By David Swanson
Three of us constituents of Congressman Tom Perriello (D., Va.) talked with him for about 45 minutes on Tuesday, asking him to commit to voting against $33 billion to escalate war in Afghanistan. The congressman was polite, intelligent, and knowledgeable. He didn’t rant about evil Muslims or Mexicans or anything his predecessor might have done. He even agreed with us on many of the downsides to dumping another $33 billion into escalating a war opposed by a majority of Americans. But he would no more commit to voting against the bill than Virgil Goode would have — possibly less so. There are libertarian Republicans voting against war funding.
Perriello said he might vote yes and might vote no. This could be taken as news for either those who’ve watched his performance and assumed he’ll vote yes or those who’ve listened to his rhetoric and assumed he’ll vote no. But the story is a rather old one: like most congress members, Perriello prefers never to say how he’ll vote until he votes. I asked him if he might reach a decision and announce it prior to the vote, and — of course — he said that he might and he might not.
Perriello said that if all the Republicans are voting Yes (meaning the bill will easily pass), then a lot of Democrats might vote No. I pointed out that it doesn’t do us much good in building a caucus that can end the war to have people vote No once there assured that doing so will have no impact. If a member of Congress wanted to end the war (or even refrain from escalating it), he or she would commit to voting No and lobby others to do the same. Perriello maintained that he was undecided on whether or not he wanted to escalate the war, and that he was simply describing what would happen in Congress.
He did a lot of describing and speaking in hypotheticals and playing devil’s advocate, and yet did communicate some of what he’s thinking, or at least what he’s not thinking.
One argument against spending $33 billion to escalate this war is that we need that money for other things, such as jobs. Perriello argued that we actually need a lot more than that, as of course we do (and which we would, of course, have if he and his colleagues hadn’t voted for all the war and military waste already flushed down). Perriello argued that in the grand scheme of things $33 billion is not really a meaningful amount of money. I asked him if he really wanted me to tell people that he thought $33 billion wasn’t much money. I pointed out how many useful government departments you could double the budget of with that. He replied that I would be quoting him out of context to repeat such a thing. So, let me provide the context. Part of it was his noting how much more money we really could use for jobs. The other part was that he said war and jobs bills are separate pieces of legislation, and blocking one does not guarantee passage of another. This is of course true, but when I pointed out that the very same taxpayers have to pay off the loans for both, he agreed.
Perriello also pulled out the unknown lipstick excuse. This is a very common maneuver for congress members. The congressman said that he could not know what good measures might be packaged in with the escalation funding, and so couldn’t say whether on balance he would want to vote yes. He even claimed that in the Senate a jobs bill might be included with this job-killing war bill. Perriello did not dispute our arguments that military spending produces fewer jobs than tax cuts or spending on nonviolent industries. He did not, of course, dispute that he himself isn’t in the Senate and only has to vote in the House. But he would not concede that nothing was going to be added to the bill that would outweigh the damage done by it. Nor would he concede that most good measures that are used as lipstick, such as aid to Haiti, can be passed separately. And, of course, he would not even agree that the escalation itself was undesirable.
In fact, despite the violation of the U.N. Charter, Perriello would not agree that the invasion of Afghanistan had been illegal. And he certainly would not agree that the war was immoral. When we discussed the sending of troops to kill people, he repeatedly said that troops could be sent to protect people. He offered no vision of what success would look like, and conceded the danger of a “quagmire,” but would not agree that last year’s escalation had made things worse, and would not agree that leaving sooner would be in any way better than leaving later. He seemed pretty firmly attached to the idea of, at best, leaving very slowly, but he took the conversation to the question of complete withdrawal to such an extent that not enough was said about the question of refraining from an escalation. Perriello can tell you how corrupt the Afghan government is, but he can’t tell you how sending 30,000 more soldiers to join the slaughter will fix that. Or at least he didn’t tell me.
Most importantly, Congressman Perriello will not tell you he’s against this “war supplemental bill.” Whether he votes against it in the end or not is just for show. With every day that passes he is actively refraining from trying to defeat it. I, for one, will not refrain from trying to defeat him in his next election.