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.


Call Congress Today to Stop the Escalation of War in Iraq and Syria

September 16, 2014

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Today is a national call in day to question the U.S. government’s ISIS strategy organized by two dozen groups including MoveOn, Veterans for Peace and Friends Committee on National Legislation (which provided the toll free number).  With Members of Congress participating in Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) hearings over the next few days and a vote likely tomorrow on providing arms to Syrian fighters, now is the time to be heard.

Call Now!  Congressionals switchboards are open between 9am and 5pm, eastern time.  (855) 68 NO WAR (66 927 toll free)  First, ask for your Representative, when finished call both of your Senators.  Tell them:

“I am a constituent and I question whether there is a military solution to the ISIS problem. I also want my Congressperson to vote against arming Syrian fighters.”

Perhaps you don’t agree exactly with the above statement.  I’m sure you still have questions or think Congress should at least hold a debate or claim its constitutional war powers.  Please make three calls today and state your concerns.

The United States is rushing headlong into another open-ended war in the Middle East.  We know from the past disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan that war isn’t the answer.  Even President Obama has said that there is no military solution to ISIS.  Among other actions, organizing regional diplomacy, cutting off oil income from sales to ISIS, and getting the UN to restart talks to end the Syrian civil war are more likely to achieve success over bombing and spreading weapons that might end up in the wrong hands.  For more on nonmilitary solutions see our action alert from last week.

Pick up your phone!  (855) 68 NO WAR (66 927 toll free)  First, ask for your Representative, when finished call both of your Senators.  Use the above script.

As I mentioned, it seems Congress will vote tomorrow to send more weapons into Syria.  Already ISIS is using U.S. weapons against us,  and garnered from Syria and Iraq.  Sending more weapons into the Middle East is like pouring gasoline on a fire.  Congress should vote no.

Make Three Calls Now!  (855) 68 NO WAR (66 927 toll free)  First, ask for your Representative, when finished call both of your Senators.  Use the above script.

Your calls today are essential because, as we mentioned, this week the House and Senate are holding hearings with experts like Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and General Martin Dempsey.

And know that your calls are being amplified by supporters of over twenty organizations that are calling Congress as you read this.

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – Today is a national call in day organized by a few dozen groups to question the U.S. strategy on ISIS.  Call now!  (855) 68 NO WAR (66 927 toll free)  First, ask for your Representative, when finished call both of your Senators.  Tell them:

“I am a constituent and I question whether there is a military solution to the ISIS problem. I also want my Congressperson to vote against arming Syrian fighters.”

After calling, please forward this important email.


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.


Peace Action Responds to President Obama’s ISIS Speech

September 11, 2014

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This press release went out last night, more to come soon.

Peace Action Responds to Obama’s ISIS Plan

 

Washington, DC — September 10, 2014 — In response to President Obama’s speech on dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Peace Action, the largest peace group in the U.S. made the following statements:

 

“We agree with the president that there is no military solution to the problems posed by ISIS. And yet his proposed strategy relies far too heavily on the use of military force. It’s time to stop the bombing and escalation and use the other tools of U.S. foreign policy — working with allies in cutting off weapons, oil and funding streams for starters — which will be much more active in dealing with ISIS,” said Kevin Martin, Peace Action’s executive director.

 

“True international support to deal with ISIS requires UN action and regional diplomacy,” observed Paul Kawika Martin, the political director of Peace Action.

 

“History shows that US arms tends to fall into the wrong hands like in Afghanistan and now ISIS.  More weapons in the mideast is not the solution and is more like pouring fuel on a fire,” concluded Paul Kawika Martin.

 

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Stop Selling Death

August 28, 2014
'Nuff said?

‘Nuff said?

 

Moving from conflict to conflict in the Middle East, trying to keep up with the politics and players involved, the unrelenting violence, the rising death toll and refugee crisis, is as difficult as it is depressing. 

There is one common thread however – from Gaza to Syria to Iraq to Egypt to Libya to Afghanistan — U.S. military intervention and an ever-ready supply of U.S weapons pouring into the region make matters worse.

Let’s stop fanning the flames of war.  Sign Peace Action’s petition to restrict and limit U.S. weapons sales

U.S. weapons provided to the Iraqi Army are now in the hands of extremists who are close to tearing the country apart.  The success of the extremist offensive has led them to declare themselves the Islamic State, stretching into Syria where they have been fighting to overthrow the Assad government alongside other rebels being vetted by the U.S. to see who is worthy of receiving yet more U.S. weapons transfers, just what the region doesn’t need.

The U.S. leads the world in weapons sales. That includes the sale of weapons to undemocratic regimes and nations on the U.S. State Department’s list of human rights abusers. Tell Congress and the President it’s time to stop selling weapons to dictators and governments that turn U.S. weapons on civilian populations.

We need a new foreign policy, one that reflects America’s values and goodwill, one that relies more on patient diplomacy and humanitarian assistance and far less on weapons and war.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – Now, faced with war raging in the Middle East, a region awash in U.S. weapons, it is time again to push Congress and the Obama administration to end the practice of arming dictators and human rights abusers.


Does War Have a Future? Peace Action National Board Member Larry Wittner on History News Network

June 3, 2014

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, “What’s Going On at UAardvark?

 

National officials certainly assume that war has a future. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditures totaled nearly $1.75 trillion in 2013. Although, after accounting for inflation, this is a slight decrease over the preceding year, many countries increased their military spending significantly, including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, 23 countries doubled their military spending between 2004 and 2013. None, of course, came anywhere near to matching the military spending of the United States, which, at $640 billion, accounted for 37 percent of 2013’s global military expenditures. Furthermore, all the nuclear weapons nations are currently “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals.

Meanwhile, countries are not only preparing for wars, but are fighting them―sometimes overtly (as in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan) and sometimes covertly (as in portions of Africa and the Middle East).

Nevertheless, there are some reasons why war might actually be on the way out.

One reason, of course, is its vast destructiveness. Over the past century, conventional wars (including two world wars) have slaughtered over a hundred million people, crippled, blinded, or starved many more, and laid waste to large portions of the globe. And this enormous level of death, misery, and ruin will almost certainly be surpassed by the results of a nuclear war, after which, as Nikita Khrushchev once reportedly commented, the living might envy the dead. After all, Hiroshima was annihilated with one atomic bomb. Today, some 16,400 nuclear weapons are in existence, and most of them are far more powerful than the bomb that obliterated that Japanese city.

Another reason that war has become exceptionally burdensome is its enormous cost. The United States is a very wealthy nation, but when it spends 55 percent of its annual budget on the military, as it now does, it is almost inevitable that its education, health care, housing, parks and recreational facilities, and infrastructure will suffer. That is what the AFL-CIO executive council―far from the most dovish institution in American life―concluded in 2011, when it declared: “There is no way to fund what we must do as a nation without bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The militarization of our foreign policy has proven to be a costly mistake. It is time to invest at home.” Many Americans seem to agree.

Furthermore, a number of developments on the world scene have facilitated the abolition of war.

One of them is the rise of mass peace movements. Many centuries ago, religious groups and theologians began to criticize war on moral grounds, and non-sectarian peace organizations began to emerge in the early nineteenth century. Even though they never had an easy time of it in a world accustomed to war, these organizations became a very noticeable and, at times, powerful force in the twentieth century and beyond. Drawing upon prominent figures like Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, sparking new thinking about international relations and world peace, and mobilizing millions of people against war, peace groups created a major social movement that government officials could not entirely ignore.

Another new development―one originally proposed by peace organizations―is the establishment of international institutions to prevent war. The vast destruction wrought by World War I provided a powerful incentive for Woodrow Wilson and other officials to organize the League of Nations to prevent further disasters. Although the League proved too weak and nations too unwilling to limit their sovereignty for this goal to be accomplished, the enormous carnage and chaos of World War II led government officials to give world governance another try. The resulting institution, the United Nations, proved somewhat more successful than the League at averting war and resolving conflicts, but, like its predecessor, suffered from the fact that it remained weak while the ambitions of nations (and particularly those of the great powers) remained strong. Even so, the United Nations now provides an important framework that can be strengthened to foster international law and the peaceful resolution of international disputes.

Yet another new factor on the world scene―one also initiated by peace activists―is the development of nonviolent resistance. As staunch humanitarians, peace activists had pacifist concerns and human rights concerns that sometimes pulled them in opposite directions―for example, during the worldwide struggle against fascist aggression. But what if it were possible to battle for human rights without employing violence? This became the basis for nonviolent resistance, which was not only utilized in dramatic campaigns led by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., but in mass movements that, subsequently, have challenged and toppled governments. Indeed, nonviolent resistance has become a new and powerful tool for people to drawn upon in conflicts without slaughtering one another.

In addition, the modern world has produced many other alternatives to mass violence. Why not expand international exchange and peace studies programs in the schools? Why not dispatch teams of psychologists, social workers, conflict resolution specialists, mediators, negotiators, and international law experts to conflict zones to work out settlements among the angry disputants? Why not provide adequate food, meaningful employment, education, and hospitals to poverty-stricken people around the world, thus undermining the desperation and instability that often lead to violence? Wouldn’t the U.S. government be receiving a friendlier reception in many countries today if it had used the trillions of dollars it spent on war preparations and destruction to help build a more equitable, prosperous world?

Of course, this scenario might depend too much on the ability of people to employ reason in world affairs. Perhaps the rulers of nations, learning nothing since the time of Alexander the Great, will continue to mobilize their citizens for war until only small bands of miserable survivors roam a barren, charred, radioactive wasteland.

But it’s also possible that people will finally acquire enough sense to alter their self-destructive behavior.

- See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155841#sthash.SW1zL9g5.dpuf


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