Urgent Action: Tell Congress to support diplomacy with Iran

November 21, 2014

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You’ll know from the past eight years that we have been writing you about Iran.  First, we were gravely concerned that Vice President Dick Cheney would sway the Bush administration to bomb Iran.  We have come a long way.  We expect this Sunday the international community including the U.S. will announce an agreement or a negotiating extension with Iran to ensure they do not acquire a nuclear weapon even if they wanted one.

Write your Congressional delegation now to support this historic agreement that will make us safer and will be a step in reducing Middle East tensions.

Unfortunately, there are some in Congress who take the Cheney tack that war is always the answer.  Military strategists have said over and over again that a military intervention into Iran would at best slightly delay any nuclear program and at worst force Iran to engage in getting a nuclear weapon even if they had no such program.

Congress needs to hear from you now not to scuttle this extremely important deal.  Use this sample letter to write now.

With bad news coming out of the Middle East nearly everyday, an agreement with Iran is something to lift up, not bring down.  Demand that those who represent you in the Capitol speak up in support of an agreement or continued negotiations until an agreement is reached.

This is a key time to lesson tensions in the Middle East and guarantee another country promises not to seek nuclear weapons.  Your letter right now can make a big difference.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S.  It is urgent that you write Congress now to support an agreement or an extension with Iran on their nuclear program.  After using the sample letter, please forward this to your friends, family and colleagues.


War – What Is It Good For?

September 25, 2014

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–by Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Two weeks ago the House of Representatives voted 273-156 to fund and train “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight the radical terrorist group Islamic State or ISIS. Thank you for your calls against this ill-advised scheme especially since Congress has not authorized the president’s new war in Syria and Iraq. Now, please call your representative via the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and let him or her know what you think of his or her vote.

Congress then adjourned to campaign for re-election, which was an abdication of its responsibility. They certainly could and should have remained in session for a week or more to debate and vote on whether to authorize President Obama’s intervention into the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars. While Congress failed to do its job, we at Peace Action won’t fail to do ours. Our members and activists will bird-dog candidates on the campaign trail and press Members of Congress to explain themselves at community meetings. Peace Action Education Fund Board President Mike Keller wrote this excellent report of such a meeting in Annapolis, Maryland with U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) who was surprised to catch flak from liberal activists for his vote to arm the Syrian rebels.

Last week, President Obama spoke at the UN and chaired the Security Council meeting, where a resolution calling on states to stop the flow of foreign fighters to groups like ISIS passed 15-0. This sounds good, but as expected this was not Security Council approval for military intervention in Iraq and Syria, as required by the UN Charter. So the president is still 0 for 2 in domestic and international law.

Congress is expected to hold votes on authorizing Obama’s new war(s) when it returns after the election for a lame duck session in November or December, we will keep you posted as to developments and how you can take action between now and them. Meanwhile, here is a link to a radio interview on Chicago’s public radio station I did earlier this week prior to the initiation of bombing in Syria and a blog post on the illegality of these new wars.


Holding Congress Accountable for Syria Vote – Great Report from the Grassroots

September 22, 2014

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Mike Keller, who is president of the Peace Action Education Fund and has been active for more than 30 years with Peace Action in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, prepared the following account of a meeting he attended this past week with U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, who serves his district in the House:

“U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) held a breakfast meeting attended by approximately 50 Annapolis-area activists in liberal cause groups.  I participated.  Sarbanes’ intended agenda was to pitch a campaign finance reform proposal which he is sponsoring.  But he was peppered with questions, comments and concerns about the U.S. march to war in the Middle East.  Sarbanes said that he voted for the aid to Syrian rebels reluctantly, because he doubts it can be done effectively, that we can even identify ‘moderates’, and that we can prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of extremists.  He explained his vote as an  expression of support for the president’s attempts to ‘throw ISIS back on its heels’.  His response pleased no one in the room.  Sarbanes then noted that the authorization would expire in December and that Congress would conduct a ‘robust debate’ after the midterm elections on  the president’s use of executive action to pursue ISIS.  Sarbanes also said that he disagreed with the White House’s contention that the 2001 and 2002 Congressional resolutions could be applied to the current situation.  A member of Annapolis City Council, who attended the meeting, said that he could not trust President Obama’s pledge to keep U.S. combat troops out of the fray, because air power alone cannot defeat ISIS.  Sarbanes said, ‘I understand your concern’.

“Sarbanes could not avoid taking away from this meeting with progressive activists in Annapolis that his core constituency is worried and riled up about the prospect of getting entwined in another ruinous military adventure in the Middle East.

“Between now and the post election debate on whether to authorize the president to wage war against ISIS (assuming the White House and congressional leaders allow it to take place), it is critical that Peace Action members in alliance with individuals from other organizations and local elected officials get in the face of their House members on this issue and let them know the intensity of our opposition to the direction in which the United States in heading in the Middle East”.


Peace Action Statement on House Vote to Support Syrian Militias

September 17, 2014

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For Immediate Release:  September 17, 2014

 

Contacts:               Paul Kawika Martin, Peace Action, 951-217-7285 cell, pmartin@peace-action.org

Kevin Martin, Peace Action, 301-537-8244 cell, kmartin@peace-action.org

 

Congress Shows Concern in Vote for Funding Syria Militias

 

Washington, DC — September 17, 2014 — In response to today’s House vote to arm and train Syria militias, Peace Action, the largest peace group in the U.S. released the following statement by its executive director, Kevin Martin:

 

The House of Representatives’ vote today to arm and train “moderate” elements of the Syrian opposition in the hopes they will fight ISIS seems a preposterous leap of faith and misappropriation of our tax dollars for a war Congress has not yet authorized, as the Constitution expressly stipulates it must. The U.S. military trained the 100,000+ Iraqi Army, and they failed miserably in their first encounters with ISIS fighters, so how will training 5,000 Syrian fighters do the job? As to providing weapons, it’s far easier to see how that goes disastrously than successfully, as U.S. weapons have already ended up in the hands of ISIS forces. Even the CIA, which has been running a covert program supporting the Free Syrian Army from a base in Jordan, is reportedly skeptical of this new plan.

 

This is also a poor way to run a democracy, with only one house of Congress voting on one aspect of President Obama’s strategy to defeat ISIS, as indications are the Senate will not vote on an amendment to arm Syrian rebels, but rather accept the House’s action and vote only on the Continuing Resolution to keep the government running into December, which includes the House vote. Neither the House nor Senate have voted to authorize the president to attack Syria or Iraq, and plan not to do so until December. Is this “cross our fingers and hope for the best while we campaign for re-election” strategy worthy of Congress’s Constitutional authority over issues of war and peace? The House would have done well to heed the concerns expressed by U.S.. Rep. Austin Scott, R-GA, who before the vote stated, “Every time the United States has gotten into a war, it has started with something like this.”

 

For our part, we are heartened that over two dozen organizations mobilized on short notice to oppose this dangerous plan, generating tens of thousands of calls to Congress in just two days. Peace Action members will continue to raise concerns about this new quagmire-to-be at the Peoples Climate March in New York City this Sunday, on the campaign trail by bird-dogging candidates to state clearly their positions on this new war, and when Congress gets around to voting on a war authorization in its December lame duck session.

 

Opposition to the vote by 156 Representatives (85 Democrats, 71 Republicans) shows congressional concern that weapons and training can come back to bite the U.S., that more arms in the Middle East will only fuel the fire and this can be the Camel’s nose under another war tent. We will continue to advocate diplomatic, political and humanitarian alternatives that will be more effective in combating ISIS, rather than continued military escalation.


Constitution Schmonstitution! Let’s go ahead and have a (we won’t call it a war) on ISIS/ISIL

September 11, 2014

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Quick trivia question – on what subject was Barack Obama a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School?

Birthers might say “Islam” but it was in fact Constitutional Law. So he knows full well, and at times has shown he understands, that the U.S. Constitution clearly assigns the power to declare war to Congress, not the president. The best example of this was just over a year ago when he surprisingly but wisely concluded he needed to come to Congress for authorization to bomb Syria, then even more wisely never even went to Congress when he realized he had scant public and Congressional support (and his pal Vladimir Putin also helped save his hash by convincing Syria to divest itself of chemical weapons).

So now the president wants to continue to bomb the radical forces of ISIS (or ISIL as the Administration calls them) in Iraq (and likely, ironically, Syria again) and says he’d “welcome” Congressional support but he does not need it. (When I heard that line in his speech last night I reacted the same as U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who said it was “almost condescending” though I’d omit the “almost.”)

Earlier this week it appeared very unlikely Congress, eager to duck accountability for okaying what is a surefire quagmire-to-be, impatient to campaign for re-election in November’s midterm elections or wrapped up in other dysfunctional and/or partisan squabbles (take your pick, and for some Members of Congress it is “all of the above”) would schedule a vote on any type of war authorization bill before adjourning later this month.

However, now there are rising calls for Congress to do its job and vote on authorizing a new war from the Progressive Caucus, some Libertarians and others in the House and a growing gaggle of Senators from across the political spectrum. Anyone who would hazard a guess as to how such a vote would turn out would be someone not worth listening to at this point (especially since a war authorization might be subject to all manner of currently unknowable limitations or conditions that would affect the support it would draw). We may well learn more next week about a possible Congressional vote.

There’s no question such a vote is required. The president is just plain wrong on this point, and not just about Congress, but also he is ignoring international law requiring United Nations Security Council approval. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and Just Foreign Policy laid it out clearly in an article for The Hill.

Take the UN requirement first:

“Just as the U.S. Constitution provides a check on the president’s authority to wage war, at the international level there is the law of the United Nations, which is supposed to govern the use of force in international relations.  Article 2 of the U.N. charter, to which the U.S. is a signatory, prohibits the use of military force against other nations unless authorized by the Security Council.  There are exceptions, for threats of imminent attack, but the U.S. is not under imminent threat of attack and no one has claimed that it is.”

Then the Congressional one:

“…the United States is still a constitutional democracy, or is intended to be one; and under our Constitution (and the War Powers Resolution) it is still the Congress that has to decide if the country is going to war.”

Ah the War Powers Resolution, dating to 1973, an attempt by Congress during the Vietnam War to curtail presidential war making run amok. The Obama Administration has been until now complying with the WPR’s requirement to notify Congress of ongoing military action, even though the WPR does not grant the president authority to bomb in Iraq.

Says who? Former eleven term U.S. Representative from Illinois Paul Findlay (the federal building in Illinois’s state capital, Springfield, is named for the man), one of the main authors of the War Powers Resolution. Testify Brother Findlay (from a news release by our colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy):

“Our elected leaders are acting like jelly fish. Members of Congress must decide whether to bomb Iraq or Syria, or both. The president has no authority to bomb either country. He violates the Constitution with every bomb he sends to Iraq. Ordering acts of war is too serious a decision to leave to one man. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

“We just marked the 50th Anniversary of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which I voted for and which President Johnson used to dramatically escalate the Vietnam War. I never intended that Resolution to be a blank check for war against Vietnam. Yet that is exactly what Johnson used it for.

“As a consequence, in 1973, I helped draft the The War Powers Resolution and my vote helped override President Nixon’s veto.

“Enforcement of limits on presidential employment of war powers deserves the vigilance of each member of Congress. Each member should consider enforcement a grave personal responsibility. War measures that today seem inconsequential can lead to larger involvements tomorrow. Their ultimate size and duration are unpredictable, as we found in our costly war experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Just recently, Congress stood by as the President ordered bombings in Iraq. Then two U.S. citizens were killed. Rather than using their deaths as a rallying cry for more war, they should be a warning of the negative consequences of war. It’s no accident that the framers deemed the decision of war-making too important to be made by one person.

“If the president orders acts of war in the absence of congressional approval, he risks impeachment by the House of Representatives for usurping a power the Constitution reserves exclusively to the Congress. If Obama wishes lawfully to order airstrikes in the territory of Iraq or Syria, he must first secure a resolution of approval from Congress.”

Would love to see this man debate his fellow Illinoisan/commander in chief, yes?

Returning to the matter at hand, exactly what does the president cite for his purportedly existing “I don’t need no stinkin’ Congressional vote” legal authority to bomb Iraq and soon Syria?

Until yesterday the Administration had not said, exactly, but I had a hunch it was the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Congress granted President George W. Bush just after 9/11, which only U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee voted against. Sure enough, last night an unnamed “senior Administration official” confirmed this in response to a reporter’s question on a conference call. After stating Congress could specifically authorize military action against ISIS/ISIL, said official stated the following:

“But, to be clear, we do not believe the President needs that new authorization in order to take sustained action against ISIL.  We believe that he can rely on the 2001 AUMF as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing against ISIL, for instance.  And we believe that he has the authority to continue these operations beyond 60 days, consistent with the War Powers Resolution, because the operations are authorized by a statute.  So we welcome congressional support.”

This is, to be polite, garbage, especially from an administration which has previously advocated repeal of that law (and said it would not rely on that nor on the 2003 AUMF for the Iraq war for its legal authority). Here is what the 2001 AUMF authorized a different president to do:

“…the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized,committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

How a reasonable person would conclude this applies to the current situation in Iraq and Syria is anyone’s guess, especially since ISIS/ISIL and al Qaeda have split and are at each others’ throats, though many peace activists and Constitutional scholars have long feared broad presidential war-making powers would be claimed under this AUMF. At best, it is a highly dubious proposition that this AUMF applies because ISIS/ISIL is an offshoot of al Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attacks.

The salient point is the Obama Administration should be forced to make that case, if that’s what it believes to be its war-making authority now, to the public and Congress. Oh yeah and not just the legal authority question, it also needs to convince the Congress and the country that we absolutely need to get involved in another Middle East war. That’s what democracy looks like.


Just Two Months Until Crucial Midterm Elections

September 3, 2014

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As you know midterm elections are only two months away.  Already Peace Action and our PAC has made a difference by endorsing candidates, contributing to primary elections, briefing candidates and collecting candidate questionnaires.

Please give a contribution to Peace Action PAC now.  Even $5 can make a difference.  By law, $5,000 is the maximum you can give.  You may consider a recurring gift so that our PAC is always prepared even for surprise special elections.

In the coming weeks, Peace Action will provide you the opportunity to give directly to our hand-picked peace candidates.  Meanwhile, we need to raise funds for our PAC that will give us the flexibility to give directly to peace candidates or to hire organizers to work on specific races.

Peace Action PAC has helped elect such peace leaders as:

  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) — A leader in bringing the troops home from Afghanistan and ending the Iraq War
    •    Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) — Another leader in stopping endless wars and cutting the Pentagon budget
    •    Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) — Co-chair of the Progressive Caucus
    •    Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) — A rare Republican ally on ending the wars and reducing Pentagon waste

In November, we expect a number of hot races in California, New Hampshire, Massachusettes, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and a few other states.  Your support can make a difference. 

It’s not just electing Members of Congress that will vote the right way.  That certainly helps.  But the key is electing leaders on peace issues who will lead a number of lawmakers to vote the right way.  Leaders who will do the hard, behind the scenes, work on issues you and I care about that will make a lasting difference.

Please take a moment now to make a gift so that we can make a difference in key elections. 

For a more peaceful Congress,

Paul Kawika Martin
Policy and PAC Director
Peace Action

P.S. – With the midterm elections nine weeks away, it’s time to make a commitment to peace candidates.


Action Alert – Tell the Senate, “War Isn’t Working!”

August 21, 2014

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The United States has been bombing Iraq off and on (mostly on) for about twenty-three, yes 23, years.

Has it worked? Is Iraq peaceful, stable, secure? Have we eliminated potential threats to the U.S. and our allies, or have we exacerbated them?

Has U.S. military engagement in the region, whether by bombing, invasion, occupation or providing weapons transfers and military aid, been effective?

I think “abject failure” is the only way to describe U.S. policy.

Can we afford to keep doing this, at an exorbitant cost, when it’s been so spectacularly unsuccessful, and we have such pressing needs in our communities that need our attention and our tax dollars?

President Obama has spoken wisely about the limits of U.S. military might to solve the problems in Iraq and the Middle East, and rules out a large troop presence on the ground, yet U.S. military actions in Iraq are escalating, and the mad momentum of war often defies presidential good intentions.

Last month the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H. Con. Res. 105 stating clearly there is no legal authority for U.S. military involvement in Iraq without express Congressional approval. The Senate needs to do the same.

Write your senators today and tell them enough is enough – stop bombing Iraq, stop flooding the region with weapons, emphasize humanitarian aid and diplomacy as the primary tools of U.S. foreign policy to bring peace and security to the region.

Please act now, before another catastrophic war escalates out of control.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. -The Constitution grants Congress, not the president, authority over decisions to engage in war. Write your senators today and tell them to end the bombing of Iraq. Enough is enough.


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