In an interview with Truthdig contributor Joshua Scheer,* Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) reacts to Rep. John Murtha's failed bid for House majority leader, and explains why cutting off funding for the Iraq war is the only way to truly protect American troops.
TRUTHDIG: With [Steny] Hoyer being named majority leader, what does that mean for the party and for the war in Iraq?
KUCINICH: The Democrats made their choice, and we're united behind Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and our entire leadership team, and we're going to do everything we can to fulfill the hopes of the American people for a new direction in Iraq, and I am going to do my part to keep the debate going.
TRUTHDIG: Do you think Murtha's ethics were the reason he got beaten by Hoyer for majority leader?
KUCINICH: No, I think it really speaks to the success that Steny Hoyer had in building up relationships in the last Congress.
TRUTHDIG: But he's a supporter of not pulling out and staying the course, right?
KUCINICH: I think it's important to get his point of view as to how he would characterize his position. But, you know, with the American people having voted very clearly for a new direction in Iraq, I think every person who's in the leadership must be mindful that the Democratic agenda must be responsive to the people.
TRUTHDIG: I was just reading up on your [Nov. 15] appearance on Democracy Now!, in which you talked about cutting off the funds to Iraq as being the only way to make any progress there. Do you want to comment on that?
KUCINICH: Today, it was announced that 2,000 more Marines are being sent to Anbar province--a place which was already declared "lost" for the purposes of military occupation. Why are we sacrificing our young men and women? Why are we keeping them in an impossible situation? Why are we stoking a civil war with our continued presence? We have to take a new direction in Iraq, and that direction is out.
Now, there are many plans out there. The people talking about phased redeployment, the president as the commander in chief ultimately has the authority to determine the placement of troops. Congress' real authority, and Congress' constitutional [mandate] as a co-equal branch of government, requires that it be heard from, and I believe that Congress must exercise its authority to protect the troops by bringing them home. And the only way we can do that effectively is to vote against supplemental appropriations--which has kept the war going, or to vote against appropriation bills which fund the war. That's Congress' ultimate power--the power of the purse.
If we truly care about our troops, we'll get them out. It's the phoniest argument to say that a cut-off of funds will leave troops stranded in the field. There's always money in the pipeline to pay for an orderly withdrawal. But those who favor continuing the war or escalating the war are using the troops as a tool to further policies that are against the interests of the troops, against the interests of [the] American people, and against the interests of peace in the world.
TRUTHDIG: What are the plans with Iran, now that the Democrats have control of Congress?
KUCINICH: I think the Democratic control of Congress makes it more difficult for the president to pursue a policy which leads to military conflict with Iran. This president would have to come to Congress for approval for any action, and if he decides to take action without the support of Congress, I think he would find himself at a serious constitutional disadvantage. I do not believe that the administration has made a case for any type of attack on Iran. As a matter of fact, it's urgent that we engage Iran in diplomacy. It's urgent that we bring both Iran and Syria to the negotiating table--not only for the purposes of resolving issues with respect to those countries, but for the purposes of setting the stage for a broader peace agreement in the entire region, including peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We need a whole new approach, which is based on a belief, a confidence that we can use what Franklin Roosevelt called the science of human relations--diplomacy--to resolve our differences. We must reject this administration's all-too-easy recourse towards military power and consequent rejection of diplomacy.
TRUTHDIG: Basically, that's what Tony Blair was saying a few days ago, that you have to reach out to Iran and Syria. Do you think Bush will go along with that? I know he's a lame duck ...
KUCINICH: There are many world leaders who are aware of the failed policies of this administration. And even Tony Blair understands that a new direction must be taken if we're to avoid another war. War with Iran is not inevitable. But we need to talk to the Iranian government, just as we need to open up discussions with the Syrian government. This is the time to do it. You know, There's a new Congress. The American people voted for a new direction. Let's take a new direction. Let's try diplomacy.
*Interviewer 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.