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Submitted by Robert Naiman on 26 November 2012 - 6:53pm
This is slightly adapted from a presentation given at a Congressional briefing on drone strike policy on November 16, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
I want to talk about what Congress could do about drone strikes in the next 1-2 years.
To begin with, some political context, as I see it.
First, I don't think anyone will argue with me if I say that for the last ten years Congress has done very little.
Second, I think it would be extremely helpful if Congress would do something. I think Congress doing something is intrinsically important in itself, in addition to whatever the thing is. The reason is that the media, the public and the Administration take cues from what Congress is talking about. If Congress isn't talking about something, then it's perceived as not very controversial. More people would contact Congress if we had a vehicle for them to contact Congress about.
Third, I don't think it's as hard for Congress to do things on this as some people seem to think. There's a kind of conventional wisdom that Congress can't do anything because no-one cares because no U.S. soldiers are being killed by the policy. I think this conventional wisdom is completely wrong. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Honduras and yet a hundred Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Honduras, and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Bahrain but Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Bahrain and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. Conversely, plenty of U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan before 2009 and Congress didn't do much about that. So whether or not American soldiers are being killed is not as decisive as some people seem to think.
Submitted by Megan Iorio on 24 September 2012 - 11:46pm
Hey, remember a few weeks ago when our old friend Bibi Netanyahu came to town and made a hullabaloo over Iran and "red lines"? Admittedly, much of what the Bibster said to the US media was bluster, but the gist of the "red line" issue was that the "red line" President Obama has set for Iran—meaning, the point at which the military option would become a real option, which Obama set at developing a nuclear weapon—isn't motivation enough for Iran's leaders to bring about a resolution to the conflict over Iran's nuclear program. Nevermind the fact that Netanyahu's analysis of the issue is incredibly flawed—why believe that "red lines" have any bearing on Iran's actions, or that they are what is preventing a diplomatic accord from being struck, when the West has yet to take diplomacy seriously? What the Israeli prime minister wants our president to do is shift his "red line" a bit further down in the timeline, to when Iran is nuclear capable, a term which the PM left conveniently vague. No matter the precise definition, though, under Bibi's "red line", Iran could be bombed even if it has no intention of actually building a nuclear weapon. And that's just plain stupid.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 17 July 2012 - 2:07pm
This week, a series of showdowns is expected in the House over the Pentagon budget, when House Members vote on amendments to the Defense Appropriations Bill to cut the overall level of military spending, end or limit the war in Afghanistan, and draw down troops permanently stationed in Europe.
What happens in these votes will have a big influence on the expected negotiations over replacing the impending "sequester" automatic cuts of the Budget Control Act with a package of revenue increases and spending cuts. If you want cuts in military spending to be on the table, now is the time to speak up.
Until now, the bigfoot military contractors and their most stalwart allies in Congress have fought with great success to keep real cuts in military spending away from the table. What has mostly happened until now is that most of the previously projected increases in spending have been cut, so that under the President's plan military spending would rise roughly with inflation. It's an important start, certainly, to stop the previously projected increase, but it's not a real cut from past spending levels. If the automatic cuts were to go through, that would cause a real cut in military spending, although military spending would still be above what it was during the Cold War. But the conventional wisdom is that the automatic cuts won't happen; at the end of the day, they will be replaced by a package of revenue increases and spending cuts.
The question is what is going to be in that package.
Until now, the GOP leadership position has been that cuts in military spending are off the table.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 1 June 2012 - 4:05pm
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.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 18 May 2012 - 3:17pm
"I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party." That was President Obama, describing his Afghan war policy, according to Bob Woodward's 2010 book. But until this moment the Administration is still letting it be a war without end, and the Afghan war policy has lost not only the whole Democratic Party, but a substantial part of the Republican Party as well: the majority of Republican voters, for example.
One thing the Afghan war policy hasn't lost: the GOP leadership. That was demonstrated Wednesday night when the GOP leadership blocked consideration in the House of a bipartisan amendment offered by Democrat Jim McGovern and Republican Walter Jones that would have nailed to the wall the current slippery "timetable" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
House Republicans pulled the plug on a vote Thursday on a bipartisan amendment to a defense bill that would force the Obama administration to stick firmly to its timetable for getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.
Republicans were concerned the amendment could pass, according to two GOP congressional sources.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 16 May 2012 - 9:34pm
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.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 30 March 2012 - 4:55pm
If you sometimes find yourself at a bit of a loss of what to make of the on-again, off-again drumbeat for war with Iran, you should at least have the consolation that you're in good company. Close students of U.S. and Israeli policy who oppose war have expressed divergent views about how great the threat of war is, especially in the shorter run. (There is much less divergence about the long-term prospects: if there is no progress on the diplomatic front, the weight of expert opinion is that the long-term prognosis is very bad, from the point of view of avoiding war.)
The problem of accurately perceiving the danger is complicated by the multiple motivations of those currently being the war drums. Clearly, among other things, the war drums are a political gambit to attack President Obama and elect Romney. The war drums are also a channel-changer from the continued dispossession of the Palestinians and the political shifts in the Middle East brought about by the Arab Spring. At the same time, the war drums are part of a campaign to constrict political space for a diplomatic resolution with Iran, thereby making war with Iran more likely in the future.
The lack of urgency resulting from this murky picture presents a dilemma for anti-war activists. If people were convinced that there were a 90% chance of war in the next three months, if the White House were leading a crusade for war, many people would be in the streets.
But that is not the situation we are in. Our situation is more akin to what one analyst described as a "slow-motion Cuban missile crisis." We are on a path to war with Iran, but we are not on a quick path to war with Iran. We are on a slow path to war with Iran.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 28 March 2012 - 6:06pm
Before we have a war with Iran, shouldn't the Senate and the House have at least one debate and vote on it? Isn't that what the Constitution demands? Isn't that what is demanded by the War Powers Resolution (which, despite its name, is binding law)?
If you agree to the principle that Congress should debate and vote on a war with Iran before any such war takes place (which also happens to be the Constitution and the law), when do you think a good time would be for the Senate and the House to start taking up the question? Should we wait until after there is further escalation? Should we wait until after some real or invented Persian Gulf of Tonkin incident, when Members of Congress can be steamrolled by cable news and right-wing talk radio? Or should we start having the debate now, when rational argument still has a chance, so that Members of Congress will be forced to choose sides between American generals, who oppose war with Iran, and the Israeli Prime Minister, who wants war with Iran?
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul thinks we should have the debate right now.
On Tuesday, Sen. Paul took to the Senate floor to oppose unanimous consent of a new Iran sanctions bill so he could introduce an amendment that would ensure that nothing in the act shall be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of force against Iran or Syria, and affirm that any use of military force must be authorized by Congress.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 13 December 2011 - 1:46pm
Today the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote -under "suspension," requiring a supermajority to pass - on a provision which would restore as policy the Cooties Doctrine of the early Bush Administration - U.S. officials can't meet with officials of the adversary du jour, because our officials might get contaminated.
What's remarkable isn't that some people in Washington would want to prohibit U.S. officials from having contact with Iranian officials. After all, some people in Washington want to have a war with Iran as soon as it can be arranged. What's remarkable is the possibility that the majority of Congressional Democrats might vote to approve the "Iran Cooties Provision." Aren't Democrats supposed to be the diplomacy party, not the war party?
The Cooties Provision is Section 601c of H.R. 1905, the so-called "Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011." Here's what the Cooties Provision says:
(c) RESTRICTION ON CONTACT.--No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that-- (1) is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran; and (2) presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations. (d) WAIVER.--The President may waive the requirements of subsection (c) if the President determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 15 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure to exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.
Would it not be totally preposterous to add this provision to the United States Code?
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 8 December 2011 - 8:20pm
Remember, "It's the Economy, Stupid?" So how come Democrats in Congress - over the objections of the Obama Administration - are helping Republicans press sanctions on Europeans who buy oil from Iran - sanctions that would increase unemployment in the U.S. during the 2012 campaign?
The National Defense Authorization Act now contains a Senate amendment by Republican Senator Mark Kirk - supported by many Democrats in Congress - that would sanction European banks and companies that do business with Iran's Central Bank, in order to stop Europeans from buying Iranian oil. This is a big deal, because Iran is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, and blocking Iranian oil exports to Europe would raise the price of oil, in Europe and in the United States.
Kirk's amendment would hurt the U.S. economy, at a time when economic contraction in Europe could push the U.S. back into recession.
Is fear of the economic blowback of the sanctions on Europe that Kirk wants to impose justified? Many Europeans seem to think so.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported:
The European Union is becoming skeptical about slapping sanctions on imports of Iranian oil, diplomats and traders say, as awareness grows that the embargo could damage its own economy without doing much to undercut to Iran's oil revenues.
"Maybe the aim of sanctions is to help Italy, Spain and Greece to collapse and make the EU a smaller club," one trader joked.
The remark reflects the growing unease that EU sanctions would hit hardest some of the continent's weakest economies, because Iranian oil provides the highest share of their needs, not to mention the rest of the bloc.