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”.


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.


War Doesn’t Work

September 11, 2014

Dont-Bomb-Syria2-670x300By Judith LeBlanc, Field Director,Peace Action

The media calls the U.S. public war weary.

Yes, the people are war weary after seemingly endless and pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Deep down most people know that endless war is not a solution. The U.S. cannot bomb an organization, ideology, religious fanaticism or sectarian strife out of existence. As we continued military action, Al Qaeda has continued to grow. There is no long term military solution to the threat of ISIS or terrorism.

Write a letter to the editor to remind the President, Congress and our communities: there is no military solution.

In Iraq, history proves that short term military victories turn into long term nightmares. Ten years ago, U.S. private contractors were brutally killed. The battle for Fallujah was waged with horrendous consequences. Now ISIS controls Fallujah. For the people of Fallujah, the U.S.-instigated nightmare continues.

We need a coalition for a political solution, not military action!
There are alternatives to bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria that are not posed in public opinion polls and are largely absent in the political debate. The alternatives require the U.S. to replace military action with a real international diplomatic response that will provide the political power, the economic incentives and support for rebuilding a non-sectarian Iraq, humanitarian aid and an end to the Syrian war.

It is urgent that you take the time to write a Letter to the Editor to outline the alternatives.

The President and Congress should:

1. Stop the bombing and military escalation. We’ve seen before how unintended consequences can spiral out of control, causing more pain and suffering in the region and hurting U.S. security.

2.  Hit ISIS where it hurts: the wallet! Take steps to cut the cash flowing to ISIS.  Crack down on Turkish, Iraqi, and other oil dealers who are purchasing ISIS’s oil on the black market, which would cut ISIS off from its most important revenue stream.

3. Build a  coalition for a political solution, not military action! Support a United Nations-led effort to convene Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, European Union and Russia to develop strong diplomatic, economic and political initiatives to restrict the flow of arms, militias and finances across borders. Support restarting UN-sponsored negotiations to end the Syrian civil war.

Write a letter to the editor There is no long term solution to the threat of ISIS. No to bombing! Yes to a political solution.

You can also call Congress, which is currently somewhat confused about whether it will do its Constitutional job and vote on any authorization for war, with this same message. The U.S. Capitol switchboard number is(202) 224-3121, they will connect you to your U.S. Representative or Senators’ offices.

The people are war weary. Peace Action is war wise and our mission is to build a movement that is vocal in articulating the alternatives to war. Please write a letter today.

Our sister organizations and some reporters are providing an abundance of resource materials, some are below.

1. What President Obama Should Announce: A Plan to Resolve the ISIS Threat without American Bombs.  By Win Without War

2. To Defeat the Islamic State, Follow the Money  By Howard J. Shatz

3. Six Steps Short of War to Beat ISIS by Phyllis Bennis, a Peace Action Advisory Board member


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 the Wars, Stop the Warming!

September 9, 2014

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We are at a crossroads, faced with a climate crisis that threatens to end our world as we know it.  We can’t afford the greenhouse gas emissions from the way we live and from war and preparations for war.  We must end the fossil fuel energy economy which war protects.

Join us for the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, September 21! 

The specter of nuclear war still hangs over the world. US policy is the main obstacle to effective global action on climate change, world peace, and nuclear disarmament.  Peace, antiwar and environmental activists must join together for immediate action!

The Peace, Justice and Climate contingent will assemble at 10:00 am for a pre-rally on Central Park West north of Columbus Circle.   Confirmed speakers include Bill McKibben, Tom Hayden, Medea Benjamin, Father John Dear, Margaret Stevens, and Erica Violet-Lee of Idle No More, with music by Emma’s Revolution, Dar Williams, and Holly Near.   The march steps off at 11:30am.

We go to New York to demand that the US government:

•    Stop wars for oil
•    Redirect military spending to fund green jobs and sustainable infrastructure
•    Stop the Keystone pipeline project, fracking and offshore drilling
•    Move to abolish all nuclear weapons as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
•    Stop blocking proposals for effective international action on climate put forward by developing countries

Be sure to check out the Climate Convergence conference on Friday, September 19 and Saturday, September 20 in New York, with keynote speakers including Naomi Klein and many more.

Humbly for peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

PS: Your tax-deductible contribution to Peace Action Education Fund will support our efforts to build a strong peace presence in the movement to stop climate change.


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.


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