Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Anti-War Supplemental As Groundwork For Later Moves

Anti-war legislation on the way to President Bush for his promised veto represents a rare rebuke by Congress of a large and ongoing ground conflict, even eclipsing challenges made during the Vietnam War.

While a bill ordering troops home from an ongoing military mission is not unprecedented -- legislation aimed at conflicts in Somalia and Haiti are other examples -- the Iraq bill is an unusually swift feat by a Congress forcefully challenging a war involving thousands of U.S. troops.

"Congress is not shy usually about attempting to create problems for a president when a war becomes unpopular," said Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian and professor at Boston University. "But I think the significance here is that in a big war, they were able to at least get the legislation to the president's desk pretty early from a historical perspective." ...

The passage of the legislation in many ways surpasses congressional efforts to end the Vietnam War, a longer and far deadlier war for U.S. forces. Congress went years before it was able to agree on legislation significantly challenging presidential war policy, holding some 94 roll call votes on the war between 1966 and 1972, according to data provided by the Senate Historian office.

By the time legislation cutting off funds for the war went into effect in 1973, the U.S. military mission was already over. ...

William Howell, a war powers expert and associate professor at the University of Chicago, said whatever the historical significance of last week's vote, Democrats have gained considerable traction in opposing a wartime president because of the war's unpopularity.

"It establishes this marker so that not now, but six months from now ... Democrats can have the momentum to (override) a presidential veto" if the war is still going badly, Howell said. "Just because it doesn't pass doesn't mean it's not of consequence."

Zelizer agreed, adding that an anti-war vote is no easy task when U.S. troops are fighting abroad.

"It's harder to extricate yourself from a big war, not just strategically but politically," Zelizer said. "It's that first vote that's sometimes the hardest."

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