Tom Hayden / The Democracy Project – 2014-11-10 23:34:02
(November 10, 2014) — Congress must use its constitutional powers under the War Powers Resolution to place limits on the unauthorized US military intervention in Iraq and Syria. By executive order alone, our government is plunging into a deepening sectarian war. Congressional debate can shed light on this new war, and a Congressional vote can allow American citizens to hold our elected representatives accountable in 2016.
While pledging “no US ground troops”, the administration has dispatched 3,000 American troops as advisers and to provide close air support in combat zones, where they will come under fire. The bombing campaign cost$580 million through mid-October, and the president is asking for a down payment of $5 billion for a war projected to last three years.
Starting with serious public debate, a new peace movement is needed to stop the drift towards quagmire.
Led by a handful of dissenters, Congressional opposition was critical in ending the Vietnam War, and in bringing the most recent Iraq War to a formal ending. The checks and balances, which were imposed by Congress on the powers of the presidency and intelligence agencies in the 1970s, have fallen away.
Since the president says there is no military solution, the Congress should vote no against another war in the Middle East. Should Congress vote in favor, crucial amendments are needed to prevent another open-ended war. The “enemy” must be narrowly defined. The pledge of “no American ground troops” must be codified.
A sunset must be placed on the authorization so that Congress is compelled to vote again before 2016. Independent reporting on taxpayer costs and civilian casualties must be assured. A political settlement that protects disenfranchised and oppressed Sunnis from the US-sponsored Shiite regime in Baghdad must be assured.
Many Americans rightly oppose the shocking religious extremism of the Islamic State and embrace our military action. Forgotten in the rush to war is the fact that we have been at this abyss before. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 preceded the growth of Al Qaeda there.
ISIS became its malignant offshoot in Sunni regions repressed by our client state in Baghdad. Is this not a case where the military medicine worsens the disease? The last Iraq War led to long-terms costs in thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars wasted which should have been spent on the environment, education and jobs. We simply cannot afford to repeat the past.
TO: MEMBERS, US CONGRESS
FROM: The Democracy Project
We call for a full debate on whether to authorize the widening new war in Iraq and Syria. A congressional vote will allow citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable now and in 2016.
Since President Obama already says there is no military solution and the war will last at least three years, we urge a No vote.
If the new war is authorized, the following conditions must be debated and voted on:
1. A narrow definition of “the enemy” — the Islamic State — no loophole to a wider war as occurred in the war-on-terrorism, where an open-ended mandate led to wars and quagmires in many countries;
2. Keep the presidential pledge that there will be no American ground troops; already that promise has changed to no “combat” troops;
3. A sunset provision ending the war authorization in one year, thus requiring another Congressional approval before 2016;
4. An independent reporting mechanism for all casualties, civilian casualties, direct and indirect taxpayer costs, and measurements of progress;
5. A primary emphasis on diplomacy aimed at power sharing among disenfranchised communities and a prohibition against funding sectarian war.
Wars are easy for politicians to approve. But history shows that lives and resources are needlessly lost, and careers ruined, when they become quagmires.
Sign The Democracy Project’s Petition Here
LETTER TO CONGRESS ON ESCALATION IN IRAQ & SYRIA
The United Statesâ€™ Congress
(November 10, 2014)
Dear Members of Congress,
The New War has escalated since we sent this letter November 3, 2014. President Obama has dispatched another 1,500 US troops and requested $5 billion in new funding. The president also has requested a congressional authorization. It is time for Congress to act and widen the public debate.
One of the bitter lessons of Vietnam, learned again in Iraq, is that it is relatively easy for Congress to authorize a war, but far more difficult to end one. Instead, there comes quagmire, suffering, cost, regret and political fallout.
In the last few months, it was expedient for both political parties to pass the sword of war to the president in the midst of a national campaign that avoided the war-peace debate altogether.
Now the American voters want to know where their representatives stand.
Congress should immediately commit to a full public debate over whether to authorize the current American military interventions in Iraq and Syria. All American have a right to know where their elected officials stand in order to be an informed electorate now and in future elections.
As veterans of the ten-year movement against the Vietnam War (1965-75) fifty years ago, we regard the War Powers Resolution (WPR) as an important achievement for democracy. The WPR of course is far from perfect. Nonetheless, the alternative to the WPR is unchecked executive power or, as one sitting US Senator has said, an “imperial presidency.”
Although the US Constitution guarantees to Congress a clear “power” to “provide for the common defense,” the WPR envisions only a “collective judgment of both the Congress and the President” when introducing American forces into combat.
The President has 48 hours to explain the initiation of military action, and must withdraw forces within sixty days, with the possibility of a 30-day extension, if Congress does not extend the action. The executive branch consistently refuses to concede this role reserved to Congress.
Despite administration claims, the 2001-2002 authorizations for the Iraq War and the “war on terror” are not applicable to the current US bombing of Iraq and Syria, nor the deployment of some 3,000 US advisers to war zones in Iraq. Nor do they apply to the secret CIA operations and drone strikes that are occurring in this conflict and beyond.
The CIA has been accused of interfering with, and spying on, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the very legislative body charged with providing oversight of its own operations, and which was established in the same era as the WPR. Constitutional democracy is in peril.
Since the president acknowledges there is no military solution to the current intervention, Congress should take him at his word and vote no. The roots of the violence of ISIS lie in extreme repression inflicted on the Sunni minority in Iraq and Sunni majority in Syria. In the case of Iraq, the sectarian Shiite oppression has been tolerated and funded by our own government.
In Syria, a violent sectarian regime has been perpetuated for decades with great power support. ISIS has grown like a malignancy in the vacuum, not unlike the Khmer Rouge rose in the killing fields of Cambodia decades ago.
This phase of the war should commence with a diplomatic offensive against the causes of Sunni discontent, since it will likely end with a negotiated political settlement. A mere change in the prime minister’s office, however welcome, cannot root out the deep sectarianism of the Iraqi state and security forces.
If Congress should authorize combat, the language defining the “enemy” should be drawn very narrowly. The existing war-on-terror authorization aimed at “Al Qaeda and associated forces” has provided a loophole to expand the War on Terror to multiple countries around the world.
We urge you to codify President Obama’s pledge to send “no American ground troops”, without loopholes. The official narrative already is being shifted to prohibit US “combat troops”, which allows a major expansion of advisers, intelligence units and technicians — often in combat zones. When those personnel are killed or wounded while advising, a cry will go forth for “boots on the ground”.
We further urge that you establish timelines or sunset provisions of one year, or no more than 18 months, so that another congressional vote must be taken before the 2016 elections. There should be clear reporting requirements on casualties, including civilian casualties, direct and indirect US taxpayer costs, and metrics for measuring progress. The role of the independent Inspector-General should be preserved and continued.
There must be a primary effort at genuine power-sharing arrangements in both Iraq and Syria. Should those efforts fail, we should cut our losses and be prepared to terminate all funding for a permanent sectarian war.
We must not sacrifice constitutional principles and our democratic rights while escalating this new round of war. We especially should not be stripped of the WPR’s modest checks-and-balances, which were achieved through mass demonstrations, dissent, and peace campaigns just a few decades ago.
As the New York Times recently reported, over one thousand of us now are undertaking a campaign to prevent the Pentagon from perpetuating a one-sided history of the Vietnam War using taxpayer dollars. As the fiftieth anniversary of the first national march against Vietnam approaches next April, we are planning a continuing effort to ensure that the shameful madness of that war is not repeated from one generation to the next.
We plan teach-ins, direct actions, lobbying Congress and building of a “peace bloc” that will challenge the future candidates of war. The efforts of the anti-Vietnam movement were too important, and the sacrifices and human suffering too great, for us to ever forget.
Uphold the clear vision of the Founding Fathers and do not disenfranchise the American people from our inherent right to hold our Congress accountable for policies that will deeply affect our lives.
University of Notre Dame Fund for Reconciliation and Development
The Democracy Project
Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies