Open Letter

Concern Grows over Democratic House Leader Pelosi's Support for Iraq War

Stephen Zunes
January 22, 2005

On January 4, Congressional Democrats re-elected California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as minority leader in the House of Representatives. This comes despite that, since assuming her current leadership position two years ago, Pelosi has not only disappointed her liberal San Francisco constituency, but the majority of Democrats nationally as well, through her support for President George W. Bush's policies toward Iraq.


Back in December of 2002, as independent strategic analysts were arguing that the evidence strongly suggested that Iraq had rid itself of its chemical and biological weapons some years earlier, Pelosi categorically declared on NBC's Meet the Press that "Saddam Hussein certainly has chemical and biological weapons. There's no question about that."

Had she simply said that the Iraqi dictator had, at that time, "may" or even "probably" possessed such weapons, it could be assumed that she was simply being naïve or foolish for failing to recognize the transparently false and inflated intelligence then being put forward by the Bush administration regarding Iraq's weapons capability. However, in expressing such certitude, she not only seriously compromised her integrity, but she seriously undercut the then-growing anti-war movement.

Furthermore, by giving bipartisan credence to the Bush administration's unprincipled use of such scare tactics to gain support for the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, she negated a potential advantage the Democrats would have otherwise had in the 2004 campaign. After it became apparent that administration claims about Iraq's alleged military threat were false, the Democrats were unable to attack the Republicans for misleading the American public since their Congressional leadership had also falsely claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

During the first twelve weeks of 2003, there were a series of large demonstrations here in her California district against the war, including one on February 16 which brought out an estimated half a million people. The day the war broke out in March, San Francisco's downtown business district was shut down by thousands of anti-war protesters in a spontaneous act of massive civil disobedience. In response, Pelosi denounced the protesters and rushed to the defense of President George W. Bush, voting in favor of a resolution declaring the House of Representatives' "unequivocal support and appreciation to the president …for his firm leadership and decisive action." She personally pressed a number of skeptical Democratic lawmakers to support the resolution as well.

In response to those who argued that Iraq was not a threat to the United States and that United Nations inspectors should have been allowed to complete their mission to confirm that Iraq had disarmed as required, Pelosi went on record claiming that "reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone" could not "adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

In the race for last year's Democratic presidential nomination, Pelosi helped lead an effort to undermine the anti-war candidacy of former Vermont governor Howard Dean, claiming that his call for a more balanced approach by the U.S. government in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process somehow brought into question his commitment to Israel's right to exist in peace and security. Instead, she endorsed the hawkish Missouri congressman Richard Gephardt, who cosponsored the House resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his choosing. When Gephardt dropped out of the race, Pelosi threw her support to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, another supporter of Bush's war.

As a counter to those who argued that the war was a diversion of critical personnel, money, intelligence, and other resources from the important battle against Al-Qaeda terrorists, Pelosi also went on record declaring that the Iraq invasion was actually "part of the ongoing Global War on Terrorism." As recently as this past September, despite a CIA report that Islamist terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zaqarwi -- who allegedly has ties to Al-Qaeda -- had not received sanctuary or any other support from the former Iraqi regime, Pelosi also went on record claiming that, under Saddam Hussein, "the al-Zarqawi terror network used Baghdad as a base of operations to coordinate the movement of people, money, and supplies."

Such assertions proved costly to the Democrats in this past November's election: exit polls showed that 80% of those who believed that the war in Iraq was part of the war on terrorism voted for President Bush.

In response to the consensus of disarmament experts that the invasion has hurt the cause of nuclear nonproliferation, Pelosi voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored amendment which claimed that the elimination of Libya's nuclear program "would not have been possible if not for . . . the liberation of Iraq by United States and Coalition Forces." This comes despite reports to the contrary by U.S. negotiators who took part in British-initiated talks.

Despite growing evidence that the resistance to the U.S. occupation is a popular nationalist reaction to a foreign occupation, Pelosi has gone on record insisting that it is simply the work of "former regime elements, foreign and Iraqi terrorists, and other criminals."

Defenders of Pelosi point out that, as assistant minority leader in October 2002, she was the only member of the Democratic leadership in either house of Congress to vote against authorizing the invasion. Furthermore, they note how she has since raised some concerns regarding how the Bush administration has handled the occupation, such as not adequately preparing for the aftermath of the invasion, failing to utilize enough troops, not providing adequate training or armor for U.S. forces and for backing such dubious exile figures as Ahmad Chalabi.

However, to this day, Pelosi has refused to acknowledge that the United States should have never invaded Iraq in the first place. Religious leaders from around the globe have observed it did not meet the criteria for a "just war." It was also a direct violation of the United Nations Charter, which the United States -- as a party to such binding international treaties -- is legally required to uphold. Furthermore, there is a growing consensus among even mainstream strategic analysts that the invasion and occupation has actually made the Middle East and the United States less secure.

Historically, opposition leaders in Congress have helped expose the lies and counter-productive policies of the incumbent administration. Pelosi, however, to her party's detriment, has decided instead to defend them.

On January 12, Bay Area Congressional Representatives Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark, and Sam Farr joined Democratic colleagues from across the country in signing a letter to President Bush calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq; Congresswoman Pelosi was notably absent from the list of signatories.

Indeed, to this day, Pelosi continues to support the U.S. occupation of Iraq, rejecting calls -- in the face of a growing death toll of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians -- to end the fighting and bring American troops home. This comes despite the fact that even many prominent Republicans, such as James Baker and General Brent Scowcroft, are now calling for the withdrawal of American forces.

Less than fifteen years ago, Pelosi was an outspoken liberal critic of the senior Bush administration's militaristic policy toward Iraq. Now, however, she finds herself to the right of former President George Bush's Secretary of State and his National Security Advisor.

That Pelosi would continue to support the war in the face of this past November's city-wide referendum -- in which a resounding 63% of San Francisco voters approved a measure urging the United States government to withdraw all troops from Iraq -- is demonstrative of how out of touch she is with her own constituents. Already there is talk that, should Pelosi continue her support for the Iraq war, anti-war Democrats could organize a serious electoral challenge against her in the 2006 Democratic primary. (Some are citing a precedent from 1970 where, in an adjacent Congressional district, Democratic Congressman Jeffrey Cohelan -- a liberal incumbent who nevertheless supported the Vietnam War -- was defeated in the Democratic primary by anti-war challenger Ron Dellums, who went on to represent the East Bay in Congress for the next eighteen years.)

Thanks to the failure of the San Francisco Congresswoman and other Democratic leaders to more forcefully challenge the Bush administration where it was most vulnerable politically, her party not only lost a presidential race they should have easily won, but lost seats in the House and Senate as well. As long as people like Nancy Pelosi remain in leadership, the Democrats are destined to remain in the minority.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, located in Nancy Pelosi's Congressional District. Portions of this article appeared in the January 14 issue of National Catholic Reporter.