By David Swanson
Rallies are being held all over the country marking the fourth anniversary of the official start of the war, and many of them are focusing on opposing the supplemental spending bill proposed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The peace movement has been firmly opposed to it from the start, and other activist groups are moving in that direction, including groups that usually take their orders from the Democratic leadership rather than the other way around. The possibility has opened up of defeating the bill by adding enough progressive votes to the Republican and right-wing Democratic votes that will be cast against it. If Pelosi can’t count enough votes, she won’t bring the bill up. Then activists will face the challenge of persuading her to support a Democratic bill to end the war, rather than the bill the Republicans want.
On Monday I’m planning to speak at a rally against the war in Charlottesville, Va. On Sunday, I spoke at the Rally in the Valley in Fresno, Calif. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey spoke as well. Dolores Huerta was scheduled to speak but couldn’t make it, and Pablo Rodriguez filled in for her. Bill Simon MC’d. This is what I said:
It’s an honor to be here. Yesterday afternoon I was one of tens of thousands of people who marched peacefully to the Pentagon and held a rally for peace and impeachment. Cindy Sheehan marched wearing a sweatshirt that said Peace Fresno.
As I was walking across Memorial Bridge a young man I know ran up to me. He’s a veteran of this war and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. After saying hello and a few words, he burst into tears. He said he had just been spat on, and it had just hit him what that meant. The people who spat on him were part of a relatively tiny group pf pro-war demonstrators. The young man I was talking to did not spit back at them. He joined a group of other vets for peace and led the march to the Pentagon nonviolently.
The leaders of the marches for peace care what the war supporters think of them. The reverse is also true. The pro-war demonstrators were not executives of weapons and oil companies cynically promoting their own profits. Many of them were aging veterans of a previous war that had sent them into the horrors of death and violence for previous power and profit motives that they do not want to think about.
These people have identified themselves so closely with war and obedience that they feel compelled to denounce and threaten and spit on other people wearing the same uniform and waving the same flag. And they waive signs that come from such a different world view from mine that the words on them appear to me at first to be calls for peace. I saw a sign that said “Congress, Stop the Treason!”
Of course, to me that looks like a call for Congress to retake the power the Constitution gives it and put an end to the activities of Cheney and Bush. If a double-agent had done to Valerie Plame Wilson what Bush, Cheney, Rove, Libby, and gang did, many of those pro-war vets would be screaming “Treason!” Their resistance is to questioning authority. If Bush ends the war tomorrow, they will favor ending the war. But to their minds Congress engages in treason when it makes any gestures in the direction of opposing the war. Congress to them does not qualify as an authority worthy of obedience. When we challenge the president’s authority, they believe we are endangering them and siding with their enemies against them. But a majority of Americans understands that this is not true. A majority of Americans are able – despite the force of television – to draw on deep roots of democracy to understand that the way our government works now is not the way it is supposed to be. A governmental system in which every four years we choose a new king is not the system created by the US Constitution.
Now, there are other Americans who believe for other reasons that it would not be best to bring our troops home right away. Some believe that Iraq will be worse off if US troops depart. I think there are several reasons why this is wrong. First, it underestimates the utter hell that Iraq is now. Polls suggest that Americans have no idea what Iraq is like. Americans believe on average that about 10,000 Iraqis have been killed. The only scientific study done, and done several months ago, put the figure at 655,000 Iraqi deaths in excess of the high death rate under the prewar sanctions. Americans tell pollsters that Iraqis support the occupation and oppose the so-called insurgents, when the opposite is the case. And my impression is that even the pollsters themselves in the US are unaware of the millions of Iraqis who have fled their country since its so-called liberation.
Second, the idea that Iraqis will be worse off if US troops come home now assumes that there is a way they might be better off if the occupation continues. We’ve been told that for four years now. But we’ve been given no reason to believe that Iraqis will ever accept the occupation or a government set up by the occupation. With each year of occupation, chaos increases and the post-occupation outlook worsens.
But, third, when we set aside all of our sense of racial and religious superiority, it is clear that only by ending the occupation can we give Iraqis a chance – not a guarantee, but a chance – to find a decent future.
Fourth, most Americans are probably unaware that the new oil law that we are imposing on Iraq, the one that Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel is insisting be part of the Supplemental spending bill, effectively transfers huge oil profits from the people of Iraq to foreign corporations.
Fifth, the longer we leave the occupation in the hands of the occupiers, the more firmly we eliminate the rule of law in international affairs, increasing the likelihood of future wars of aggression.
And finally, sixth, we have not just killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. We have also killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world who could have been saved with the same money spent on the war and occupation. The minute we stop spending hundreds of billions on war, we can start spending at least some of that money on improving the lives of Iraqis, Americans, Africans, and others through non-military spending.
If you love this land of the free
BRING EM HOME
BRING EM HOME
Bring them back from overseas
BRING EM HOME
BRING EM HOME
But there is another group that does not want to end the occupation just yet, a group that agrees with everything I’ve just said and includes people I think of as generally on the right side of things. This group believes that by far the most good can be done for the world in the long run if in 2009 we have a Democratic President, Senate, and House, and that the Democrats will do best in the 2008 elections if the war is still going on. There’s even a more radical view which holds that despite all the damage Cheney and Bush have done and will have done by 2009, they have given birth to a stronger progressive movement that will do so much good in the long run that we’d have been worse off had Gore taken his rightful place in the Oval Office. I think such arguments should be seriously considered and rejected.
We do have a two party system. When things get worse, it can motivate people to make things better. But electing Democrats is only as useful as the specific Democrats. Joe Lieberman is not Lynn Woolsey. Even if we cannot elect Dennis Kucinich, either John Edwards or Barack Obama will make a better president and stand a better chance of winning and winning by a margin that cannot be stolen, if the Democrats end the war now. Inaction and cowardice and muddled middle of the roadism do not win elections. But even if keeping the war going were good for elections, it would be impossible for that to justify the hundreds of thousands of lives sacrificed in the next two years.
If the Democrats won in 2006 because it was Bush and Cheney’s war, and if they win in 2008 in the same way, they’ll want to continue the war until 2010. Hillary Clinton has already said she’ll continue it.
If a new Democratic Administration begins the work in earnest in 2009 of undoing the damage done by Cheney and Bush, that project will take many years, if it can be done at all. In the past six years we have seen a dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons. We have seen people around the world persuaded to hate the United States. We have seen global warming advance closer to the point of no turning back. So, whether you care about elections of other political issues or not, if you care about peace and security, the conclusion has to be this:
It’ll make the politicians sad I know
BRING EM HOME
BRING EM HOME
They want to tangle with their foe
BRING EM HOME
BRING EM HOME
Now, assuming we want to bring the troops home, what’s the best way for Congress to make that happen? Most Republicans and some Democrats are firmly against it. Other Democrats claim they are for it but oppose using the power of the purse to make it happen because that would somehow hurt our troops. They’re happy to stop funding the war once the war is over. In the meantime, they insist that they must fund the war for how ever long the president continues it, and they must do so for the sake of the troops. As in the march on the Pentagon yesterday, the executives of the oil companies are nowhere to be seen. AIPAC, whose agenda is at odds with that of over three quarters of American Jews, is nowhere to be seen. Instead we are told in grand Orwellian fashion that wars are fought on behalf of the young and usually poor men and women who are sent to kill, die, and be injured.
I recently read the words “You are not what you think you are, and I know it.” These words were written in a letter to US military commanders by a US soldier. They were the concluding words of his suicide note. Congress, too, should hear those words. You are not what you think you are and we know it. Because we know that Congress has no responsibility to fund this war and occupation at all. Congress can fund the only thing that would protect our troops, a withdrawal. And that is what Lynn Woolsey’s bill does. And that is what Barbara Lee’s amendment does.
The Supplemental spending bill proposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressman David “Idiot Liberals” Obey, and Congressman Jack Murtha does something very different. First and foremost, it funds the war. It gives Cheney and Bush roughly another $100 billion. And you can be quite sure they will spend it as they choose, which may include attacking Iran. In fact, a measure in the bill requiring Bush to get Congress’s approval before attacking Iran (an attack that would violate the US Constitution and the UN charter) has been removed. And, as I mentioned, the bill also requires Iraq to turn much of its oil profits over to foreign corporations.
Beyond that, the bill does a number of things to nudge Bush in the direction of limiting the war, but most of them are for show. That’s why I saw the pro-war crowd with anti-Murtha signs yesterday, but no anti-war people with pro-Murtha signs. In this bill, Murtha pretends to ban torture. Torture was always illegal. The framers of our Constitution sought to leave such practices behind in England. The US is a party to international treaties banning all torture. Nonetheless, the last Congress, the Republican Congress, banned torture, and Bush used a signing statement to announce his intention to ignore the ban. Now Murtha wants credit for pretending to ban torture again. You cannot ban torture under a dictator who has publicly announced that he will ignore your bans. You can only end torture by ending the pretense that there is not a dictator living in the Vice President’s house. Murtha also intends to pretend to limit how many days a soldier or marine can be kept in Iraq. The Republican Congress did this in 2003, and Bush threw it out with a signing statement.
Some previous presidents had used signing statements, but never to announce their intention to disobey the law. And in many cases, including the two I’ve just mentioned, we know that Bush has in fact disobeyed those laws.
And don’t imagine that Jack Murtha is unaware of this. He’s a step ahead of you. He’s included in the bill a right for the president to waive the restrictions. So, this time, no signing statement will be needed. Instead we’ll get a waiver. I’m sure that’ll make the soldier on his or her third tour of Iraq fell better when they’re told that they’re going to stay a little longer this time. In polls last year our troops in Iraq said they wanted to all come home last year. They weren’t asked, but I’m guessing they would have liked that better than a yellow ribbon on a car bumper.
What else does the Pelosi bill do? Well, it requires Bush to report periodically that progress is being made, and then at sometime next year, depending on what Bush claims, it requires at least some troops to move to Afghanistan. Congressman Obey says that’s where the war should be. The bill says nothing about bringing anyone home, and nothing about leaving no permanent bases in Iraq. In fact, it includes so many loopholes – for protecting bases, protecting other troops, training Iraqis – that most US troops will be able to stay in Iraq forever.
That doesn’t sound like much of an anti-war bill. It gets worse. The two most disturbing things about the bill to my mind are the way it treats the president and the way it throws in unrelated benefits in order to bribe various congress members to support it. The bill asks Bush to report on progress in Iraq. A reporter asked Pelosi if there was any mechanism for determining whether Bush tells the truth. Pelosi replied that she was sure he would.
There’s that pretense again, that everything-is-normal it-can’t-happen-here pretense.
The bill also includes many measures that could easily be addressed in other bills, many of them worthwhile and long overdue, including aid to veterans, Katrina victims, farmers. The dishonesty involved in packaging a war bill this way was made clear when Congressman Obey yelled at military mother Tina Richards that she needed to support this bill or she would be opposing health care for veterans. In the last Congress, Obey declined to support a bill to provide health care to veterans.
Barbara Lee’s amendment takes a different approach, one that does not involve micromanaging the war or funding it. The amendment would restrict spending to withdrawing troops. We have a list at afterdowningstreet.org of which members are saying they will vote No on the supplemental unless it has Lee’s amendment. It’s a short list, and we need your help to add to it, confirm it, update it. Pelosi and gang are threatening progressive Democrats with election challenges and everything else you can imagine to get them to vote for more war. Most of them are folding under the pressure. Lynn Woolsey has not folded. Your job is to make sure that the same can be said of Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza.
If Pelosi’s bill passes and survives in a recognizable form following a conference committee, Bush has promised to veto it. But there’s a decent chance he’ll signing statement it instead. He wants the money, and he knows Pelosi won’t fight for the toothless restrictions in the bill if he deletes them with a signing statement. To do so, she would have to call him a criminal. Instead, she’s already saying that if her bill does not pass, she’ll have to support one the Republicans like, one with no limitations at all. But it is not true that she’ll have to do that. She can support a bill like Lynn Woolsey’s and pressure conservative Democrats to join the rest of her caucus. That has to be what we push for – and in the Senate too.
We’ll send no more brave young lives
BRING EM HOME
BRING EM HOME
For the gleam in someone’s eye
BRING EM HOME
BRING EM HOME
But now comes the tough question: What if Congress funds a withdrawal, cuts off the war, and Cheney and Bush refuse to end the war? According to the Congressional Research Service, Bush took $2.5 billion from other sources, illegally, and launched preliminary actions in and around Iraq prior to Congressional authorization and full-scale invasion. Cheney’s lawyers have produced a position called the unitary executive, the idea being that the president’s powers are absolute. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Bush will ignore limitations on the war considered micromanagement. What reason do we have to think Bush will end the war if Congress cuts off the money? They cut off the money for illegal spying, and he kept doing it. They cut off the money for building permanent military bases in Iraq, and he keeps building them. Of course with war we’re talking about a lot more money. But we’re still talking about a fraction of the military budget, which is approaching a trillion dollars a year. There’s so much money sloshing around that, according to Seymour Hersh, the Bush-Cheney gang has been giving some to al Qaeda-connected groups in the Middle East. Again it may be appropriate to say:
Congress, Stop the Treason!
So what can we do if Congress and the rest of us recognize that we are up against a dictator? What if we come to see the proper contest not as one between Democrats and Republicans for seizing the throne in 2008, but as one between Congress and the White House? What power does Congress actually have? What is the one thing that cannot be vetoed, signing statemented, or ignored? What does the Constitution prescribe as the remedy for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors?
Impeachment, Congressman Dennis Kucinich said on the floor of the House on Thursday, now looks like the only way to block an attack on Iran. Impeachment may also be the only way to give Congress the confidence to try to end the war on Iraq prior to impeachment. Nixon backed off on his war, and Congress pressed ahead to end it because of the looming threat of impeachment.
Following Nixon’s impeachment, by the way, the Democrats won big. When they let Reagan off, they lost. When the Republicans held Truman accountable they won. Lincoln challenged Polk’s aggressive war and rose in popularity and later became president. The Republicans impeached Clinton against the will of the public and held onto power. The electorally smart thing as well as the only morally decent thing to do now is impeachment.
But electoral concerns are of far less significance than impeachment. And punishing Bush and Cheney because we do not like them is of far less significance than impeachment – in fact has no place in a progressive agenda. If we just wanted to punish them, we might elect Hillary. She hates them and will probably try to nail them for relatively petty crimes. But would she hold them accountable for signing statements or leave open the possibility of using them herself? Would she expose their spying on political enemies or leave open her ability to do the same? Would she seek to have them prosecuted for an illegal war, use of illegal weapons, targeting civilians, detention without charge, torture, and murder? It seems unlikely she would do that while continuing the same war. Impeachment is not about revenge or partisanship. Impeachment is not a way of spitting on the other side’s team. Impeachment is a way to restore Congress to power, place future presidents under the rule of law, re-establish international law, and re-awaken our democracy.
All across this country, people have gotten active in a movement for impeachment who were not active before. Many of them have also joined the movement to end the war. They’ve passed resolutions for impeachment in dozens of cities and at least 16 state Democratic parties, not to mention the national Green party. And resolutions have been introduced in several state legislatures. This activity has awakened some Americans to the idea that participation in a democracy goes on primarily in between elections.
If you think impeachment is called for, as a majority of Americans do, please go to www.kucinich.us and tell Dennis Kucinich thank you for his words but ask him for action. It has nothing to do with whether you want him to be president. The question is whether you want to have presidents or dictators. Please also go to www.impeach07.org and see how you can get involved.
At Easter, Cindy Sheehan and I are going to hold an impeachment hearing outside Bush’s house in Crawford, Texas. On April 28th, people everywhere are going to say to Congress: Do we have to spell it out for you? And they’re going to form the word impeachment on the ground with their bodies.
Dolores Huerta spoke at an impeachment rally at the US Capitol about 33 years ago. From the report I’ve seen, there were excellent speakers and a good sized crowd, and several nude streakers.
Actually, let me change that: use anything nonviolent that works. That includes massive civil disobedience and strikes and boycotts. Go to www.impeach07.org for all the details.
They want to test their grand theories
BRING EM HOME
BRING EM HOME
With the blood of you and me
BRING EM HOME
BRING EM HOME