Ending Wars: The Flexible Waiverable Timetable Approach

By David Swanson

Congress will soon vote on whether to spend another $33 billion of our money to escalate a war in Afghanistan that makes us less safe, violates the basic rule of law, kills innocent people, puts our children in debt, empowers the oil industry, and protects the heroin industry. The only decent, legal, or humane thing a member of Congress could do would be to publicly and privately whip his/her colleagues to vote No and defeat the bill. No caucus is engaged in that effort. As far as I know, Congressman Dennis Kucinich is the only one making any gestures in that direction. But a block of congress members is working to propose an amendment to the bill that will allow them to support it while (1) appearing to oppose wars, and (2) making the bill even worse. And even Kucinich supports this counterproductive campaign, as do many peace activists.

Needless to say, we’re miles and possibly years away from getting the House to vote No and block a war funding bill, or even an escalation funding bill. So, my argument is not that if we had just a couple more votes we could end the wars for good. My argument is that we would be best off maximizing the number of No votes, and if possible the list of members committed to voting No from here on out. First, this would help us build toward the day when we have a majority voting No, including by giving us actions we can reward or punish in upcoming elections. Second, even allowing, for the sake of argument, the notion so deeply and invisibly held by most peace activists and most Americans — the notion that Congress serves only rhetorical purposes while presidents actually make all decisions — the strongest rhetorical move Congress could make would be to maximize the number of No votes.

Last month we saw 65 congress members vote to completely end the war in Afghanistan. That sent a loud message, but a larger number voting against the funding of an escalation would send a louder message. If 64 of those members who voted to end the war fail to lobby their colleagues against funding an escalation, how seriously should anyone take their message? And if they fail to even vote No themselves, but instead vote to fund the escalation of a war they previously voted to end, what use should anyone ever have for them, rhetorically or otherwise? Or if, in the case of Congressman David Obey, he shepherds the bill to passage after having voted to end the war, and after having sworn he’d oppose any more war funding unless a war tax was established, what use is his rhetoric? But if we assume good faith, then it should go without saying that someone who wants to end a war entirely does not want to fund it or to fund its escalation. Or, if you cannot accept that logic because your television has taught you that we end wars by escalating them, then you should still accept the following: It goes without saying that those who want to end a war want that war to someday end. How could THAT possibly not go without saying? Easily. Like this: the bill to fund the escalation could be amended to say that the president has to plan to someday end the war, although he would be free to change his plan.

That’s what Congressman Jim McGovern’s bill H.R. 5015 does, and he apparently plans to propose it as an amendment to the escalation funding bill that he ought to be opposing. Here’s the language from H.R. 5015:

“(a) Plan With Timetable Required- Not later than January 1, 2011, or 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, whichever is earlier, the President shall submit to Congress a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan, including military and security-related contractors, together with a timetable for the completion of that redeployment and information regarding variables that could alter that timetable.
“(b) Status Updates- Not later than 90 days after the date of the submittal of the plan required by subsection (a), and every 90 days thereafter, the President shall submit to the Congress a report setting forth the current status of the plan for redeploying United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan.”

Weak and wobbly, sure, but how does this actually make the bill worse? Here’s how:

(1) It makes this a bill to support instead of oppose, meaning that the House of Representatives then votes unanimously or nearly unanimously to fund the escalation of war, or at least the Democrats do.

(2) The timetable language will never make it past the Senate or a presidential veto or a signing statement. So, in the end, the president will get stronger support for the funding, without the timetable language. (In contrast, voting the funding bill down can be done in the House alone, without requiring anything of the Senate or the President.)

(3) If the timetable language becomes law, the President could comply with it by, for example, producing a plan to move the war to Pakistan or Iran in three years, requesting funding for a larger escalation to facilitate that plan, and then revising the plan in two and a half years to place the war in both Afghanistan and another country.

(4) Entrenching the power to begin and escalate and continue wars unconstitutionally in the White House makes it less likely that the public will be able to compel its representatives to end any future wars. One could argue that this was a price worth paying to end this war only if there was some reasonable assurance that this bit of royal courtierism would persuade the President to end this war. Or one could avoid the damage by removing the pointless deferrence and drafting the amendment to specify a withdrawal date established by Congress, leaving the president free to withdraw earlier if he saw fit.

(5) McGovern’s bill, as written or improved upon, could be brought to a vote on its own the hour or day or week after the vote on the escalation funding, and could garner at least as much attention that way, more so if the escalation funding vote had seen a lot of No votes. This would allow a clean vote against the funding, followed by a clean vote on the flexible waiverable timetable. Because everyone knows this, the timetable ends up looking like cover for Yes votes on the funding, resulting in nobody taking either very seriously.

(6) Through its fear of even taking a straight vote on the funding, much less voting it down, and its fear of ending a war it “opposes” even by setting a date years hence, Congress communicates its commitment to funding the occupation of Iraq when that occupation overruns the deadline that was unconstitutionally established through rhetoric and inaction, as well as the occupation of Afghanistan when that occupation overruns any deadline the President may ultimately choose to set. An “anti-war” amendment thus makes more war more likely.

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