Dennis Kucinich's Showdown With the Democratic Leadership
Editor’s note: In an interview with Truthdig research editor Joshua Scheer*, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) criticizes the leadership of his own party for announcing Tuesday that it would support a massive increase in spending for the Iraq war.Truthdig:
What was the upshot of [Tuesday’s] Democratic caucus meeting?
Kucinich: At this point the Democratic leadership — the speaker and the majority leader and Rahm Emanuel — are all recommending that the Democrats support the appropriation that is going to be brought forward in the spring, for the purposes of [continuing to fund] the war in Iraq.
Truthdig: Why do you think that is?
Kucinich: The leadership feels that they can bring about greater transparency [in spending], that they can bring special committees to look at what’s gone wrong with the war, and that there’s going to be improved oversight.
Truthdig: Were there dissenting opinions … ? Do you think this will pass?
Kucinich: I think this is going to be a serious test of the Democratic Party. We were put in power because people expected a new direction in Iraq. It goes without saying that they expect greater transparency and oversight, but they also expect us to do something to bring the troops home. Now, if Congress goes ahead under Democratic leadership and votes to approve what some are now estimating as an additional $160 billion for the war in Iraq, bringing the total for the fiscal year to $230 billion, the Democratic Congress will have bought George Bush’s war. Now, who would buy a used war from this administration?
Truthdig: Weren’t the Democrats elected because of the war in Iraq?
Kucinich: The Democrats came to power because of a strong desire on the part of the voters to get out of Iraq. That’s why people voted Democratic. So now, with the Democratic leadership taking a position saying they’re going to approve the supplemental budget in the spring, this could be seen by many as a breach of faith.
Truthdig: What can people do?
Kucinich: People first of all need to know about this. People need to know that there is an attempt by our leadership to support the supplemental, and what the consequences are…. The most difficult part of the challenge is to get members of Congress to understand that they themselves voted for a bill which went into effect on Oct. 1 that appropriated $70 billion, which could be used to bring the troops home. Unfortunately, our leadership is saying they’re supporting the supplemental as a way of supporting the troops. So if we continue to ignore the money that’s there right now to bring the troops home, we’re losing an opportunity to bring the troops home now. People are now saying that they oppose the war, but they’re continuing to fund it in the name of supporting the troops.
They say they’re not going to abandon the troops in the field. We’re professing a strange love for these troops by keeping them there, because the money’s there to bring them home. So this is going to shape up as a major discussion across this country. People are going to want to know why Democrats would not bring the troops home now, when the money is there now.
Truthdig: For me this is really disheartening, because I feel like I have been lied to, and the American people have been lied to, because the [Democratic] Party was so against extra funds for the war. It’s almost like the party has done a bait-and-switch.
Kucinich: I think there’s going to be a concern around the country that this does represent a bait-and-switch. I’m hopeful that this position will be reconsidered and that the Democrats will not vote to keep the war going. But at this point, if the Democrats go forward and support a supplemental which by some accounts is now rising to $160 billion, they’ll be providing enough money to keep the war going through the end of George Bush’s term.
Now, this is a serious moment. I believe the public is largely unaware that this is happening, and I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised to learn that less than one month since this great realignment, that Democrats leaders, who came to power because of widespread opposition to the war in Iraq, are now saying that they will vote to continue funding the war.
Truthdig: Is there any hope to end the war now, and not go for this extra $160 billion in supplemental funds? Was there anything that happened in the room that gave you hope?
Kucinich: There’s a type of thinking which equates staying in Iraq as demonstrating strength. There’s a type of thinking which equates support for the supplemental with supporting the troops. This type of thinking is inherently flawed. It is circular in its nature. It will keep us in war. It will damn our troops to the horror of getting shot at from all sides. This is the time for Democrats to be uniting to exit from Iraq. And the exit door is already well lit with a sign that says $70 billion. If we support the troops, why in the world would we not use the money to bring them home, instead of spending more money to keep them in? Why would we, when we have money to bring them home right now, appropriate another $160 billion which would keep them there, possibly through the end of George Bush’s term?
The Iraq Study Group recognized the perilous nature of this war, and there is no indication that the administration is going to bring the troops home. Every statement that the president has made has been very clear with respect to his intent to continue the U.S. presence. He has basically said, “No timetables,” and he hasn’t set any call for troop reductions. Now, we have men and women who are dying there, and for what? That’s why it’s more than disappointing that the Democratic Party is not standing up.
Truthdig: So, again, what can people do?
Kucinich: I think it’s important for people to contact their member of Congress, and to let the member of Congress know how they feel. The people are also going to have to work their e-mail lists to pass the word, because not a lot of people know about this. It’s going to be important for people to organize. It’s going to take a mass movement to change this situation. It’s going to take a mass movement to really create such an uproar that approval of the supplemental will be stopped.
Truthdig: Thank you.
*Truthdig interviewer Joshua Scheer worked as an entry-level staffer on Kucinich’s state Senate campaign and was later a summer associate in his congressional office. In this weekly interview series, Rep. Kucinich gives his take on the goings-on in Congress in the wake of the Democrats’ victory.