congress

Yes, Virginia, We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes

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 Afghanistan, the Pentagon Has Lost the American People

"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.

CNN reports:

 

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.

 

House Moots Afghan Exit, Iran War, Military Budget, and "Signature" Drone Strikes

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.

The Pledge of Resistance Could Change the Game Against a War with Iran

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.

Senator Rand Paul Calls the Question on War with Iran

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.

House Vote Today to Approve Iran Sanctions Bill Would Restore Bush "Cooties Doctrine"

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?

Could GOP Sanctions on Europe Tank the Economy and Elect Romney?

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.

 

Senators Have Ideas For Cutting the Military Budget

You might not know it from national press reports, but there are plenty of Members of Congress of both political parties who think that cutting the military budget is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and have concrete ideas for doing so.

 

(The New York Times did note last week that the leaderships of both parties are content to let stand the automatic cuts to the previously projected military budget mandated by the Budget Control Act.)

 

You can see that Senators have ideas for cutting the military budget from the list of amendments filed in the Senate to the National Defense Authorization Act, currently under consideration. [To weigh in with your Senators on these amendments, you can use the toll-free number established by the Friends Committee on National Legislation: 1-877-429-0678.]

 

Even if many of these amendments don't pass in the next few days, these ideas will still be nominees for consideration as the Pentagon considers how it wishes to cough up an additional half trillion dollars in savings from previously projected spending over the next ten years, as mandated by the Budget Control Act.

 

Report: Wefaq (Bahrain opposition) meeting with US congressional delegation

This is a report from Bahrain of a meeting between a U.S. Congressional delegation and democracy activists in Bahrain.

---

*Wefaq meeting with the congressional delegation*

On 17/10/11, 5 Wefaqi members, A.Jalil Khalil, Jassim Hussain, Jameel AlJamri, Matar Matar and Amal Habib met with the congressional delegation visiting Bahrain. The delegation included U.S. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega(D-AS), Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ). We explained thoroughly the situation in Bahrain and introduced Manama document.

The response of the delegation did not meet our expectation as it did not show enough understanding for the legitimate demands for reform . They started their speech by saying that Bahrain is an important strategic ally to US which is running short of friends in the region, and that the fifth fleet presence in Bahrain is vital to US which might not have any other alternative in the region. Then they were very critical of Wefaq boycotting the elections and being out of the system now, and without asking or listening to the reasons why Wefaq decided to boycott they asked Wefaq to find a way to cooperate with the new MPs who are, as they said, mixed Shia and Sunni and are neutral, to find ways to change within the system.

Instead of talking about reconciliation and dialogue between the opposition and the government which was mentioned by President Obama in his last speech, they showed full support to Bahrain government steps. They stressed on side issues and found it excuses for not supporting democracy in Bahrain.

On October 6, Let's Make a National Clamor for Peace

On October 7, 2011, the United States will have been at war for ten years.

Let's mark the occasion by making a national clamor for peace so loud that Congress, the President, and big media will have to pay attention.

October 7 happens to fall on a Friday this year. If you get to choose, Friday is not necessarily the most strategic day to make a national clamor for peace, because 1) Congress will likely not be in session 2) Friday is, in general, a crummy day to try to get media attention and 3) even if these two things weren't true or relevant, Friday is not a great day to try to hold public attention. People's thoughts are turning to the weekend, and then the weekend erases the chalkboard.

Moreover, the press has to cover the anniversary of the war, but these stories are going to be largely written and produced before Friday. The default media narrative will be: America has lost interest in the wars, because of the economy and unemployment, because "the wars are already winding down," or some other story that journalists or editors will make up. We have to beat this default media narrative. To beat it, we need to get in front of it.

So let's mark the occasion on Thursday, October 6. Let's have a national, "ecumenical" day of action for peace: to end the wars and cut the military budget.