Time’s Up: Bring The Guard Home

Guess what, Mr. President? Your authority to keep state National Guard troops in Iraq has expired. So says a new bill introduced this week to the Vermont Legislature by Rep. Michael Fisher and Sen. Peter Shumlin. It is supported by 30 of their colleagues.

“It is clear that the mission that Congress authorized no longer exists,” said Fisher. “Unless Congress grants a new authorization, the Vermont Guard should revert back to state control.” The Vermont bill states:

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force of October 16th, 2002, having expired, the General Assembly declares that all members of the Vermont National Guard should be promptly and expeditiously withdrawn from Iraq, subject only to the conditions of time and manner specifically required to assure their safety and well-being during removal operations …. The General Assembly calls on the Governor of Vermont to take prompt steps as the Commander-in-Chief of the Vermont National Guard to effectuate these purposes.

The Guard is the mainstay of America’s national defense, and as with other American institutions, the Guard’s duties are split between the states and the federal government. Unless called into national service, each unit and each individual member of the Guard remains in the service of their respective states.

Five years ago, George W. Bush called the Guard into national service pursuant to the 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq. Passed by Congress in its rush to war, it established a two-fold limited mission: First, the removal of Saddam Hussein from power; second, enforcement of preceding United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding the elimination of alleged Iraqi WMDs and ballistic missiles. The Vermont bill recognizes that those mission objectives are complete and that the national service of the Vermont Guard is over; the bill recalls the Guard to state control.

And Vermont is not alone. Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island lawmakers plan to sponsor similar legislation. And legislators in several other states, including Maryland, Maine and Wisconsin, have openly declared that they are considering following suit.

This latest chapter in Democracy v. Empire illustrates one of the most significant and perhaps most underreported aspects of the tragedy of the occupation of Iraq: The wisdom of the American people. For a public that has all but given up hope for congressional action to end the war, this new state-based legal approach takes advantage of a surge of another kind.

In the run up to the ill-fated March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, nearly 200 municipalities passed symbolic resolutions stating the reasons that the United States should not invade: The war would be too costly; the wrong priority for federal funds (better spent in our crumbling communities); and would be fought after rushed U.N. weapons inspectors found insufficient evidence of WMDs, would be fought unilaterally, not multilaterally; and above all, the potential for devastating and unnecessary loss of life on all sides was great.

Unfortunately, the wisdom from Main Street U.S.A. proved vastly better than the “intelligence” propagated by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In these last five years of occupation, we have seen estimates of the war’s cost rise to between $500 billion and $3.5 trillion, depending on the source. Four thousand U.S. soldiers and over half a million innocent Iraqi civilians — men, women and children — have lost their lives; hundreds of thousands of others have been seriously wounded. Iraq no longer exists as an independent or intact nation.

In the face of this war toll, world and domestic public opinion have turned sharply against both the foolish presidency and the cowardly Congress. Over 300 cities, towns, counties and states have expressed opposition to continuing the war. Fully half of the U.S. population either voted in popular referenda for withdrawal from Iraq, or are represented by elected officials who did. Now, with the Vermont legislation, the public’s wisdom may become a reality. Legislators who passed anti-war resolutions can now cast votes recalling the Guard from Iraq. Vermont has led the way. And many other states have been quick to follow.

Mr. President, your time is up. Your authority is over. The people have said their piece. Now they are beginning to bring home the women and men of the National Guard.

Karen Dolan is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. Ben Manski is a Wisconsin attorney and the executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution.