Commentary

Congressional Pressure Can Help End the War, Saving Many Lives

In the next several weeks, Congress is likely to be asked to approve $33 billion more for the war in Afghanistan, mainly to pay for the current military escalation, whose focus is the planned assault on the Afghan city of Kandahar.

Some Members of Congress will vote no on the funding. A larger group of Members is likely to support efforts to pass language which would require an exit strategy or timetable for ending the war.

Barring some unforeseen event - like Afghan President Karzai joining the Taliban - an extrapolation from the recent past would suggest that neither efforts to block the funding, nor efforts to constrain it with real conditions, are likely to be narrowly "successful" in the short-run: extrapolating from the past, the most likely short-run legislative outcome is that the war money will be approved without conditions attached that would significantly constrain the war. This is especially true if 95% of Congressional Republicans continue to vote as a bloc to support the war.

Nonetheless, the fight over the war supplemental is tremendously important, because Congressional pressure can move Administration policy, even when critics of Administration policy don't command a majority of votes. This is especially true when, as in this case, critics are in the majority in the President's own party, and when, as in this case, the policy under pressure is an international policy which is also under significant international pressure.

How Many Vets Have Been "Wounded" in Iraq and Afghanistan?

During the House debate over the Kucinich resolution calling for a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Rep. Bob Filner, chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, pointed out that hundreds of thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have gone to the VA for service-related injuries.

The video of Filner's statement is here.

A March 13 fact sheet from Veterans for Common Sense gives a more precise figure: they reported that 508,152 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran patients had been treated at the VA. This figure is from VA documents obtained by VCS under FOIA, and appears to be current through the end of FY 2009, i.e. through September 30, 2009.

The VCS fact sheet is here.

Note that these figures are very different from the official DoD statistics for "wounded" at icasualties.org, often cited in press reports. The total U.S. wounded figure given there for "Operation Enduring Freedom," which is mainly but not exclusively Afghanistan, is 5188 through March 2010, while the total US wounded figure for "Operation Iraqi Freedom" through March 2010 is 31716. That suggests the total U.S. "wounded" from the two wars is 36904, about 7.3% of the VA figure, which covers a slightly shorter period.

If for comparison to the VA figures, we just take the icasualties.org figures through September 30, 2009, that gives 31513 wounded for Iraq, 4174 wounded for OEF, for a total of 35687 wounded. 35687 is 7.02% of the VA figure of 508,152. So it appears that the DoD "wounded" figure is about 7% of the figure of vets who have been treated at the VA.

YouGovPolimetrix poll: Americans Support Obama's Pressure on Netanyahu

52% of Americans support, and 31% oppose, the Obama administration’s demand that Israel stop all settlement-building, Avaaz reports:

Summary results of YouGovPolimetrix poll of 1000 US citizens, surveyed on 20-21 March for Avaaz:

Most Americans back President Barack Obama’s Mideast strategy to stop Israeli settlement-building, lead negotiations for a two-state peace and get tough with both sides if necessary, according to a poll released today on the eve of a critical meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. The poll was conducted for the global advocacy network Avaaz by YouGovPolimetrix.

62% of those polled said the growth of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory will only lead to greater hostilities. 52% of respondents support, and 31% oppose, the Obama administration’s demand that Israel stop all settlement-building. 53% thought the US should be ready to get tough with both sides in peace negotiations if necessary, while only 33% disagreed.

61% of respondents supported the Obama administration’s plan to lead negotiations to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians during the coming months, with only 25% opposing that approach. The US goal of a two-state peace agreement between Israel and an independent Palestine is supported by 64% of the US public, according to the poll.

[This information can be found on Avaaz' web site here. Search on the page for the text, "Polimetrix."]

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Groups Write to Congress Against Iran Sanctions Bills

Peace and religious groups joined the National Iranian American Council in writing to Congress in opposition to current Iran sanctions bills before Congress, urging changes to minimize the impact on Iranian civilians. The letter is here.

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Civil Society Leaders Issue Letter to President Obama Urging U.S. to Join Mine Ban Treaty

Leaders from 65 nongovernmental organizations delivered a letter to President Obama Monday urging the U.S. to relinquish antipersonnel landmines and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty without delay.

Here is the press release. Here is the letter

Can President Obama Mobilize His Inner Rachel Corrie?

Today is the seventh anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie in Gaza by Israeli government bulldozer, and the anniversary this year comes at an unusually bad time in US-Israel relations - by which I mean, of course, that it comes at an unusually wonderful time in US-Israel relations, one of those rare times in which the US appears to put some real effort into establishing narrower boundaries for Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians.

It's easy for long-time observers to be cynical. We've seen it all before: strong words from the US to Israel followed by abject retreats. And there's something in our collective consciousness that counts false hope a greater danger than false pessimism. The pessimist will be right more often; but the optimist will contribute more to positive social change. Each person has to ask herself which is more important: to be right more often, or to contribute more to positive social change?

It's not every day that the press carries reports that the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, the top military commander of all our armed forces, and the Vice-President of the United States are telling Israel that its treatment of the Palestinians is endangering US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. As Mark Perry notes in the cover story at Foreign Policy, "There are important and powerful lobbies in America.... But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military."

Support Our Troops: Boycott the Israeli Occupation

I don't know about all you commiepinkos, but I believe we should Support Our Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, and Vice-President Biden say that Israel's actions toward the Palestinians are putting our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in danger. That's why, to Support Our Troops, the U.S. government must effectively pressure Israel to end its military occupation of the West Bank. And one thing every American can do to Support Our Troops is to shun products from companies linked to the Israeli occupation.

In January, Foreign Policy reports, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus sent senior military officers to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the perception of the U.S.' Arab allies that the U.S. was failing to pressure Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

 

If One Phone Call Could End the War

If you could end the war in Afghanistan by making one phone call, would you make that call? Would you press 10 buttons to stop the wanton destruction of the lives of American soldiers and Afghan civilians?

I suspect that the majority of the literate adult population in the United States, if faced with that choice, would press 10 buttons to end the war.

Unfortunately, there isn't one phone call that will end the war. But there is a plausible chain of consequence that connects a phone call made to Congress today to ending the war in the foreseeable future.

In the next few days the House of Representatives is expected to debate and vote on a "privileged resolution" - H.Con.Res. 248 - introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich that would establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.

Schakowsky to Clinton: Investigate Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

Nine Congressional Democrats have written to Secretary of State Clinton, urging her to "fully investigate reports of severe human rights abuses in Honduras." The Members of Congress say that the U.S. "must make it clear that the ongoing intimidation and persecution of activists and dissidents is unacceptable." In addition to Rep. Schakowsky, the signers were: McGovern, Grijalva, Farr, Barbara Lee, Oberstar, Honda, Conyers, and Waters. The letter is posted here.

Kucinich Forces Congress to Debate Afghanistan

Today Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced H. Con Res. 248, a privileged resolution with 16 original cosponsors that will require the House of Representatives to debate whether to continue the war in Afghanistan. Debate on the resolution is expected early next week.

Original cosponsors of the Kucinich resolution include John Conyers, Ron Paul, José Serrano, Bob Filner, Lynn Woolsey, Walter Jones, Danny Davis, Barbara Lee, Michael Capuano, Raúl Grijalva, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Johnson, Yvette Clarke, Eric Massa, Alan Grayson, and Chellie Pingree.

The Pentagon doesn't want Congress to debate Afghanistan. The Pentagon wants Congress to fork over $33 billion more to pay for the current military escalation, no questions asked, no restrictions imposed for a withdrawal timetable or an exit strategy.

Ideally, from the point of view of the Pentagon, Congress would fork over that money right away, before the coming Kandahar offensive that the $33 billion is supposed to pay for, because you can expect a lot of bad news out of Afghanistan in the form of deaths of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians once the Kandahar offensive starts, and it would sure be awkward if all that bad news reached Washington while the $33 billion was hanging fire.