Congressional Grumbling Won't Stop the War ~ They need to vote NO!
- Congressional Grumbling Won't Stop the War!
Thursday 01 October 2009
by: Carolyn Eisenberg, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Despite public grumbling, the House and Senate continue voting to fund war. (Photo: The U.S. Army / flickr)With General McChrystal requesting up to 45,000 more troops for the floundering military effort in Afghanistan, Democratic members of Congress are understandably agitated. Almost everyday, some new senator or representative goes before the television cameras to express grave concern about the apparent "quagmire" that is emerging there.
While such sentiments are to be welcomed, they are no substitute for effective action. Happening under the radar, these same troubled, skeptical, increasingly pessimistic legislators are within days of providing another $128 billion to fund the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq through September 2010.
Unlike the Bush administration, which relied on supplemental spending bills, the Obama White House has incorporated the money for the wars into the regular 2010 defense budget. The projected tab for the military during the coming year is $625.8 billion - itself an exorbitant sum, when set against the vast array of unmet domestic needs.
While scarcely covered by the mainstream press, both House and Senate have already passed their respective versions of the bill by lopsided margins. In the Senate, the defense authorization bill went through with a vote of 87 to 7, while the House of Representatives approved the defense appropriations bill by a 400 to 30 vote. At some point in the next two weeks, the reconciliation process will be completed and there will be another round of voting. However, absent furious pressure from the grassroots, members of Congress are preparing to roll over and play dead on the funding issue. By so doing, they quietly forfeit their constitutional power over matters of war and peace.
The situation now is different from the Bush years, when the chief executive seemed downright hungry for military adventures. Faced with the human costs of the Afghanistan war, President Obama appears genuinely sobered by what he has learned and determined to reflect before increasing troops a second time. Yet, however one interprets his private predilections, the advisers who surround him, the institutions over which he presides, the "never lose" mentality in our culture, the jingoism of the mass media, the vast influence of the defense contractors, the sheer power of the Pentagon itself, not to mention the dangerous international mess left by the Bush team, create a relentless momentum toward continued warfare.
It is against this backdrop that the abdication of Congress is so dangerous. We are at a critical moment not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq, where, for all the fanfare about change, 130,000 American troops remain. Even if the president were determined to change course, under no circumstance can he do this alone. If members of his own party, who campaigned on a message of peace and diplomacy will not apply the brakes, who will?
It was never in the cards that Congress was going to vote down the 2010 defense budget. One could reasonably ask, therefore, what difference does it makes if the margin next week is 400 to 30, or some more balanced tally? Because when so many members of Congress grant unconditional funding to an escalating war, it sends a message of frivolity. It demonstrates that their public grumbling is merely noise, that there is no sense of urgency about changing a policy that is pulling the administration into a deeper tragedy. For all the invocations of "a quagmire," the actual meaning has been ignored: that you can't get out of the bog, when you keep marching in.
To change this sorrowful narrative, elected officials will have to do more than lament. They need to get on their feet and vote "No."Carolyn Eisenberg is a professor of US foreign policy at Hofstra University and co-chair of the Legislative Working Group of United for Peace and Justice.