Peace Movement's Options in 2008

By David Swanson

What should the peace movement do in 2008 to speed the end of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, bring home the troops and mercenaries and contractors, and stop draining trillions of dollars out of Americans’ pockets for an expense that most of us do not want? And what should all organizations do whose domestic missions are devastated by the occupations’ drain on the national treasury?

Of course, we should continue to work on public education, and on counter recruitment. We should back congressional and presidential candidates who most closely approach our positions. At the presidential level that means, in descending order: Kucinich, Edwards, and Obama. (Make your own judgments regarding viability, spoiling, and symbolic delegate elections after the nominee is known). We should redouble our efforts to open impeachment hearings for Cheney and Bush, in order to discourage new wars, in order to set a precedent, and because Bush and Cheney will not end any occupations in 2008 if they are in office, no matter what Congress does. And we should lobby Congress to end the legal funding of the occupations in 2008.

It is this last approach that I want to discuss at greater length.

There are voices urging us to allow Congress to do nothing for another full year, and to focus on trying to elect veto-proof super-majorities of Democrats in both houses for 2009. Such a stance is admirable for its recognition that the president in 2009 may be a Republican. But it’s unwise, I think, in two regards. First, it’s very likely to fail, and if it fails it will leave behind nothing but despair, nothing built, nothing advanced, nothing but another two years of telling us to allow Congress to do nothing until the NEXT election. (If you don’t believe me, go back and look at what the same people were arguing for early in 2006.) And every two years of failure to act will not just mean the waste of lives and treasure; it will also make it less likely for the strategy to work over time. Voters don’t usually reward inaction.

Of course, the approach will fail even with sufficient Democrats in Congress if the president is a Democrat, because in that case the Congress will likely not override a veto. The veto-override strategy only works if you’re pushing for a Republican president and Democratic Congress or vice versa, but everyone promoting it is pushing for Democratic wins in both branches.

Secondly, this approach does a grave disservice to citizens of this country by giving them the false impression that Congress has to pass a bill in order to end an occupation, whereas Congress has a much easier approach available to it, one that it could use this year or build the momentum this year to use next year regardless of electoral outcomes. Before you draw the conclusion that we need (as if that were possible) even MORE emphasis on electing a Democratic president, keep reading.

Other voices are urging us to encourage members of the House to pass a bill requiring an end to the occupation, but failing to use the power of the purse to impose it. And most of the voices urging this approach have as their ideal outcome a failed vote to pass the bill, but a narrower failure than similar bills have seen in the past. Such a bill, if it passes the House (which even its advocates predict will not happen) is expected to die in the Senate. If it passes the Senate, it is expected to be vetoed. This would take us the long way, at great expense and energy loss, to an argument for electing veto-proof Democratic majorities.

Most of these same voices urge us to encourage House members to introduce the same sort of language as an amendment to a bill to fund the occupations. If such an amendment were to pass, we’d be in the same position described above of facing failure in the Senate or White House. If such an amendment were to fail, as is more likely, we’d be hard pressed to quickly tell everyone to urge their representatives to vote NO on the larger bill. We know this because we took this approach of tying one hand behind our back in 2007. It made us look like idiots, but not nearly as much as doing it AGAIN will.

And if we reach the point of having an anti-occupation bill blocked in the Senate or White House, what will Congress do? We won’t have been hammering it with the message of blocking bills and moving forward without bills. Its only possible response to a blocked bill will be to pass the sort of bill that won’t be blocked. We know this because we went through the same sequence in 2007. It made us look like idiots, but…(you fill in the rest).

Other voices, the ones I think are right, urge the peace movement to adopt a simple and consistent message. Here is how I would word such a message:

Congress has the power to bring all troops, mercenaries, and contractors home safely this year. The cost of bringing them home is minimal and already covered by funds appropriated for wars and for a military budget that eats up over half of every tax dollar. We cannot afford another year of damaged world relations, of dead bodies, and of enormous financial expense. Representatives can commit to voting No on any appropriations bill that would give another dime to the occupation of Iraq, and can demonstrate their seriousness by voting No even on bringing such bills up for a vote. Senators can and must commit to filibustering the same type of bills. It takes 41 senators or 51% of representatives to apply a tourniquet to this disaster, stop the bleeding, and bring our men and women home.

Like every other option, this one is unlikely to succeed. But it has a number of advantages.

1. It’s simple and clear and consistent, making it easier to communicate and generate activism around. We’re not for an amendment but against the bill. We’re for bringing the troops home now. And the same message will stay our message for months or years until it succeeds.
2. It’s more likely to succeed than the other approaches. It requires fewer Congress Members and does not require the president’s help at all. And it is made more appealing as the economic recession worsens.
3. If it succeeds, it will make further funding of the occupations illegal and obviously impeachable, and if impeachment fails, at least the next president will have to end the illegal funding or face impeachment on day 1. (It is not clear that a bill to ban the occupation even while funding it would have the same result, even if miraculously signed into law.)
4. It educates citizens about the proper role of the legislative branch of our government.
5. It energizes people by informing them that Congress CAN end the occupation, and by trying something new that hasn’t already been tried and failed. That increased energy makes success more likely.
6. It puts pressure on presidential candidates to take clear-cut positions. And once they’ve taken the right position, they will do everything in their considerable power to make it succeed.
7.If it fails, it builds the understanding and the movement to make it work next year, regardless of how the elections go.

Here’s a group that’s onto the right approach:

This approach should inform the actions being planned for peace movement activism in March 2008, marking five years of occupying Iraq:

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