Vote To Put the Brakes on War
July 11, 2017
Peter Certo /OtherWords & AntiWar.com & Robbie Gramer / Foreign Policy
A bipartisan House bill has reasserted Congress' Constitutional authority to declare war, thereby reducing the odds that a reckless president could start a global conflagration. Ironically, by putting a sinister face on Barack Obama's militaristic foreign adventures, Donald Trump might have inspired lawmakers to rein in America's post-9/11 war machine. Reconsidering America's paranoid and bellicose nature -- especially with regard to Russia, China, North Korea and Iran -- would be a good step back from the risk of global annihilation.
A Bipartisan Vote To Put the Brakes on War
Peter Certo /OtherWords & AntiWar.com
(July 11, 2017) -- One of the few things I recall fondly about the Trump campaign -- a short list, I'll admit -- was the candidate's apparent glee in ridiculing the warmongering of his rivals and predecessors.
In early 2016, Trump (correctly) summed up George W. Bush's legacy this way: "We've been in the Middle East for 15 years, and we haven't won anything."
He ridiculed Hillary Clinton for being "trigger happy" -- no standard-issue gibe from a guy who also promised to bring torture back -- even while echoing progressive complaints that the $5 trillion pricetag from Bush's wars would've been better spent at home.
And though Trump's relationship with the Russians has since acquired an unseemly cast, he once offered quite sensibly that "it's better to get along" with the world's other nuclear-armed superpower than not to.
Compared to his rivals, Politico magazine once mused, Trump was "going Code Pink" on foreign policy. But what a rose-colored lie that turned out to be.
Since taking office, Trump's turned virtually all use of force decisions over to his generals. With the president's backing, they've ordered 4,000 new American troops back into Afghanistan, sent thousands more to Iraq and Syria, and nearly quadrupled the rate of drone strikes from the Obama administration, which was already quite prolific.
Everywhere they go, they're escalating the brutality -- and we still haven't won anything.
They cratered Afghanistan with the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped. They've stepped up support for the brutal Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, where 11,000 have died and thousands more are at risk of dying of hunger and cholera. Meanwhile they've brought civilian casualties from our bombings in Iraq and Syria to record levels, inflicting what the UN calls a "staggering loss of civilian life."
Things are about to get even more dangerous in Syria, as the Islamic State falters and armed factions turn on each other to claim the remains of its caliphate.
Under Trump, US troops have repeatedly attacked pro-Syrian forces -- a line Obama never crossed -- in a misguided effort to bolster Washington's favorite rebels, many of whom are fighting each other. That's ratcheting up tensions with Syria's allies, Iran and Russia, endangering Obama's hard-won diplomatic gains with Iran and even leading Russia to threaten to shoot down American planes.
For Trump, a president lampooned as a puppet of Putin, blundering into conflict with Russia over an empty corner of eastern Syria should be an embarrassing prospect. But Trump seems blithely unaware of the whole thing.
While Trump may be uniquely prone to careless belligerence, the problem is plainly bipartisan: He's mostly just adding ghastly additions to a war scaffolding the Obama and Bush administrations built before him.
One possible solution? Revoke the congressional war authorization passed after 9/11, which gave the president authority to track down the perpetrators of those attacks. There were 19 hijackers that day, but that law's been abused to justify military action 37 times in 14 countries, the Congressional Research Service calculates. [See story below -- EAW]
Stunningly, on June 29, the House Appropriations committee overwhelmingly approved an amendment from Rep. Barbara Lee to revoke that authority -- and then broke into applause. It's not law yet, but Democrat Tim Kaine and Republicans Jeff Flake and Rand Paul have voiced support for doing something similar on the Senate side.
Trump has failed to bring any sense or strategy to America's wanton post-9/11 war-making. But precisely by putting such a sinister face on it, he might've finally inspired bipartisan action to rein in the war machine.
Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.
Surprise House Vote Rolls Back
Authority for the 'War on Terror'
Robbie Gramer / Foreign Policy
(June 29, 2017) -- In a surprising twist, the US House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to repeal a sweeping 2001 law that gives the president wide-ranging authority to wage war against terrorist groups all over the world.
Republican lawmakers backed the proposal, put forth by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a rare and surprising show of bipartisanship on a controversial issue that has traditionally fallen along party lines.
The amendment would repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the legal authorization passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that gave the president the ability to battle the Taliban and associated groups. In the years since, the AUMF has been stretched to encompass war against an ever wider net of terrorist outfits, from al Qaeda and its affiliates to the Islamic State.
The vote, while only in one committee for now, could signal Congress's increasing willingness to straitjacket the Trump administration's ability to wage war against terrorist organizations without prior congressional approval.
"It's a signal from Republicans they're finally willing to talk about this," one Democratic congressional aide said.
Aides told Foreign Policy that if it's passed, the repeal would be a binding law, not a nonbinding resolution. From there, Congress would have to create an entirely new AUMF, which would prompt a new and full-scale debate on the wars the United States is waging now.
Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF in 2001, arguing that it gave the executive branch too much authority over when and where to wage war.
Since its passage, successive administrations have used it as a tool to kick-start new military operations without need for congressional approval or input. According to the Congressional Research Service, the AUMF has been used 37 times to justify military operations in 14 countries. It was used to start the Iraq War and the war against the Islamic State in Syria.
Many legal experts and lawmakers criticized presidents for abusing the AUMF and using it to justify military action that goes well beyond the scope of its original intended use, which was to allow for retaliation against the Taliban and al Qaeda for the attacks on New York and Washington.
Lee's new amendment still has to go a long way before becoming law -- it has to survive passage through the Senate and make it into the final defense spending bill, always a massive and hotly contested political fight in the House.
But the fact that the Republican majority passed the amendment still floored veteran congressional staffers and Democratic members of Congress.
"Being included in the committee markup is a pretty big advancement," one Democratic congressional aide told FP.
And it wasn't just that it happened; it was how it happened.
Everyone assumed Rep. Lee's amendment would be rejected "out of hand," one Democratic congressional aide told FP -- all her past attempts to push this amendment through have, too.
But then-Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the deputy majority whip, stood up and surprised everyone by supporting it.
"This is something where Congress has collectively avoided taking responsibility for years," he said. "The Constitution is awfully clear, as my friend points out, about where war-making authority resides. It resides in this body. And we've had leadership honestly on both sides that put off this debate again and again and again."
"I was floored," said one congressional aide in attendance.
Cole broke the ice for his Republican colleagues. "I feel like my world is rocked because I see these two that have very different opinions, and yet I agree with you," said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah). The military has "the courage to go out and fight these wars, and they notice we don't have the courage to debate this," he added. "They notice that Congress doesn't have the guts to stand up and have this debate."
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) followed and said the surprise comments changed his mind. "I was going to vote, 'No,' but we're debating right now. I'm going to be with you on this, and your tenacity has come through," he told Rep. Lee.
It even seemed to surprise Lee herself:
Lee's amendment would repeal the AUMF after 240 days. If passed, it would set a countdown clock for the Trump administration and Congress to hash out what laws should replace it -- and how much leeway Congress will give to the executive branch to wage war.
Only the chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), spoke out against repealing the AUMF. She said it was "necessary to fight the global war on terrorism."
"The amendment is a deal breaker and would tie the hands of the US to act unilaterally or with partner nations" to fight terrorism, she said. "It cripples our ability to conduct counterterrorism operations."
Russian Very Much a Threat to the United States
(June 29, 2017) -- A Pentagon report released Wednesday warns of a rising military threat from Russia and says the Kremlin believes the United States is seeking regime change, an assertion that could color the already fraught relationship between the two powers.
The Defense Intelligence Agency's 116-page report, "Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations," sketches a picture of a Russia that sees itself in opposition to the United States and with a leadership that harbors a strong desire to make the country again the prominent power it was during the Cold War era.
"The Kremlin is convinced the United States is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia," the report says. Moscow started worrying about Washington's hand in regime change during the so-called Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe in the early 2000s. Russia also sees the United States as responsible for the Arab Spring revolutions of 2010 and 2011, and the ousting of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
The report comes at a time when the US government is torn on how to handle the rising threat from Russia. While President Donald Trump has sung the praises of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and while he is reportedly preparing concessions to make to Moscow before his first meeting with Putin, Congress has chosen a different and much tougher tack. The Senate recently passed legislation that would slap new sanctions on the Kremlin and make it harder for the White House to roll back sanctions on its own.
The intelligence community, judging by the report, sees less optimism for improved relations. "Moscow worries that US attempts to dictate a set of acceptable international norms threatens the foundations of Kremlin power by giving license for foreign meddling in Russia's internal affairs," the report says.
The idea that Russia anticipates the United States will attempt to topple the Kremlin's leadership tinges diplomatic relations between the two countries with suspicion.
Russia has long been wary of US involvement in regime change. Putin ran for president in 2012 in part because he was unhappy that then-President Dmitry Medvedev teamed up with the United States to effect regime change in Libya. Putin also blamed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for instigating widespread protests in late 2011.
Similarly, Russia has alleged that the United States orchestrated the protests in Kiev in late 2013 that ultimately ousted the pro-Kremlin Yanukovych, who allegedly asked Russia to intervene in Crimea.
The Defense Intelligence Agency also notes a staggering increase in Russian defense spending that has reached a "post-Soviet record."
Though the 2016 defense budget was set to decline, a late bump brought the total amount to $61 billion, according to the report. That's more than double the annual defense budget of $27 billion for 2006, though still just one-tenth of US defense spending.
It remains unclear whether House Republican leadership will endorse the Senate-backed sanctions amendment, and the White House has already attempted to water it down. Plenty of European governments have reacted furiously to the Senate move, which would unilaterally broaden economic sanctions on Moscow and could affect European companies doing business with Russia.
Despite the White House's strange affinity for Moscow, US government institutions continue to take Russia seriously, belatedly giving credence to former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's much-maligned claim that Russia is America's main geopolitical threat.
Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Nicholas Burns, a former US ambassador to NATO and a former State Department official in the George W. Bush administration, said the Obama and Trump administrations failed to appropriately respond to Russia's meddling in the US presidential election.
"President Trump has taken no action whatsoever, and that's irresponsible," Burns said. He added that President Barack Obama should have retaliated more "vigorously."
"Russia is our most dangerous adversary in the world today," Burns said.
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