There's a conventional wisdom in Washington that there's nothing we can do politically to stop the U.S. government from killing innocent civilians with drone strikes.
But it ain't necessarily so.
Speaking only for myself, I'm willing to stipulate that killing "high value terrorists" who are known to be actively preparing to kill Americans is wildly popular, regardless of whether it is constitutional and legal.
Here's what's not wildly popular: killing innocent civilians.
This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. This is an American issue. Go to the reddest of Red America. Stand outside a megachurch or military base in the Deep South. Find me twelve Christian Republicans who are willing to sign their names that they want the U.S. government to kill innocent civilians. I bet you can't do it. Killing innocent civilians is un-American.
Consider: after what widely reported news event did even Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say maybe we ought to get our troops out of Afghanistan? After it was reported that a U.S. soldier massacred Afghan civilians.
The historian Howard Zinn suggested that it's a backhanded compliment to the American people that our government lies to us about what it's doing in other people's countries. Because it suggests that if the American people knew, they would never stand for it.
Thanks to a New York Times report this week, we now know. In an echo of the Colombian military's "false positives" scandal, our government is killing people with drone strikes and then decreeing that "military age men" killed by U.S. drone strikes are automatically "combatants." Born a chicken, raised a chicken, now you're a fish.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the House is expected to take up consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act. Amendments will be offered to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan, to oppose war with Iran, to cut the military budget, and to stop "signature" drone strikes that target people without knowing who will be killed.
According to the way the House operates, the authorization bill is the most open opportunity to challenge current policy. When the House considers the appropriations bill, amendments can be offered to cut money for specific programs. But it is difficult to otherwise alter policy when the appropriation is considered, according to the rules of the House. On the authorization bill, there is much more scope to try to direct policy.
Every American who cares about war and peace ought to be calling Congress. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has established a toll-free number that connects you to the Capitol Switchboard: 1-877-429-0678. Then you can ask to be transferred to your Representative's office. [If you can't call, you can write here.]
What should you tell your Representative's office? Whatever else you do, you should tell them that you are a constituent and give them your address to document that fact.
Then you have some choices to make about what to emphasize. Many amendments have been offered. At this writing, we don't know which amendments will be allowed on the floor by the Rules Committee. Once the Rules Committee has decided which amendments it will allow, there might not be much time before voting begins. So it's better to call when you can and emphasize broad themes.
Last week, voting on amendments on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives began taking action to limit U.S. military involvement in Libya's civil war.
Now the House leadership has agreed to a vote on House Concurrent Resolution 51, introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, which would direct the President, pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, to remove U.S. armed forces from the Libya war. The vote could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.
The U.S. military intervention in Libya was never authorized by Congress, and thus violates U.S. law and the U.S. Constitution.
Some have argued that other Presidents have violated the War Powers Resolution, therefore it is no big deal. This is a breathtaking argument on its face: "everyone breaks the law." But moreover, as the New York Times noted on May 25:
many presidents, citing their power as commander in chief, have bypassed a section that says they need prior Congressional authorization to deploy forces into hostilities, except if the country is under attack. But there is far less precedent of presidents' challenging another section that says they must terminate any still-unauthorized operations after 60 days. In 1980, the Justice Department concluded that the deadline was constitutional. [my emphasis]
On May 20, the New York Times reported, referring to the 1980 Justice Department memorandum,
Voting on amendments on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives took action to hasten the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Libya.
By a 204-215 vote [roll call] - six switchers would have passed the amendment - the House narrowly failed to adopt a bipartisan amendment from Reps. Jim McGovern [D-MA] and Justin Amash [R-MI] that would have required the Department of Defense to develop a plan for an "accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities."
It may seem counter-intuitive to count narrowly failing to adopt an amendment as "taking an action," but in terms of consequences, it is taking action. Getting more than 200 votes sends a signal to the White House: if you don't move - for example, by announcing a significant drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer - you could lose the next vote in the House. And if the Administration lost a vote in the House on the Afghanistan war, you can bet that would be front-page news in Europe, weakening the Administration's case to the Europeans for continuing the status quo. It seems likely that the Administration will want to stay one step ahead of the House, rather than face a public defeat. That points toward an accelerated drawdown this year.
If 204 Members were willing to vote yes, it seems extremely likely that 6 House Members who voted no gave a yes vote serious consideration. Indeed, The Hill reports:
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this afternoon on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This morning, the Senate version of the Afghanistan war supplemental was brought up under "suspension" rules, which require a 2/3 majority to pass. This expedited procedure is generally used for measures considered "uncontroversial," which is odd, to say the least, since the war in Afghanistan is anything but uncontroversial, with the most recent evidence being the release by Wikileaks of secret documents on the war, which the New York Times reported "offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal."
House Appropriations Chair David Obey, who will vote no on the war supplemental, asked for a roll call, which is expected this afternoon, some time after 2pm Eastern.
On July 1, 162 Members of the House voted for the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment that would have required President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the position of 54% of Americans, according to a recent CBS poll. The measure being voted on this afternoon contains no provision concerning a timetable for withdrawal. Nor does it include the money to prevent the layoffs of teachers that the House attached to the war supplemental on July 1.
If 90% of the Members who voted for the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment on July 1 vote no this afternoon on the war supplemental, the measure will fail.
Today eighteen Senators voted for Senator Feingold's amendment to the war supplemental requiring the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. This could be a turning point in U.S. policy on the war in Afghanistan.
With this vote, the number of Senators on the record in support of the policy of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal just increased from two to eighteen: on Tuesday, Senator Boxer added her name to S.3197, Senator Feingold's bill that would have the same effect.
The other sixteen Senators who voted yes were Baucus [D-MT]; Brown [D-OH]; Cantwell [D-WA]; Dorgan [D-ND]; Durbin [D-IL]; Gillibrand [D-NY]; Harkin [D-IA]; Leahy [D-VT]; Merkley [D-OR]; Murray [D-WA]; Sanders [I-VT]; Schumer [D-NY]; Specter [D-PA]; Tester [D-MT]; Udall [D-NM]; and Wyden [D-OR]. (Noteworthy votes against included Senator Franken and Senator Feinstein. Last September, Feinstein called for a specific date for the withdrawal of American forces.)
This "surge" in Senate support for a timetable for withdrawal should make it easier to build support in the House for a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the war supplemental, as it is expected to do after the Memorial Day recess.
Already, 92 Members of the House have co-sponsored H.R. 5015, Representative McGovern's companion legislation requiring a timetable for withdrawal, including members of the House Democratic leadership, like Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. George Miller; if you add in Members who earlier this year supported Representative Kucinich's withdrawal resolution, more than 100 Members of the House are already on the record in favor of a timetable for military withdrawal.
Thank you for calling your Representative urging them to support the Kucinich resolution for a withdrawal timetable from Afghanistan, H. Con Res. 248.
Let us know how your call went by submitting a comment below. Sharing your Representative's name, whether you were successful in reaching their office, and any feedback you received from staffers would be especially helpful.
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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.
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.