Mark Udall and the Campaign to End the War

There has been a great deal of anguish expressed by local and national progressive bloggers over Rep. Mark Udall’s vote in favor of the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill and his subsequent Denver Post editorial.  In my view, the anger over the editorial was more than justified, the anger over the vote itself, not so much.In a fairly transparent attempt to burnish his moderate credentials, Udall published an editorial in the Post featuring a phony equivalency between war opponents who supposedly knew “all the while that a presidential veto saved them from the consequences of actually scaling back the equipment and medical supplies that sustain our soldiers” and war supporters who can’t explain how keeping troops in Iraq is supposedly going to fight terrorism or improve American security.  In so doing, he crossed a line that neither Ken Salazar nor Bill Ritter crossed in their successful statewide races:  He used the language of the right wing to attack members of his own party as hypocrites.  The editorial was a self-inflicted wound that is going to be difficult for Udall to heal.

The sad thing is, it didn’t have to be that way.  This January 30 blog post from Raf Noboa at Square State managed to make the case against cutting off funding from an anti-war perspective without fake “pox on both their houses” rhetoric:

[C]utting off funds provides a horrible visual. You can bet that if that ever comes to pass, there will be a virtual parade of military dependents shown on TV, each one claiming that we’ve abandoned their loved ones to die. You try explaining to a 19-year-old wife that cutting off funds to her husband doesn’t mean what it sounds and looks like it does.

Moreover, funding this war has been a masterpiece of budgeting. The Pentagon budget is an intricate latticework of smoke and mirrors, and I am not convinced that even if we were to cut off funds, you couldn’t earmark funds for Iraq off-the-books. The Pentagon is possessed of a black budget, and it is my understanding that funding for further operations in Iraq could come out of this earmarking.

The fundamental point here is that a Congressional vote to cut off funds is not going to be effective as a way of stopping the war — a good point, and the reason why ultimately there is little benefit to the movement to stop the war from beating up Congressional Democrats for failing to cut off funding.

The reality is that while Congress has the power to declare war, it is far from clear as a Constitutional matter that Congress can withdraw a war declaration (which arguably, the authorization to use force in Iraq was) or force the executive to stop prosecuting a war by using the power of the purse.  The responsibility to manage foreign relations, including the job of negotiating peace treaties (the traditional way to end wars at the time the Constitution was drafted) was given to the president, subject only to the Senate’s right to ratify (or refuse ratification of) treaties. 

Not to mention, there is a long standing practice of allowing the president to manage undeclared wars, from wars against Indian tribes in the nineteenth century through the crushing of the Phillipine insurrection after the (declared) Spanish-American War and numerous interventions in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean through the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War and Kosovo.  (One can quibble as to whether the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force actually satisfied the constitutional requirement of a war declaration, but that is beside the point for the purpose of figuring out how to end a war.)  The best time to try to put an end to this practice is during peacetime, as when Congress passed the War Powers Act in the aftermath of Vietnam.  The effectiveness of that type of legislation depends on the willingness of legislators not to sign a blank check for war when one is requested on dubious grounds — and when push came to shove in 2002, Mark Udall came through with flying colors with his vote against the AUMF.

Udall was wrong to accuse war supporters of “knowing” that a veto would prevent the alleged horrors of a funding cutoff.  Bush could have signed the funding bill that contained timetables and then flaunted the restrictions when the timetables were not met, forcing Congress to either impeach him or litigate over presidential power in the same federal court system that gave us Bush v. Gore.  The grain of truth in Udall’s statement, however, is that Congress by itself simply cannot force the executive branch to stop prosecuting the war.

The lesson from all of this from those who are committed to ending this war is that their energies are best directed into making certain that in 2008, a president is elected who will end the occupation and bring the troops home.

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About the Author

Luis Toro

is a veteran Colorado lawyer and ethics rabble-rouser who’s director of Colorado Ethics Watch. His email is

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