Funding Wars Is Good for Babies and Your Garden

By David Swanson

The executive director of something called the National Security Network, named Heather Hurlburt, offers — I kid you not, and that’s really her name, so try not to hurl — Six Reasons to Love the Supplemental and Celebrate Progressives in Government.

Hurlburt begins with her own warning not to vomit:

“Usually, there are lots of reasons for progressives not to love supplemental spending bills. And I won’t argue that this one is perfect. But before you get too queasy, consider six ways that progressives in Congress and the man at 1600 Pennsylvania turned ‘more of the same’ into ‘change.'”

Oh thank goodness! What a relief! For a minute there I thought we might have to consider breaking out some… well, frankly, some mild criticism of the new emperor. I know, I know, it’s not appropriate. But I was thinking, you know, another $97 billion off budget for wars, more dead bodies, more displaced families, more people who hate America, more debt for our grandkids, plus $108 billion for European banksters stapled onto the same bill. I mean, I was almost ready to suggest possibly, I don’t know, phoning the White House to ask for the best talking points on this one. But Heather has saved us. THANK YOU, Heather! I suppose we should at least read the six reasons after Hurlburt finishes her prefatory remarks:

“Perhaps most important, the bill offers shifts in momentum that progressives can build on — prioritizing economic support for poorer countries, even in an economic downturn; stopping the advance of the conservative effort to turn back the closing of Gitmo and ending of torture; and ending the apparently ceaseless expansion of defense budgets. It also marks various brands and blocs of progressives coming together to promote each other’s goals — i.e., successfully managing American’s security and international engagement. And that’s worth showing a little love.”

Jackpot! That’s six bonus reasons before we even get to the six reasons. We’re home free! Wake me when it’s primary season.

Except, I’m wondering why the word “war” hasn’t come up yet, and I’m not actually totally sure of that very first reason, once I’ve put my beer down:

“shifts in momentum that progressives can build on”

What IS that, exactly? Maybe I need MORE beer. Or maybe the other reasons clear it up. Let’s see.

“prioritizing economic support for poorer countries, even in an economic downturn”

Now, I’ll admit this SOUNDS good. But isn’t Afghanistan the third poorest country on earth, a place where people fight because it’s the only available career move? And doesn’t this bill prioritize bombing those people’s houses with unmanned drones? And doesn’t that make everything worse in every possible way? I mean, am I supposed to believe Heather Hurlburt or my own eyes? Now, the bill does contain funding for the financial overclass in European countries, but aren’t European countries, even in the east, richer than Afghanistan or Iraq, the places we’re focused on bombing and shooting? And doesn’t the IMF have a tremendous record of leaving nations around the world worse off than it found them? If we wanted to provide aid to poor countries couldn’t we simply stop bombing and occupying them and instead, you know, provide aid?

“stopping the advance of the conservative effort to turn back the closing of Gitmo and ending of torture”

You know, these look like two more reasons to vote for war funding that have nothing to do with war funding. If the war funding is not a good thing, and all these other proposals are, why not just do them without the war funding? The thinking cannot possibly be that all this other stuff does more good than the war funding does harm. Can it? Hurlburt never makes that claim. But then, surely she can’t just be picking out the smaller supposedly good reasons to vote for something she knows stinks to high heaven. Can she?

In any event, this bill does NOT close Guantanamo. Nor does it do anything to end torture. In fact, it funds the expansion of massive military bases where hundreds, if not thousands, of people are imprisoned by our nation completely outside the rule of law, virtually guaranteeing that torture will continue, as reportskeeptellingusit is.

“ending the apparently ceaseless expansion of defense budgets”

If you’re like me, this was where you really tossed your tamales. Think about this. At the request of President Obama, the 111th Congress just recently passed the largest military budget in the history of the known universe. It had virtually nothing to do with “defense.” And now an “emergency supplemental” based on no emergency whatsoever is supposed to be added on top like icing. This is $85 billion that Obama wants for wars that have been dragging on for the better part of a decade, plus $12 billion Congress wants to generously pile on for things like airplanes the Pentagon has no use for. And yet, by passing this disgusting swill and shoveling it onto Obama’s desk for his signature, Heather Hurlburt tells us we are ending the expansion of “defense” budgets. And you thought the age of miracles had ended long ago!

“marks various brands and blocs of progressives coming together to promote each other’s goals — i.e., successfully managing American’s security and international engagement”

That would be truly wonderful, Heather, but — I don’t know how else to put this — WHAT the Cheney are you TALKING about?! Is the peace movement promoting someone else’s goals? No, because the peace movement opposes this murderous, racist, and borderline genocidal legislation. Are any social justice groups promoting peace? That’s rhetorical, of course. Or, by “brands and blocs of progressives” does Heather mean completely unprogressive things like the “National Security Network” and astroturfers compliantly maintaining their silence, like True Majority,, Open Left, TPM, Campaign for America’s Future, and the Center for American Progress?

All right. Settle your stomachs, and get ready for the Six Descending Circles of Hurlburt Hell:

1. It marks the first turn-back of conservative efforts to push the Obama Administration to the right on torture. Some progressives want to force the Administration to release photos of Abu Ghraib abuse — others believe that allowing Senator Lieberman and Graham to set that policy legislatively takes away the Administration’s freedom of action and sends the wrong message about what photos might be suppressed, and why. And they won!

Pushing the Obama Administration to the right on torture would require dressing the president in a black hood and sticking a whip in his hand. This administration has converted torture from a crime to a policy preference, guaranteeing its continuation, has openly instituted preventive detention and rendition, and has claimed unprecedented powers of secrecy in order to cover up torture secrets. Now, let’s look at what happened, because it really was a progressive victory, but you’d never know it from Hurlburt. The “some progressives” who want to force “the Administration” to release photos are actually courts of law. The photos were ordered released. Many of us want the transparency we were told we were voting for. We want all of these photos released and more and videos and memos and all the rest, and this evidence is NOT just from Abu Ghraib. Many of us would be happy to have the photos turned over to a prosecutor, but we also believe the public should know what its government is doing and that the opposite belief is not progressive at all. From Hurlburt’s twisted prose, you’d think Lieberman and Graham were trying to force the photos released. They are actually trying to defy the courts and prevent the release of any such photos or videos. The court decision was based on a law, a law created by Congress. The problem with Lieberman and Graham’s proposal is not that it would impose the inconvenience of a law on the emperor, but that it would create a dangerous exception to a good law meant to restrain imperial abuses. Maybe in her next list Hurlburt will fill us in on the right “message about what photos might be suppressed, and why.” In the meantime, Hurlburt’s “And they won!” is exactly right, assuming you were able to invent an antecedent for “they.” Progressives who favor the rule of law prevented the inclusion of a ban on releasing photos and videos of torture in the war supplemental. Having won that victory, however, it is now in the past. We should learn from it and move forward. The question before us is whether to support a war supplemental, and the fact that it could have had something else bad in it is irrelevant. Notice that reason number 1 for the war funding has nothing to do with the war funding. You want to end torture? Save $96.5 billion, and invest $0.5 billion in a special independent prosecutor’s office.

“2. It makes it clear that the priority pathway for Guantanamo detainees is civilian trials in United States courts. Even as Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and their wacky friends continue to suggest that American courts and prison guards can’t do their jobs — the same institutions that currently hold dozens of convicted terrorists, including the only convicted 9-11 conspirator — Congress explicitly endorses bringing detainees to the US for civilian trials. That’s a welcome rebuke to the drumbeat of “Khalid Sheikh Mohamed infiltrates your supermarket” we’ve been hearing on the Senate floor for the last month. I don’t want to downplay the importance of the points still in contention — where and how we imprison convicted detainees, and how we convince other countries to take in detainees if we don’t take any ourselves. But with civilian trials a process begins which puts some of those decisions clearly in the hands of the executive and legislative branches — and inside the rule of law, which was progressives’ goal all along. Without civilian trials, no pathway to the rule of law exists. *Sometimes, the devil really is in the details. And these are devilish on both national security and human rights grounds. I don’t want word getting out on where detainees are going 45 days in advance. Downgrade this to ‘waiting to see the next move.'”

Hmm. Reason number 2 for the war money, again has nothing to do with that $97 billion for war. And what it does have to do with it gets completely wrong. The priority pathway for Guantanamo detainees is release and ought to include compensation and apology, because most of them are completely innocent of terrorism, having been purchased on the basis of no evidence or seized as soldiers, with no evidence against them ever having been found. The small minority of prisoners in Guantanamo — not to mention Bagram and all the other sites — who are not released, ought to be given fair and speedy trials and be released or punished according to the outcome. That ought not to be the “priority pathway.” It ought to be what it has always been: the law. The law doesn’t need Congress’s endorsement. Congress should make laws, not endorse compliance with them. And citizens should act, not “wait to see the next move.”

“3. It will move money to prevent meltdowns in countries hit hardest by the economic crisis. That’s what the IMF money is for — Pakistan, Hungary. And no, this isn’t your 1990’s ‘Washington consensus’ lending, with the kind of conditionality that the left loves to hate. This is in some ways the IMF returning to its original core mission — stepping in as a temporary lender-of-last resort to economies in dire straits. The countries in question want the money. And, fiscal conservatives, it’s a loan from us to the IMF. Backed by gold reserves. We get it back.”

Well, what do you know. Reason number 3 to fund wars has nothing to do with war funding either. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Heather was avoiding the subject. And once again, what Hurlburt does focus on, she gets upside down. A huge coalition of actual progressive groups did the same thing that 41 progressive Congress members did: demand that the bill be altered to prevent the usual destructive policies by the IMF. These progressives (oh, excuse me, leftists who love to hate things) were turned down flat. This IS the same old IMF that the nations it has “helped” in the past tend to hate. And the argument of the conservatives is that we don’t have any money to lend even if we dream of getting it back. We’d still have to pay it back with interest to China or wherever it came from.

“4. It builds Obama’s credibility overseas. Obama jammed a major increase in IMF support for poor countries hard-hit by the economic crisis into the April G20 Summit, over the objections of Europeans who wanted to focus only on re-writing market regulations and leave struggling countries (like Pakistan) to fend for themselves. Moving this money to the IMF in just two months will make it clear globally that Obama can deliver on his promises and heighten the likelihood that others deliver on theirs as well. And, as CAP’s Nina Hachigian points out, this will increase our credibility at the IMF at a moment when China is building its own oomph.”

Um, still no mention of the war funding in the war funding bill, and only two more loaves and fishes left to go. I, for one, do not think Congress should be in the business of passing catastrophic policies because the guy who is supposed to execute the will of Congress already ran around the world promising that Congress would do so. That’s exactly backwards.

5. It’s smaller. In a break from Bush Administration practice, the Obama Administration shifted a significant proportion of the Iraq and Afghanistan warfighting expenses back into the regular budget — where they can be analyzed and debated and held up against other priorities.

Well, there you have it. The war funding is good because it’s not as much war funding. Well, guess what, Hurlburt, progressives have a plan to make it even smaller and therefore even better. The plan is to pin down the 51 members who voted against it last time when it was guaranteed to pass, the 89 members who promised not to vote for war funding anymore, the 85 members who claim to want an exit from Afghanistan, and the 73 members who call themselves part of the Out of Iraq Caucus. We want at least 39 of these people to finally once and for all put our money where their mouths have been. We are close to having that many commitments.

6. It could be the last of its kind. The Obama Administration has also pledged to move all of the war-fighting expenses that are actually regular and foreseeable into the regular budgets. So there’s a decent chance that, in future, members of Congress from all sides will lose the ability to push unpopular projects through by tying them to money for the troops on the ground.

Oh, well that settles it. Because the whole practice of passing this sort of bill is offensive and counterproductive, and there’s not a single good word to be said about funding these wars, and because unpopular projects like bailouts for foreign banksters get loaded into bills like this one, the proper — nay, the PROGRESSIVE — thing to do is to let this bill pass, go home, and wait for the next move.

How’s your stomach?

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