Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C. 13) joined a narrow majority of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives last week to vote in favor of a timetable for bringing American troops home from Iraq. The emergency spending bill provides $100 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while imposing a series of benchmarks to demonstrate progress toward a full troop withdrawal by Sept. 1, 2008.
The New York Times reported that this bill prompted a particularly emotional debate on the House floor. Was that your experience?
I think it certainly was for some members. There are Democrats who did not vote for the bill because they thought there should be no further funding for the war at all, and about an equal number of more conservative Democrats who were very hesitant to set a deadline for how long we have combat forces in Iraq.
Did you struggle with either of those positions?
I've been struggling with what to do about Iraq for four years. I decided before we invaded Iraq that it was a mistake. I was not persuaded by the Bush administration's case, and I was very concerned at their forecast of what would be on the other side of defeating Saddam Hussein's army.
We are now caught in the crossfire of a civil war—someone else's civil war. I grieve for the Iraqi people. What is happening in Iraq now and what will continue to happen is tragic for them. But the civil war in Iraq is not our fight to win or lose. The bill allows the president another year and a half and a lot of flexibility to bring some kind of reconciliation and peace in Iraq. But unless we set a deadline, neither the president nor the Iraqi government nor the warring factions in Iraq are going to understand that they really need to bring order to Iraq, that the burden is on them.
Have you been to Iraq?
I've gone twice, once in the fall of 2003, and again in fall 2005.
The most striking thing was simply how much security there was around our delegation, and it was hard to be in the middle of overwhelming security and think everything was going fine. On the second trip in particular, we went by helicopter between the Green Zone and Camp Liberty and Balad Airbase outside Baghdad. We were not on the ground anywhere except within American military compounds.
What's the next step?
I'm not sure how this works out over the next few months. The Senate apparently is moving toward passing a bill similar to what the House has passed. The president has said he would veto funding with strings attached, but unless there's additional funding by Congress, we can't continue in Iraq. This is a president who hasn't compromised on anything or listened to anybody in four years. If he truly vetoes it, we will face a hard decision about what to do next.
What can people who already have representatives (like you) who support withdrawal do? Does it help to send letters, even to those of you who are already convinced?
It helps some. We probably got 700 letters that simply said "Find a way to end our military involvement in Iraq." About 100 said "Please support the president. "
I'm kind of exasperated, too, at what it would take to persuade this president to change course. Certainly anything Congress does is a pretty blunt instrument. We would be far better off with a better commander-in-chief.
I think Republicans know their party is in serious trouble over the failed policies in Iraq. But the Republicans in Congress have no plan except to give the president everything he wants with no strings attached. I hope at some point they can prevail upon President Bush to change policy.