Why Congress Must Vote on War & How to Shorten a Long War

October 31st, 2014 - by admin

Tom Hayden / The Peace & Justice Resource Center – 2014-10-31 00:48:29


Why Congress Must Vote on War
Tom Hayden / The Peace & Justice Resource Center

(OCTOBER 29, 2014) — No American president, from Nixon to Obama, has accepted the legal legitimacy of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, one of the major achievements of the movement against the Indochina War. The core claim of the White House has been that executive war-making power cannot be abridged, even though the US Constitution seems to expressly grant the Congress a power-sharing role.

In a few weeks, Congress once again will face a fateful choice to either cede its war-approval powers to the White House or take an authorizing vote on Iraq and Syria. Peace activists have a choice as well, whether or not to push for a Congressional authorization while knowing that it likely will be favorable.

Congress faces a fateful choice to either cede its war-approval powers to the White House or take an authorizing vote on Iraq and Syria after this November’s election. Peace activists have a choice as well, whether or not to push for a Congressional authorization knowing it likely will be favorable.

Achieving consensus around hard choices is not always a strength of the peace movement. Is the principle of defending the constitutional role of Congress against the executive branch more important than the outcome of a vote if it ratifies war? There are three possibilities:

First, Congress surrenders its constitutional role, leaving the White House, Pentagon and CIA in charge of carrying out military policies of their choice. The President says the current phase of the Long War will last at least three years.

Second, Congress authorizes bombing and covert operations in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, and perhaps ground troops, without conditions. An open-ended authorization is being proposed by hawks like Representative Frank Wolf (VA-10), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Darrell Issa (R –CA 49). The Issa bill would terminate in 120 days or require another renewal.

Third, Congress authorizes an air war with substantive conditions. The foremost proponent of asserting Congressional authority, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, would authorize the US bombing strikes for one year and while denying the significant use of American ground troops in combat roles.

Variations on this approach have been introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who wants three years, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA 28) who wants 18 months. None of the bills so far include repeal of the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Force (AUMF) against Al Qaeda and “associated” groups, which the Obama administration employs to justify its bombing campaign against ISIS, although the Schiff bill does include a sunset provision.

For the peace movement this appears to be a classic lesser-evil choice. But that reaction ignores two basic achievements contained in the Kaine legislation: first, preserving the principle of Congressional authority and, second, placing real limits on the Obama administration’s ability to escalate with American ground troops. And not challenging the Obama administration, in the opinion of many, will provide a “silent consent” to the executive branch for future wars.

Most importantly, Congressional district offices are the best centers of access where local peace coalitions can affect their representatives. Emails or protests aimed at Washington are useful but serious stirrings in a Congressional district can have greater impact.

Members of Congress will be looking closely at their constituents’ attitudes during the current Congressional break. If the activists in their districts or states are calling either for a “no” vote or for precise conditions on a “yes” vote (one year deadline, no ground troops, etc.) they will have some influence, if not today then certainly in 2015 and 2016 when the war will be continuing.

Assuming that any war(s) which go on for three years will lead into costly quagmire, the debates on deadlines, deployment of US ground troops, and funding will grow in significance.

Kaine is not only from the political battleground state of Virginia; he is a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, an ally of Obama, and a possible presidential candidate.

How to Shorten the Long War
Tom Hayden / The Peace & Justice Resource Center

(October 28, 2014) — The next turning point in the new Iraq War will be when President Barack Obama and Congress decide whether to maintain their promise to send no American ground troops.

If they hold firm, an early diplomatic settlement may be forced on them since the Iraqi armed forces cannot stop the “clear, build and hold” strategy of the Islamic State. Iraq’s Shiite forces cannot, or will not, defend Sunni areas, and Iraq’s Kurds are fighting to defend their territory.

Iraq’s faltering regime may buckle altogether, or sink into a sectarian civil war, which will partition the country.

The Pentagon, the neo-cons and most Republicans are pushing for more ground troops to be sent to Iraq, and even Syria. If Obama and the Democrats yield, it’s a political win for his enemies. If Obama holds firm, he will be blamed for “losing” Iraq.

Public pressure against re-sending thousands of American troops for a third Iraq War is the surest way to bring the war to an end.

Those with memories of past wars know that we have been here once before, with the most dire of consequences. In 1964, President Johnson campaigned for election on a firm promise that he would send no young American men to fight a ground war in Southeast Asia. At the same time, he began planning to invade. A future full of promise spiraled out of control.

Whether Johnson knew what he was doing or was stampeded by his advisers doesn’t matter ultimately. (Years later, he would demand to know how Vietnam happened.)

The similarity is that three times, in 2006, 2008, and 2012, Americans have issued a voter mandate to end or “wind down” these recurring wars. The public favors US bombing against the Islamic State, at least for now, but seems solidly against an escalation by US ground troops. That attitude might be shaken by more IS atrocities combined with panic at the collapse of Baghdad. Or an attitude of “enough is enough” might deepen.

All we know is that the War Lobby has the momentum. But from the perspective of the “long peace movement,” their position is weakening by the year.

Peace forces already have succeeded in placing sharp limits on the Pentagon and government’s powers. The US has steadily reduced the American ground troop numbers from 500,000 in the first Gulf War to about 1,200 over a broader battlefield today.

In the first Gulf War (1990-91), the Bush 1 administration dispatched 500,000 troops to push the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and back to Baghdad.

In the Afghanistan War (2001 to the present), our government committed 100,000 troops and NATO another 50,000, which have been reduced to 35,000 thus far with no victory over the Taliban in sight.

In the second Iraq War (2003-2012), 150,000 US troops and thousands of NATO auxiliaries were reduced to nearly zero by 2013, without having stabilized an alternative to sectarian civil war before our troops finally departed.

In the multi-year Syrian chapter of the conflict, the American role has been clandestine, indirect and so far inconclusive.

In Libya, the US assistance in overthrowing the dictator Kaddafi was limited to air strikes, logistics, and the CIA and Special-Ops. It has resulted in a tribal civil war and spreading chaos in the region.

The newest war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is unpredictable for the moment, but already shows the serious limits on America’s military capacity, limits imposed partly by latent anti-war sentiment among Americans at home. The mainstream media almost unanimously calls this public mood “fatigue”, a new analog to the “Vietnam syndrome.”

The framing implies that the American people have lose their martial spirit. In another view, the American public is showing a maturity lacking in the political elite: that it’s time to cut our losses in unwinnable, unaffordable wars involving religious fanatics.

The contradictions threaten to “bedevil Obama”, according to a New York Times headline. If there are no reliable US or non-US ground troops for the new war, and American bombing alone can’t obliterate ISIS, that will force a confrontation with the Pentagon warlords and political hawks.

Will Obama and Congress be able to hold to a “no ground troops” pledge amidst a media and military panic that ISIS is at the gates of Baghdad?

The policy confrontation might come as soon as this winter, after the mid-term elections. The president, the Congress, and all aspirants for high office in 2016, will have to stake out their positions at the brink of a new war.

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