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Kucinich Calls the Question on Libya War Powers

10:53 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Last week, voting on amendments on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives began taking action to limit U.S. military involvement in Libya’s civil war.

Now the House leadership has agreed to a vote on House Concurrent Resolution 51, introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, which would direct the President, pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, to remove U.S. armed forces from the Libya war. The vote could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.

The U.S. military intervention in Libya was never authorized by Congress, and thus violates U.S. law and the U.S. Constitution.

Some have argued that other Presidents have violated the War Powers Resolution, therefore it is no big deal. This is a breathtaking argument on its face: “everyone breaks the law.” But moreover, as the New York Times noted on May 25:

many presidents, citing their power as commander in chief, have bypassed a section that says they need prior Congressional authorization to deploy forces into hostilities, except if the country is under attack. But there is far less precedent of presidents’ challenging another section that says they must terminate any still-unauthorized operations after 60 days. In 1980, the Justice Department concluded that the deadline was constitutional. [my emphasis]

On May 20, the New York Times reported, referring to the 1980 Justice Department memorandum,

Such opinions are binding on the executive branch unless they are superseded by the Justice Department or the president.

When the 60 day limit expired, Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2003 and 2004, said:

“this appears to be the first time that any president has violated the War Powers Resolution’s requirement either to terminate the use of armed forces within 60 days after the initiation of hostilities or get Congress’s support”

Unfortunately, as a practical matter – whether we like it or not – Congressional war powers are not “self-enforcing.” The legal history strongly suggests that courts will not intervene if Congress fails to take action.

That’s why the war powers measure introduced by Representative Kucinich is so important. It represents the first opportunity for Members of the House not just to vote against further escalation, not just to affirm that the war was never authorized, but to vote directly to bring U.S. military participation in the war to an end. You can urge your Representative to support House Concurrent Resolution 51 here.

Last week, by the lopsided vote of 416-5, the House adopted an amendment initiated by Michigan Representative John Conyers to the defense authorization prohibiting the introduction into Libya of U.S. ground troops (that is, uninformed forces, not Special Forces or CIA that are already there.)

The House also adopted by voice vote – that is, without dissent – an amendment introduced by Rep. Scott Garrett [R-NJ] affirming that “Nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act shall be construed to authorize military operations in Libya.”

Jake Tapper of ABC News reported that these lopsided results in the House suggested that the Kucinich resolution calling for US military withdrawal from the Libya conflict in accordance with the War Powers Resolution could pass the House.

The decisions by the Administration to go to war in Libya without Congressional authorization, and then to continue U.S. military involvement past the 60 day limit of the War Powers Resolution, if not challenged by Congress, will set a dangerous precedent. Urge your Representative to vote yes on House Concurrent Resolution 51.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

After OBL: McGovern/Jones Push for Real Withdrawal Plan

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the floodgates opened in Washington this past week for reconsideration of U.S. plans to continue the open-ended war in Afghanistan.

Now Representatives Jim McGovern and Walter Jones have introduced the “Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act,” bipartisan legislation that would require the President present to Congress a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a clear end date for the war. It would require the President to submit quarterly reports to Congress on the progress of troop withdrawal, as well as the human and financial costs of continuing the war. The President would also have to report how much money U.S. taxpayers would save if the war were brought to an end in six months, instead of five, ten, or twenty years.

Other Members of Congress have spoken out this week against indefinite continuation of the war, including Senators Dick Durbin , Richard Lugar, and Robert Menendez; (jointly) Representatives Lee, Ellison, Grijalva, Woolsey, and Waters; Representative Barney Frank; and Representative Cliff Stearns.

But among all this, the intervention of McGovern and Jones is unique in that it carries with it the prospect of a roll call, in which every Member of the House will have to choose a side: open-ended war in Afghanistan, or a clear plan for military withdrawal?

The FY 2012 defense authorizations bill is expected to come before the House in late May or June. It is expected that Reps. McGovern and Jones will then offer their bill as amendment.

Introducing the bill now gives Americans the opportunity to talk to their Representatives about this legislation, and to ask them to co-sponsor it.

In a sense, when you are asking your Representative to co-sponsor the bill, you are asking them to vote for the amendment. But few people know much in advance exactly when legislation is going to be on the floor; often, many interested people find out that an amendment is going to be voted on less than 24 hours before the actual vote takes place. That’s not much time to have a meaningful interaction with your Representative, given that for most people most of the time, interacting with your Representative means interacting with a staff person, who then talks to the Representative. You want to allow some time for those conversations, and meaningful consideration, to take place. That’s why you want to have a conversation with your Representative’s office now, asking them to co-sponsor the bill, rather than waiting for the amendment. Also, getting co-sponsors on the bill allows you to build momentum; it allows Members of Congress to see what other Members of Congress are doing, something that they take into account when they decide their position. If you can say, this bill has 100 co-sponsors, that’s going to help you move people who are on the fence.

The current high-water mark in the House for requiring a real timetable for withdrawal is the 162 Members who voted on July 1 last year for the McGovern amendment requiring a timetable for withdrawal.

Much has changed since then.

The President put forward 2014 as a date when a “transition to Afghan lead” – not necessarily a withdrawal of U.S. forces – would take place. Public opinion has further soured on the war, including Republican opinion: before Sunday’s news, two-thirds of voters said the war was not worth it, including nearly half of Republicans and the majority of independents, and three-quarters of voters wanted to see a substantial withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer, including the majority of Republicans and independents.

And then came Sunday’s news.

Senator Durbin said this week he voted for the 2001 resolution authorizing the war “to go after” al Qaeda and bin Laden:

“Now here we are, 10 years later,” Durbin said. “If you asked me if I was signing up for the longest war in U.S. history, with no end in sight, even with the killing of Osama bin Laden, that was not the bargain, that is not what I was signing up for.”

Durbin asked:

“If you believe that resolution of this conflict by military means is highly unlikely and not a realistic basis for US policy, how can we send one more American soldier to fight and die in Afghanistan?”

Another significant change is that debate among Republicans about the war is getting more prominent with the start of the Republican presidential primary campaign. Two of the candidates – Gary Johnson and Ron Paul – want to end the war. When the question came up in last night’s Republican debate, the Republican audience cheered when Gary Johnson and Ron Paul said that they wanted to end the war

If you look at that roll call from last July, a fact that immediately jumps out at you is that of those 162 who voted for the McGovern amendment, 153 of them were Democrats and 9 of them were Republicans. Pushing Members now to co-sponsor the McGovern bill is an opportunity to test movement in the House in the last year, especially among Republicans, since public opinion, especially Republican public opinion, soured on the war and since Osama bin Laden – for many Americans, the target of the war – has been removed from the scene.

Pressure for a real withdrawal timetable could help end the war much sooner, because while on the one hand the Administration now says it is “seeking to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to accelerate a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and hasten the end of the Afghanistan war,” on the other hand, the Administration is pressing the government of Afghanistan for a “Permanent Bases Agreement” that would keep U.S. troops and bases in Afghanistan past 2014. The problem with that demand – in addition to the fact that it keeps U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan much longer than they need to be – is that the demand for an indefinite U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is likely to sabotage the peace talks in Afghanistan necessary to end the war.

So, if you don’t want to see the indefinite continuation of war in Afghanistan, you know what to do. You can write to your Representative here. Or you can call your Representative via the Capitol Switchboard, 202-225-3121. Ask your Representative to stand up for a real exit plan that has an end date, to start an irreversible process of bringing our troops home.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Barbara Boxer: Champion In The Senate AgainstThe Afghanistan War

10:34 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

afghanistan

afghanistan by The U.S. Army, on Flickr

If you’ve ever spent quality time trying to move an agenda through Congress, you know that moving an agenda isn’t just about lobbying individual Members. You need a “champion” for your issue. The champion introduces your bill. The champion recruits other offices to sign up. The champion introduces an amendment that carries the same idea as the bill and lobbies other Members to vote for it. The champion circulates letters to other offices. The champion raises the profile of your issue in the media.

When Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election, advocates working to end the war in Afghanistan lost their champion in the Senate. It was Feingold’s office that introduced the bill, introduced the amendment, circulated the letter, led the lobbying of other offices, led the charge in the media.

Now California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced Feingold’s bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan – a timetable with an end date. So far, Senators Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown have signed on as co-sponsors of Senator Boxer’s bill.

The re-introduction of this bill is extremely timely and important, for two reasons.

First, the White House is currently debating how to follow through on the President’s promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July. Will it be a mere token withdrawal, signifying nothing, as the Pentagon has demanded? Or will it be a “significant and sizable reduction” that sends a clear signal to everyone in Afghanistan and the U.S. that U.S. troops are on their way out, as the Democratic Party has demanded?

In this context, it’s very important for Senators to speak up. And signing on to a bill that says that the President has to establish a timetable for U.S. withdrawal that has an end date is an essential way to speak up.

When a Senator signs on to a bill like the Boxer bill, that Senator is basically communicating two things: first, I am unhappy with the status quo and I think that the Administration needs more pressure from people who think the way I do; second, if an amendment is introduced that contains the same basic idea as this bill, I am likely to vote for that amendment.

It’s this second function – stalking horse for an amendment – that is the principal reason that the text of the bill matters. Otherwise, the Senators are basically signing a piece of paper that says, “I am concerned about what the Administration is doing and I think that the Administration needs more pressure from people who think like me.”
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How Many Should Die To Send Qaddafi to the Hague?

11:52 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Here is a question I would like pollsters to ask American voters about the Libya War:

Is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for?

I haven’t seen any pollster ask this question. Indeed, the fact that sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a de facto military goal of the United States in Libya isn’t even being clearly acknowledged yet in the U.S. media.

However, we can make an educated guess what he response might be, because a Quinnipiac University poll recently asked some questions that are closely related.

Voters say 61 – 30 percent that removing Qaddafi from power is not worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for, the poll reports. They say 48 – 41 percent that the U.S. should not use military force to remove Qaddafi from power. Furthermore, 74 percent of voters are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that the U.S. will get embroiled in a long-term military conflict in Libya.

This strongly suggests that if American voters were asked, is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for, more than 61% would say no and fewer than 30 percent would say yes. Because sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a military objective that includes removing Qaddafi and more.

Yet, with a super-majority of Americans opposed and without Congressional authorization, that is what we are doing: fighting a war to remove Qaddafi from power and send him to the Hague.

It’s very likely that you wouldn’t know this if your only source of information were the U.S. press, which hasn’t been reporting on the divisions among US allies on what an acceptable agreement to end the war would be. But the British press is reporting it.
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When the House Comes Back, You’re Gonna Get In Trouble

1:55 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Here is some unsolicited advice for the Obama Administration: you essentially have four days to put US involvement in the Libya war on a path that doesn’t look like open-ended quagmire.

Otherwise, when the House comes back next week, you’re going to get in trouble.

Many people have difficulty imagining the possibility that Congress could give the Obama Administration difficulty over the Libya war. Since 2001, many people think, Congress has rolled over for both the Bush and Obama Administrations on questions of war and peace. Why should now be any different?

The view that Congress has only rolled over misses important history. For example, the legislative fight over a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq was a significant contributor to the fact that we have such a timetable for withdrawal today, even though such a timetable was never enacted legislatively. Congress lost the issue legislatively, but eventually won the issue politically.

But the more important point here that many people aren’t thinking about yet is that the political dynamics of the coming debate over the Libya war could be very different from the debates over Iraq and Afghanistan. If the Libya war is going full-bore next week with heavy US involvement, there could be significant opposition in Congress, especially in the House, from both Democrats and Republicans.

One key difference from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is that regardless of what many regard as the “true” motivations of those conducting the Libya war – control of energy resources, maintaining U.S. domination over the Middle East, etc., which would be broadly consistent with what many have believed to be the true motivations of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – the public presentation of the Libya war has been fundamentally different than for those wars. At the heart of the public justifications of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars there were national security stories: weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Of course, in both cases there were also humanitarian intervention stories overlaid on the national security stories. But the absence of a public national security story – a threat to Americans – for the Libya war makes it fundamentally more vulnerable politically.

A critic of the Libya war can’t easily be accused of being soft on terrorism, or unconcerned about defending the United States. Indeed, Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Gates, made sharp public criticisms of calls for U.S. military intervention in Libya, and everyone knows it. So it will be extremely difficult to bully critics of the war by portraying them as soft on defense.

A second key difference from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is that regardless of whatever else may be true about them, they were authorized by Congress. By taking the US to war without Congressional authorization, the Obama Administration has opened itself to criticism of usurping Congressional authority. This is always a good way to make Congress angry, regardless of the issue at hand, and doing so gives Congress a political opening to pass legislation to limit the Administration’s actions.

A third factor is that half of the House Democratic Caucus is already livid over the Obama Administration’s repeated escalations of the Afghanistan quagmire. In just the last month, half of the House Democratic caucus has voted to essentially eliminate funding for the war in Afghanistan; half of the House Democratic Caucus has voted to require that US forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Numerically, these votes were drowned out by the fact that the overwhelming majority of House Republicans have continued to vote for the war; but on the Libya war, House Republicans aren’t tied down to a previous position, and have much more room for maneuver because there is no public national security justification. Meanwhile, The Hill notes, the Libya war is burning through the cuts that House Republicans won to reduce the deficit.

Of course, if a significant number of Congressional Republicans turn against the Libya war, then we can expect a major effort to bully Democrats to “support the President,” regardless of what they think about the merits of the war, or the fact that the Administration did not seek Congressional authorization. But it may be hard to bully some Democrats to “support the President” on the Libya war while the President is burning them on Afghanistan; indeed, many Democrats, not just the most liberal ones, have already spoken out against the Libya war and the Administration’s decision to launch it without Congressional authorization.

Moreover, many Democrats understand that a dangerous precedent will be set if President Obama is allowed to bomb Libya without Congressional authorization; if Obama can bomb Libya without Congress’ approval, a future President Palin could bomb Iran without Congress’ approval.

If Congress decides to take action, it can do many things.

One thing Congress could easily do is expressly prohibit the introduction of US ground troops to Libya. Such action would be hard for the Administration to oppose politically, because it is an overwhelmingly popular position politically, and because President Obama has promised not to introduce US ground troops into Libya. So Congress would simply be nailing President Obama’s promise to the wall.

A second thing Congress could do is prohibit US manned aircraft from flying over Libyan airspace. This would ensure that no US pilots are shot down over Libya, or crash in Libya for any other reason, as happened this week. Thus, no US pilots could be killed or injured or become hostages.

A third thing Congress could do is establish a timetable for the withdrawal of US military forces from the conflict.

A fourth thing Congress could do is establish a ceiling – for example, a billion dollars – of what the Administration can spend on the Libya war without further authorization.

Of course, Congress could do many other things if it so chooses, including shutting down US participation in the war immediately.

Making such proposals the subject of legislative debate is an intrinsic good, regardless of whether they are enacted into law; they are a form of pressure that will limit the ability of the Administration to escalate the war.

There are important historical precedents.

As a 2004 CRS report on the history of the War Powers Resolution notes, in 1990-1 the first Bush Administration tried to argue that it did not need explicit Congressional authorization to attack Iraq. Then, as now, the President argued, among other things, that he was implementing a UN Security Council resolution and that he did not need additional Congressional authority. But Members of Congress disputed this claim; 45 Democrats sought a judicial order enjoining the President from offensive military operations unless he consulted with and obtained an authorization from Congress. The request for injunction was denied, but on grounds that did not address the underlying legal claim. In the event, Congressional leaders announced that they were going to debate the issue and there was a Congressional authorization of force.

In October 1995, the House, by a vote of 315-103, passed a resolution asserting that “no United States Armed forces should be deployed on the ground in the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to enforce a peace agreement until the Congress has approved such a deployment.” In December 1995, the House narrowly defeated H.R. 2770, which would have prohibited the use of Federal funds for the deployment “on the ground” of U.S. Armed Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina “as part of any peacekeeping operation, or as part of any implementation force,” by a vote of 210-218. The House then approved H.Res. 302 reiterating “serious concerns and opposition” to the deployment of U.S. ground troops to Bosnia.

On April 28, 1999, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1569, by a vote of 249-180, prohibiting the use of funds appropriated to the Defense Department from being used for the deployment of “ground elements” of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia unless that deployment were specifically authorized by law.

The same day the House defeated, in a dramatic 213-213 tie vote, S.Con.Res. 21, the Senate resolution passed on March 23, 1999, that supported military air operations and missile strikes against Yugoslavia.

Two days later, the ACLU sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott:

We are writing to urge that you insist on strict compliance with the Constitution in connection with the commitment of U.S. troops in Kosovo, Yugoslavia and surrounding areas. The possible commitment of U.S. ground troops requires prior congressional authorization under the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution. In fact, such authorization is also required for any air and missile strikes by U.S. forces in connection with any air war in Yugoslavia. Mere consultation with members of Congress, while a step in the right direction, does not meet the constitutional requirement that congressional authorization precede U.S. military intervention.

The air war was never authorized. That didn’t stop it; a legal effort to block the air war on this basis was ultimately dismissed in the courts on the grounds that 1) Congressional action had sent contradictory messages, and if it had wanted to explicitly prohibit the air war from continuing, Congress could have done so and 2) the Members of Congress who sued did not have standing since they did not represent the majority of Congress.

Nonetheless, the failure of the House to pass the resolution in support of the air war had a salutary political effect on the Clinton Administration: it made the Administration less intransigent in international diplomacy to resolve the crisis. After the vote, President Clinton suggested that there could be a “pause” in NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia to allow space for diplomacy. There was a peace accord a month later, in which the Clinton Administration accepted terms it likely could have achieved without the bombing.

So far, there has been no serious diplomatic effort backed by the West to resolve the crisis in Libya without the escalation of violence; efforts by others to achieve a diplomatic resolution have been dismissed. It seems likely that the only way to convince the US, France and Britain to give negotiations a chance is to put some obstructions in the current path towards military escalation. Therefore, the best thing Congress can do to help save lives in Libya right now is to construct some political obstacles to further military escalation.

Moreover, as we all know from bitter experience, there is an intrinsic tendency of wars to escalate and expand. Those who support the current military operations, but do not want them to expand and escalate, should support efforts to prevent their expansion.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Congress Must Debate the Libya War

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

The U.S. is now at war in a third Muslim country, according to the “official tally” (that is, counting Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya but not Pakistan or Yemen, for example.) But Congress has never authorized or debated the U.S. military intervention in Libya. (A sharply disputed claim holds that the Pakistan and Yemen actions are covered by the 2001 authorization of military force, but no-one has dared to argue that the 2001 AUMF covers Libya.)

Some will no doubt claim that the President is acting in Libya within his authority as Commander-in-Chief. But this is an extremely dangerous claim.

To put it crudely: as a matter of logic, if President Obama can bomb Libya without Congressional authorization, then President Palin can bomb Iran without Congressional authorization. If, God forbid, we ever get to that fork in the road, you can bet your bottom dollar that the advocates of bombing Iran will invoke Congressional silence now as justification for their claims of unilateral Presidential authority to bomb anywhere, anytime.

Some Members of Congress have strongly objected to President Obama’s bombing of Libya without Congressional approval.

On the Democratic side, John Larson, chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, called for President Obama to seek congressional approval. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Donna Edwards, Mike Capuano, Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, Rob Andrews, Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee and Eleanor Holmes Norton “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during a Saturday call organized by Larson, the Politico reports.

“They consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress,” one Democrat[ic] lawmaker said of the White House. “They’re creating wreckage, and they can’t obviate that by saying there are no boots on the ground. … There aren’t boots on the ground; there are Tomahawks in the air.”

“Almost everybody who spoke was opposed to any unilateral actions or decisions being made by the president, and most of us expressed our constitutional concerns. There should be a resolution and there should be a debate so members of Congress can decide whether or not we enter in whatever this action is being called,” added another House Democrat opposed to the Libyan operation.

“Whose side are we on? This appears to be more of a civil war than some kind of a revolution. Who are protecting? Are we with the people that are supposedly opposed to [Qadhafi]? You think they have a lot of people with him? If he is deposed, who will we be dealing with? There are a lot of questions here from members.”

On the Republican side, Senator Richard Lugar, ranking Member on Senate Foreign Relations, told CBS‘ Face the Nation yesterday that if we’re going to war with Libya, we ought to have a declaration of war by the Congress:

A memo distributed to Republican aides in the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee made the case that Congressional authorization is necessary and used Barack Obama’s own words to make the case, ABC reported.

The memo quotes Obama when he was in the Senate and there were concerns that then-President George W. Bush would take strike Iran.

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” the memo quotes then-Senator Obama saying on Dec. 20, 2007.

In times like this, you can be sure some journalist will marvel at the “strange bedfellows” coalition of Democrats and Republicans standing up to the President. But there’s nothing strange about this bed. Everyone who wants to live in a constitutional republic belongs in this bed. Everyone who wants to hold the Administration to its promise of a “limited intervention” aimed at “protecting civilians,” rather than overthrowing the Libyan government, and to avoid “mission creep” from the former to the latter, belongs in this bed.

Congressional debate is a key means of compelling the Administration to clearly state its case and its objectives, to be honest and transparent about the potential cost of its proposed policies, and to limit its actions to its stated objectives; and to force Members of Congress to go on the record, in opposition or in support, and to state clearly, if they support, what it is that they support. On cost, for example: each Tomahawk missile is reported to cost on the order of a million dollars. So, firing 110 of them over the weekend cost about $100 million, far more than House Republicans cut from National Public Radio with great fanfare. Shouldn’t Congress consider this expenditure?

Two days into the military intervention, there was already sharp dispute over whether the military intervention that has unfolded has already gone beyond what the UN Security Council authorized and what the Arab League endorsed.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported:

A day after a summit meeting in Paris set the military operation in motion, some Arab participants in the agreement expressed unhappiness with the way the strikes were unfolding. The former chairman of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, told Egyptian state media that he was calling for an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss the situation in the Arab world and particularly Libya.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” he said, referring to Libyan government claims that allied bombardment had killed dozens of civilians in and near Tripoli.

Today, Moussa appeared to walk back these remarks.

But with Benghazi apparently no longer under Libyan government threat, and with Western bombs falling in Tripoli, this dispute over the scope of Western bombing is virtually certain to intensify.

You can debate the constitutional issue of war powers until the cows come home; but as a practical matter, if Congress doesn’t formally address the issue, such debate isn’t very relevant. If a majority of the House and the Senate support the present US military intervention in Libya, let them say so on the record, at least, by voting for a resolution to authorize military force. If the majority of the House or Senate are opposed, let them say so on the record. A minimum standard for transparency in government is that the House and the Senate go on the record for or against a new war.

UPDATE: Former MoveOn and Democracy for America staffer Ilya Sheyman, who is exploring a run for Congress in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, has a petition calling for Congress to debate the war in Libya.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Speaker Pelosi, War Funding Next Week is No “Emergency”

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is committed to passing an emergency war supplemental before the July Fourth recess, Roll Call reports.

Let us be perfectly clear, as President Obama might say. There is no "emergency" requiring the House to throw another $33 billion into our increasingly bloody and pointless occupation of Afghanistan before we all go off to celebrate the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from foreign occupation.

This fact – that there is no emergency requiring an immediate appropriation – is absolutely critical, because the claim that there is some "emergency" requiring an immediate infusion of cash, otherwise there will be some new apocalyptic catastrophe, is the means by which the Pentagon and the White House hope to dodge two sets of questions about the war supplemental urgently being asked by Democratic leaders in the House.

Secretary Gates has complained that if the war money is not approved by July 4, the Pentagon might have to do "stupid things" like furlough civilian Pentagon employees. I am not in favor of furloughs, even of Pentagon employees (can we furlough someone who approves breaking into Afghans’ homes in the middle of the night and killing pregnant women?), but as "stupid" goes, furloughing Pentagon employees doesn’t hold a candle to laying off public school teachers, which is the likely consequence of allowing the Pentagon and the White House dodge their critics in the House.

The war funding proposal has been sitting in the inbox for six months. What kind of "emergency" is that? The $33 billion represents about five percent of the gargantuan Pentagon budget. The Pentagon can live with a little more delay, while we get answers to some urgent questions.

The first set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: now that we’ve dumped McChrystal, what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

Yesterday, thirty Members of the House sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, demanding that the questions about the war raised by Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article be answered before the House votes on the Pentagon’s request for more money.

According to Hastings’ article, "Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further." A senior military official says, "There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer," which is a pants-on-fire contradiction to the promises made when the last increase of forces was announced. Meanwhile, McChrystal’s Chief of Operatons, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, said: "It’s not going to look like a win…This is going to end in an argument." If it’s going to end in an argument anyway – Mayville is surely right – why shed more blood? Don’t we have a right and obligation to demand a straightforward and concrete accounting of what the additional bloodshed is purportedly going to achieve?

Ninety-eight Members of the House – almost a quarter – have now signed on to legislation demanding that President Obama establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Shall the House not debate establishing a timetable for military withdrawal before voting on more money for pointless killing?

The second set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: what the hell is the federal government doing about Main Street’s economic crisis? While it is not the responsibility of the Pentagon to do something about Main Street’s economic crisis, it is the obligation of the Pentagon to defend more Pentagon spending as the best use of public resources, at a time when states and local governments are looking at mass layoffs of public employees, including school teachers.

This is the question that House Appropriations chair David Obey put on the table when he said he would sit on the war appropriation until the White House acted on House Democratic demands to unlock federal money to aid the states in averting a wave of layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

But on money to save teachers’ jobs, the White House is still Absent Without Leave, hiding behind the purported threat of a Senate filibuster, just as it did on the public option for health insurance. If it fought for teachers, the White House could win. But it isn’t fighting, because unlike the war funding, teachers’ jobs are not a White House priority.

If we want this to change, Obey has to be able to make good on his threat. And that means the House has to be willing to call the Pentagon’s bluff.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Kucinich Forces Congress to Debate Afghanistan

12:40 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Yesterday, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced H. Con Res. 248, a privileged resolution with 16 original cosponsors that will require the House of Representatives to debate whether to continue the war in Afghanistan. Debate on the resolution is expected early next week.

Original cosponsors of the Kucinich resolution include John Conyers, Ron Paul, José Serrano, Bob Filner, Lynn Woolsey, Walter Jones, Danny Davis, Barbara Lee, Michael Capuano, Raúl Grijalva, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Johnson, Yvette Clarke, Eric Massa, Alan Grayson, and Chellie Pingree.

The Pentagon doesn’t want Congress to debate Afghanistan. The Pentagon wants Congress to fork over $33 billion more to pay for the current military escalation, no questions asked, no restrictions imposed for a withdrawal timetable or an exit strategy.

Ideally, from the point of view of the Pentagon, Congress would fork over that money right away, before the coming Kandahar offensive that the $33 billion is supposed to pay for, because you can expect a lot of bad news out of Afghanistan in the form of deaths of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians once the Kandahar offensive starts, and it would sure be awkward if all that bad news reached Washington while the $33 billion was hanging fire.

So it’s a great thing that Rep. Kucinich and his 16 allies are forcing Congress to debate the issue, and it would be even better if more Members of Congress would be urged by their constituents to support Kucinich’s resolution. That would be a signal to the House leadership that continuation of the open-ended war and occupation is controversial in the House, and the House leadership should not try to ram through $33 billion more for the war on a fast-track without ample opportunity for debate and amendment.

Every day the Afghanistan war continues is another day on which the United States Government plays Russian Roulette with the lives of American soldiers and Afghan civilians.

The British Government has more urgency than the U.S. government about ending the war – and is more supportive than the U.S. of a political solution to end the conflict – because in Britain there is greater public outcry.

If there were greater public and Congressional outcry in the U.S., we could be more like Britain, and get our government on board the train to a political solution, instead of prolonging the war indefinitely.

The first step towards bringing our troops home is for Members of Congress to hear from their constituents.

Will Speaker Pelosi Stand Up to the IMF?

2:49 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

It would be an exaggeration to say that Congress has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this week to reform the policies of the International Monetary Fund. If the future is like the past, if Congress misses this opportunity, another one will come along – in about 10 years or so.

This week, House and Senate leaders are meeting in a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the supplemental appropriations bill. The Senate version of the bill is likely to include $100 billion and new authorities for the IMF, but the House version of the supplemental bill did not include funds for the IMF. The Senate is debating amendments now as I write. The conference committee will almost surely meet soon after Senate passage; the stated goal is to pass the supplemental before the Memorial Day recess.

Concrete, observable reforms of the IMF’s policies in poor countries should be part of any agreement: there should be no "blank check" for the IMF. The IMF is imposing policies in developing countries we wouldn’t accept in the U.S. – when we have a recession, our government spends money to help the economy recover, as we did in President Read the rest of this entry →