1990, Pelosi had been an outspoken liberal critic of the George H.W. Bush administration’s militaristic policy toward Iraq. Fifteen years later, however, she was taking a position to the right of his secretary of state and national security adviser.
Defenders of Pelosi pointed out that, as assistant minority leader in October 2002, she was the only member of the Democratic leadership in either house of Congress to vote against authorizing the invasion. Furthermore, they noted how she subsequently raised some concerns regarding how the Bush administration had handled the occupation, such as not adequately preparing for the aftermath of the invasion, failing to utilize enough troops, not providing adequate training or body armor for U.S. forces and for backing such dubious exile figures as Ahmad Chalabi.
However, Pelosi refused to acknowledge that the United States should have never invaded Iraq in the first place, which had been acknowledged by religious leaders from around the globe. Nor did she ever acknowledge that the invasion was a direct violation of the United Nations Charter, which the United States — as a party to such binding international treaties — is legally required to uphold.
Historically, opposition leaders in Congress have helped expose the lies and counterproductive policies of the incumbent administration. Pelosi, however, to her party’s detriment, decided instead to defend them.
By the end of 2005, as protesters met her at virtually every public event in her district and even conservative colleagues in the House Democratic leadership, such as Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, began calling for a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, Pelosi finally spoke out in favor of an end to the war.
She continued to support unconditional funding for the war effort, however, for the next two fiscal years. It was only on the vote for last year’s fiscal budget, as anti-war sentiment in her district was reaching a fever pitch and fears of a serious challenge to her seat in the Democratic primary and/or from the Green Party nominee in November, did she finally vote against war funding.
Now, however, as public attention on the Iraq war has faded, she has reverted to her previous pro-war position. Along with her support for Israel’s wars on the Gaza Strip and on Lebanon, her backing of the Iraq war is demonstrative of her willingness to ally herself with the former Bush administration in pushing policies based on the premise that instability and extremism can be best addressed through brute military force regardless of international legal norms or high civilian casualties.
Despite all this, much of the mainstream media and leading political pundits identify Pelosi as a prominent liberal. It is but one example of how far to the right political discourse in American has gone.
Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)