Rep. Obey Joins Us Idiot Liberals

By David Swanson

Congressman David Obey (D., Wis.) is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He’s in charge of spending our money. And until this week, he has always maintained that spending hundreds of billions of our dollars on wars was something he just had no choice about. Two years ago, 183,000 people watched this Youtube video, which was also shown on tv news shows, of Obey screaming at a military mother and denouncing “idiot liberals” for suggesting that Congress use the power of the purse to end wars. Liberals debated other liberals on the question of whether we really were idiots. Now Obey has taken a step in the direction of joining us.

On Tuesday, the leaders of the two parties went to the president and told him that he could continue or escalate wars, or not, that the matter was entirely (albeit unconstitutionally) up to him. But Obey has released a statement suggesting otherwise. After all these years of professed helplessness, Obey is now speaking as if he recognizes the power of Congress to fund or defund wars. Obey expressed his view on how to proceed in Afghanistan:

“[W]e need to more narrowly focus our efforts and have a much more achievable and targeted policy in that region, or we run the risk of repeating the mistakes we made in Vietnam and the Russians made in Afghanistan. There are some fundamental questions that I would ask of those who are suggesting that we follow a long term counterinsurgency strategy.”

And then Obey begins his first question with the key phrase: “As an Appropriator….”

“As an Appropriator I must ask, what will that policy cost and how will we pay for it? We are now in the middle of a fundamental debate over reforming our healthcare system. The President has indicated that it must cost less than $900 billion over ten years and be fully paid for. The Congressional Budget Office has had four committees twisting themselves into knots in order to fit healthcare reform into that limit. CBO is earnestly measuring the cost of each competing healthcare plan. Shouldn’t it be asked to do the same thing with respect to Afghanistan? If we add 40,000 troops and recognize the need for a sustained 10 year or longer commitment, as the architects of this plan tell us we do, the military costs alone would be over $800 billion. And unlike the demands that are being made of the healthcare alternatives that they be deficit neutral, we’ve heard no such demand with respect to Afghanistan. I would ask how much will this entire effort cost, when you add in civilian costs and costs in Pakistan? And how would that impact the budget?”

Obey is not just finally offering the same commonsense opinion that the rest of us have been promoting for several years. He’s indicating that “as an Appropriator” (his capitalization) he may just possibly be willing to withhold funding. Twenty-two of his colleagues introduced a bill last Thursday (H.R. 3699) that would block any funding of an escalation in Afghanistan. But they need to find 196 more votes. Obey, as chair of the committee through which funding bills must pass, need only find his own backbone. In June, 30 Democrats and a handful of Republicans were willing to vote against war funding in a “supplemental” bill. This Thursday, the House passed a “defense” bill, which included $128 billion explicitly for wars, and while 131 Republicans and 15 Democrats voted no, at most a handful of no votes were cast in opposition to the war funding. Obey, of course, voted yes. But more money will be needed, and will be needed sooner if there is to be an escalation. And no funding has yet been appropriated for an escalation. The American public is opposed, and the Constitution requires that Congress make this decision. We just may see David Obey join the side of the public and our Constitution this time around.

Throughout the 110th Congress (2007-2008) a myth was spread very successfully by the Congress and the media that Congress could only end the occupation of Iraq (or Afghanistan) by passing a bill. This would have required the support of 67 senators to override a veto, and 60 senators just to invoke cloture and break a Republican filibuster. But this was a stalling tactic. It simply was not true that Congress had to pass a bill at all. In order to end the legal funding of the occupation, Congress simply had to stop passing bills to fund it. The Democrats had a large majority in the House and a narrow one in the Senate. But if your goal is stopping a bill, rather than passing one, you only have to succeed in one house or the other.

It is possible for a majority of members of the House to force a bill to the floor over the wishes of the Speaker. To do this, 218 Congress members would have had to take the highly unusual step of signing a discharge petition. Even if a lot of Republicans had done that, it is highly unlikely that many Democrats would have opposed their party leadership and the will of the public to force a funding bill to the floor for a very unpopular war. Pelosi persuaded a lot of Democrats to vote for the war and could have used the same techniques to persuade a smaller number not to oppose her effort to end it, had she wanted to end it. And she still could.

Any proposal to fund the war in the Senate that might have been brought by Republicans or pro-war Democrats could have been blocked by 41 senators, and the Democrats had 51, now 59, soon 60. While not all bills can be filibustered (appropriations bills can be, budget reconciliation bills cannot), you can hardly claim you need 60 votes to get past a filibuster without admitting that with only forty-one you could launch your own filibuster, and that with fifty-one you could defeat any bill at all. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid alone could have refused to bring a bill to the floor, and any other senator could have put a secret hold on a bill, and still could.

What’s more, the Democrats could have brought to the floor of both houses, as many times as necessary, bills to fund only a withdrawal of troops and nothing else. Of course, this would have been comical, given that the cost of withdrawing all troops and equipment from Iraq (or Afghanistan) is pocket change to our bloated Pentagon. But it would have headed off the nonsensical attacks in the media that would have claimed that defunding a war was somehow an attack on the men and women sent to risk their lives in it. And this strategy would have made efforts to pass war funding over the heads of the leadership even less likely to gain traction.

Not only did millions of Americans, organized by United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America, and many other groups, including those in the After Downing Street Coalition, lobby Congress to fund only withdrawal, but Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced a bill and attempted to introduce an amendment to accomplish just that. At one point, ninety-one members of Congress signed onto a letter from the Progressive Caucus committing them to voting only to fund withdrawal. (Most of them went back on their word). And, of course, Congressman Dennis Kucinich — a lone voice for peace in the wilderness — constantly hammered home the point that Congress simply had to refrain from bringing up a bill at all.

Congress has acted successfully in this manner before. The Vietnam War was de-funded by Congress (albeit after most troops were home). In 1970, Congress banned the use of funds to put US troops in Cambodia or to advise the Cambodian military. Then in 1973 Congress set a date to cut off funds for combat activities in all of Southeast Asia. Congress had cut off the funding for the Contras in Nicaragua, and Reagan had secretly and illegally sold weapons to Iran and given the money to the Contras, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal during which Democrats carefully avoided impeachment in order to “focus on the elections” that they proceeded to lose, thus handing us the Bush dynasty. In 1994 Congress set a date to cut off funding for military operations in Somalia. In 1998 Congress set a date to cut off funding for military operations in Bosnia.

In January 2007, as the 110th Congress was just beginning, Senator Russ Feingold sought to remind his colleagues of all of this, chairing a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Exercising Congress’s constitutional Power to End a War.” Feingold said,

“The Constitution gives Congress the explicit power ‘[to] declare War,’ ‘[t]o raise and support Armies,’ ‘[t]o provide and maintain a Navy,’ and ‘[t]o make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.’ In addition, under Article I, ‘No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.’ These are direct quotes from the Constitution of the United States. Yet to hear some in the Administration talk, it is as if these provisions were written in invisible ink. They were not. These powers are a clear and direct statement from the founders of our republic that Congress has authority to declare, to define, and ultimately, to end a war. Our founders wisely kept the power to fund a war separate from the power to conduct a war. In their brilliant design of our system of government, Congress got the power of the purse, and the President got the power of the sword. As James Madison wrote, ‘Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded.'”

The rest of the Senate and most of the House were not listening. I don’t mean they disagreed. I mean they literally were not paying any attention. In October 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was interviewed on the Ed Schultz radio program. Schultz asked Reid why he didn’t just stop funding the war, and I got the impression that Reid had never seriously considered the idea:

SCHULTZ: But Senator, don’t you have the power to say you’re not going to get the money even without 60 votes?
REID: Sure we have the power on anything to stop the money, that’s what it’s all about, that’s why we have three separate branches of government. But the thing we have to do is make sure we do it the right way. It’s not a question of all or nothing, it’s a question of making sure we do the right thing. What Feingold and I have pushed and we’re going to continue to do that . . . get all the troops to start redeploying immediately, get all the troops out of there by June except those needed for counterterrorism, protecting our assets we have there, and a limited force for training Iraqis. That’s what Feingold and I believe should happen, we’re going to continue to push that. The majority of the Democrats support it, but not all the Democrats.
SCHULTZ: But you could say we’re not bringing this to the floor, the funding’s over, correct?
REID: [very slowly, as if never having considered doing such a thing]: Yes, we could do that, yes.
SCHULTZ: Why don’t you do that? The American people want you to do that.
REID: Ed, it’s a situation where we have to do what is right . . . I say that Feingold and Reid are right. We say there should be immediate redeployment, set a deadline that everybody should be out except a limited number. That means they’re gonna have to have some money . . . the troops there fighting counterterrorism, which we need, that is going to be some money, we have to do that.

How’d that work out for ya, Harry? Schultz is a former Republican who still has trouble fathoming the cowardice of Democrats. But, so do we all. The complete obliviousness of the Senate Majority Leader and most other members of the Senate and House to the message that hundreds of thousands of activists were constantly e-mailing, phone calling, faxing, lobbying, and interrupting public events with was extremely frustrating. Even those who had begun pushing for an end to the war gave up hope. When asked in a public meeting to lead a filibuster of the next funding bill, Senator Feingold refused to attempt it.

Feingold, and the rest of us, were done in by a piece of childish nonsense repeated endlessly and unanimously by the univocal US corporate media: ending the funding would conflict with “supporting the troops.” When we frame the debate over war money with the idea that funding war amounts to “supporting troops,” the debate gets constrained: should we fund the war, or fund the war more and faster? If, on the other hand, a debate over funding a war were framed by the idea that what you’re funding is not troops, but a war, then one possible position in the debate would favor cutting off the funds. While you can cut off funds for war or Halliburton or Blackwater, you can never cut off funds for troops. I don’t mean that you physically can’t. I mean that politically it is impossible that any politician is going to support something understood to mean “cutting off funds for troops.” But if we understood that the troops are going to have better living conditions and a higher chance of living, period, if we bring them home, and if we could talk about cutting off funds for profiteers, then cutting off the funds would become politically possible.

Then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified as follows before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Be careful about criticizing the Department.” Gonzales suggested that criticizing him amounted to “attacking the career professionals [in the Justice Department].” Senator Dick Durbin responded to this by blurting out a bit of seldom-spoken truth: “That’s like saying anyone who disagrees with the president’s policy on the war is attacking the soldiers.” Yet Durbin and his colleagues were in the press every single day defensively promoting the idea that refusing to fund war amounts to not supporting soldiers. The troops would have been amazed and bewildered to learn that they might be receiving funding and that bringing them home would constitute an attack on them. The majority of those serving in Iraq had told pollsters in 2006 that they wanted the war ended that year.

I tried to call the bluffs of all the “support the troopsers”. Each time they passed another “supplemental” it amounted to approximately $1 million per troop in Iraq. I proposed actually giving the troops that money. If the money was for the troops, then give the troops the damn money, I said, a million dollars each. Put it right in their hands. The troops that wanted to give part or all of their share to the contractors and mercenaries and profiteers could do that. Those who wanted to fund a continued occupation could do that. Some would probably share a little with Iraqis. And those who chose to could buy a plane ticket home. After all, General David Petraeus had bragged to Congress about how the United States was selling commercial airplanes to Iraq. Somebody needed to use them. Alas, Congress ignored my proposal, as well as all serious proposals and bills that involved cutting off the flow of funds. In fact, if Congressman Obey was at all typical, Congress members considered any proposals to stop funding the war to be ideas suited only to “idiot liberals.”

Obey was a top Democrat in charge of drafting the bills to fund the wars. Tina Richards was the mother of an Iraq War veteran about to be deployed to Iraq for the third time. They spoke in the hallway of a Congressional office building, and the encounter was captured on video:

RICHARDS: Hi, I’m Tina Richards. I had left a poem that my son had written [with one of your staffers]. I was wondering if he ever got it to you? He’s a United States Marine, he’s done two tours in Iraq. He’s going to be deployed for a third tour.
OBEY: I honestly don’t know, I’m so buried in appropriations bills, I only get back over here for about ten minutes a day. I’ve seen very little in my office.
RICHARDS: OK, because my son is suffering from PTSD, he’s had several suicide attempts.
OBEY: I’m sorry to hear that.
RICHARDS: He tried to get help through the V.A., and it took us six months to get his first appointment with the V.A. In ten minutes they told him, “It sounds like you’ve got childhood issues.” But he was able to do four years in the Marines, two deployments to Iraq, honorable discharge, presidential unit citation, and he was just fine for that, and now that he needs help from the V.A. he’s been told that he’s got childhood issues.
OBEY: We’re holding hearings today and Wednesday. They’re continually screwing those guys. The Washington Post is full of it.
RICHARDS: Well I’ve been talking about this for over a year now, and nobody seems to be paying much attention.
OBEY: Well, I guarantee what’s happening at Walter Reed…[indecipherable] …whole damn thing…
RICHARDS: Well what about the, are you going to be voting against the supplemental?
OBEY: Absolutely not, I’m the sponsor of it for heaven sakes. [Note: that didn’t stop him from voting against the June 2008 supplemental after it was clear it would pass. Pelosi, too, voted No after orchestrating passage.]
RICHARDS: For the . . . uhh . . . to continue the war?
OBEY: It doesn’t. The President wants to continue the war. We’re trying to use the supplemental to end the war, but you can’t end the war by going against the supplemental. It’s time these idiot liberals understand that. There’s a big difference between funding the troops and ending the war. I’m not gonna deny body armor. I’m not gonna deny funding for veterans hospitals, defense hospitals, so you can help people with medical problems, that’s what you’re gonna do if you’re going against that bill. [Note: You could of course fund veterans’ care in a separate bill. You could do the same with body armor, except that it’s not needed in most US neighborhoods, and you’d be bringing our men and women home. You could also fund wars separately from the rest of the military budget, but still within the normal governmental budget, if you were David Obey and chose to do so.]

RICHARDS: There should be enough money already in the regular defense bills . . .
OBEY: (interrupting) Well there isn’t.
RICHARDS: . . . without continuing the funding for the war.
OBEY: There isn’t. There isn’t. That’s not the way it works. The money in the defense bill, it pays for a standing army, but it doesn’t pay for these recurring costs. We’re gonna add over a billion dollars more to what the President was asking for in that bill, so we can deal with exactly the type of problems you’re talking about. How the hell do you get money to the hospitals if you don’t provide the funding?
RICHARDS: Are you going to be in support of . . .
OBEY: I hate the war. I voted against it to start with. I was the first guy in Congress to call for Rumsfeld’s resignation, but we don’t have the votes to defund the war, we shouldn’t because that also means defunding everything in that bill to help the guys who are the victims of war.
RICHARDS: Well there’s an amendment to the supplemental that’s being proposed to fully fund the withdrawal of the troops.
OBEY: That makes no sense. It doesn’t work that way. The language we have in the resolution ends the authority for the war, it makes it illegal to proceed with the war. You don’t have to defund something if the war doesn’t exist. [NOTE: Obey’s bill did no such thing, and in any case would not have meant that Richards’ suggestion made no sense. Arguably, continuing to fund something that didn’t exist would have made less sense than defunding it.]
RICHARDS: Oh, I didn’t know that was in the supplemental.
OBEY: That’s the problem, that’s the problem. (Emphatic right arm gesturing) The liberal groups are jumping around without knowing what the hell is in the bill! You don’t have to cut off the funding for an activity that no longer is legal! [Note: read that last sentence a few times.]
RICHARDS: Oh, and then approach it from that way.
OBEY: We’re shutting it off.

How’d that work out for ya, David? The occupation of Iraq is as strong now as then and no serious withdrawal is underway. At this point, Pete Perry, a peace activist who was with Richards, joined the conversation:

PERRY: What about the Church amendment that helped end the Vietnam war back in ‘72, ‘73?
OBEY: (Emphatically, voice raised) It took us 31 different efforts to get there, I was here for that.
OBEY: I know what the hell I’m talking about.
PERRY: Did that end the ground war in Vietnam?
OBEY: No it didn’t. The political pressure on the administration ended the war. The amendment that finally ended the funding was the [undecipherable] amendment, I was the sponsor of that amendment . . .
PERRY: But if you pass the resolution, isn’t he still the Commander in Chief? Then . . .
OBEY: (Voice raised.) We don’t have the votes to pass it! We couldn’t even get the votes to pass a non-binding resolution one week ago! How the hell do you think we’re gonna get the votes to cut off the war?
PERRY: By stopping the funding. [Note: Perry may have been suggesting the option of not bringing any funding bills to a vote. In any case, Obey was clearly stuck in the mindset of having to pass a bill in order to accomplish anything.]
OBEY: How, if you don’t have the votes? It takes two hundred . . .
PERRY: With a filibuster his supplemental request.
OBEY: There is no filibuster in the House.
PERRY: In the Senate they could do it, and all they need is 41 votes. [Note: This was true, and Obey had no response to it.]
OBEY: I’m sorry. . . . No I’m not gonna vote for it . . . . I’m the sponsor of the bill that’s gonna be on the floor, and that bill ends the war . . . if that isn’t good enough for you, then you’re smoking something that ain’t legal! [Of course, funding wars of aggression is not legal, and Obey’s bill did not in any way end any war and couldn’t possibly have done so, because such a bill would have been vetoed if it made it through the Senate. Obey’s bill actually contained a non-binding suggestion to the president to eventually partially end the war, and even that was destined to be vetoed.]
PERRY: No I’m not, sir, no I’m not.
OBEY: You got your facts screwed up.
PERRY: It’s non-binding. How would it affect what he’s doing on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
OBEY: We don’t have the votes! (He opens right side of suit jacket.) Do you see a magic wand in my pocket?
OBEY: How the hell are we gonna got the votes for it? We ain’t got the votes! We do have the votes if you guys quit screwin’ it up. We do have the votes to end the legal authority to end the war, that’s the same as defunding it. (At this point a staffer approaches Rep. Obey and taps him on the arm.)
PERRY: Tell us how we can help.
OBEY: I’m not going to debate it, you’ve got your facts wrong. (Obey then turns and walks away with his staffer to enter his office.)

The corporate media was playing along with the notion that the Democrats were opposing a war by funding it. It’s not surprising that Obey would not appreciate being confronted with the grotesqueness of this. Imagine if Obey or Pelosi had decided to mortgage their house, empty their bank accounts, max out their credit cards, and give all that money to Halliburton with a little gift card expressing their sincere opposition to everything Halliburton did. They would have looked no more foolish than they did, and I’d have preferred that scenario because they’d have been leaving the rest of us out of it.

In the spring of 2008 commissioned a poll from a corporate polling company asking questions that none of the other pollsters were asking. It found that a majority of Americans wanted Congress to cut off the funding and demand that the president end the war within six months. That was a majority of the rightful sovereigns of this country, and they had heard more about Iraq than any other topic in the news over the preceding six years. If Obey wouldn’t trust us on this one, what would he ever trust us on? Perhaps on Afghanistan.

Here is Obey’s statement from Thursday, and it begins by framing defunding war as supporting troops:

We owe it to our troops to bring hardnosed realism to whatever we ask them to do

When the Appropriations Committee approved the supplemental request for Pakistan and Afghanistan funding earlier this year, we made it quite clear in the Committee Report that the Administration needed to evaluate the tools available to implement whatever strategy the United States decided to follow.

The point we tried to make is that the United States government could have the most coherent policy in the world, but if it did not have the tools to implement it, that policy would be futile. Unfortunately, the only tools available to the United States in that part of the world are the Afghani and Pakistani governments.

In Pakistan, we have virtually no boots on the ground, so whatever we seek to achieve, in the end, has to go through the Pakistani government. The disadvantage of that is that the Pakistani government, up to now, has been a mighty weak reed to lean on. The advantage of that is that we will probably encounter less resentment targeted against the United States then we would encounter if we had a larger military footprint; and that is a good thing. And if the Pakistani government is belatedly focusing on the dangers presented to regional stability by the Taliban instead of being distracted by their previous focus on India, then hooray — perhaps we have a chance to achieve some degree of stability in that country. The odds are against us, but the recent change in Pakistani attitudes may give us a chance.

In Afghanistan, the situation is even bleaker. There are two issues that we confront immediately in that country. The first is whether the number of American combat troops in Afghanistan should be increased substantially as General McChrystal has apparently recommended. The second is whether or not a counter insurgency approach (in plain English, nation building) has any real chance to succeed.

The problem with increasing the number of troops is that we become the lightening rod, and our presence runs the risk of inciting more anti-American sentiment that can become a recruiting tool for the very forces we seek to curtail. The threat to the American homeland is posed by Al Qaeda, not by the loosely-defined Taliban. Yet the more U.S. troops we send to Afghanistan to fight the insurgency, the more we risk hardening them into an implacable enemy. If any adjustment is made in U.S. troop levels, it would be much better if those troops were focused on the job of training Afghani troops and police to take on the job of securing the population and maintaining law and order. But even there, we have to ask what is achievable. My understanding is that there have never been more than about 90,000 troops under the sway of the central government. Now we are told that the goal is to train up to 400,000 soldiers and police personnel. I think it is reasonable to ask whether that is a realistic and achievable goal. It is imperative that, even on this issue, we keep our expectations realistically modest.

The second issue is whether we should in fact engage in the kind of counter-insurgency nation-building that the General is apparently proposing. Intellectually, that might be the most coherent approach; but if we do not have the tools to accomplish it, that policy would be futile. And my honest assessment is that we don’t. Our primary tool, the Afghani government, is bordering on the useless in that regard.

The other huge disadvantage to this approach is that, in my view, it is highly unachievable. If we were to engage in that kind of strategy, even its advocates tell us that it would require the willingness to make a commitment of a good ten years, and maybe double that. And the cost would be astronomical. The military cost alone would approach a trillion dollars or more. And that does not count the cost of economic and civilian aid to either Afghanistan or Pakistan. I simply do not believe that that kind of long term commitment is sustainable in this country. I do not believe the American people will buy it. A policy that is not sustainable is no policy at all; it is a Hail Mary pass that even Brett Favre would be highly unlikely to complete.

And there is a third disadvantage to this approach. Because it would drain the spirit of the country over that long period of time as well as drain the U.S. treasury, it would devour virtually any other priorities that the President or anyone in Congress had.

I wish I did not believe what I believe on this matter, but I was in Russia when the Russians were mired down in Afghanistan. At the height of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, they had 100,000 troops on the ground — which is what we would have if General McChrystal’s reported recommendations are approved. I was shocked at how openly Soviet leaders would admit that the very fabric of their political system was being devoured by their misadventure in Afghanistan. I saw what it did to their country. We are a much richer and a much stronger country then they were, but we would still pay a price that is far too high.

That’s why I believe we need to more narrowly focus our efforts and have a much more achievable and targeted policy in that region, or we run the risk of repeating the mistakes we made in Vietnam and the Russians made in Afghanistan.

There are some fundamental questions that I would ask of those who are suggesting that we follow a long term counterinsurgency strategy:

1. As an Appropriator I must ask, what will that policy cost and how will we pay for it? We are now in the middle of a fundamental debate over reforming our healthcare system. The President has indicated that it must cost less than $900 billion over ten years and be fully paid for. The Congressional Budget Office has had four committees twisting themselves into knots in order to fit healthcare reform into that limit. CBO is earnestly measuring the cost of each competing healthcare plan. Shouldn’t it be asked to do the same thing with respect to Afghanistan? If we add 40,000 troops and recognize the need for a sustained 10 year or longer commitment, as the architects of this plan tell us we do, the military costs alone would be over $800 billion. And unlike the demands that are being made of the healthcare alternatives that they be deficit neutral, we’ve heard no such demand with respect to Afghanistan. I would ask how much will this entire effort cost, when you add in civilian costs and costs in Pakistan? And how would that impact the budget?

2. Do we really believe that there is an international consensus for such a long-term endeavor, or will we in fact, with the exception of some tokenism, be going it alone? Are we really prepared to “go it alone”?

3. What policy is in fact achievable? We should be asking not what policy is theoretically the most intellectually coherent, but which policy is actually achievable given the only tools we have in the region; the Afghani and Pakistani governments. Is there sufficient leadership, popular support, and political will, not in the United States but in Afghanistan, necessary for effective governance to take hold?

4. What makes us think that a much more aggressive and expansive role for U.S. troops will not harden elements of the Taliban and make them a more potent force, forcing them to stand up to the “occupier”?

5. Does it all add up? The so-called COIN, or counterinsurgency strategy, calls for a certain number of troops and police based on a country’s population. In Afghanistan that equates to 600,000 people in uniform. But the Afghani government has never maintained more than 200,000 before. Can they really sustain a three-fold increase?

6. Do we really have the tools to overcome language, culture, history and a 90% illiteracy rate to sufficiently transform such a country?

Our military personnel have always responded with what we have asked them to do with dedication and distinction. We owe it to them to bring hardnosed realism to whatever we ask them to do.

Lastly, after the healthcare reform effort is completed, this country still has four huge long-term challenges that will require a sustained national effort:

1. The need for further action to repair the fragility of our own economy and rebuild the capacity of our economy to provide desperately needed job growth;

2. The need for a long-term commitment to strengthen our national security by dramatically reshaping our energy policy — an effort that will require sustained and meaningful sacrifice by all elements of our society;

3. The need for long-term action to restore fiscal soundness by reining in the federal deficit; and

4. The need for long-term action to extend the fiscal soundness of Social Security and Medicare.

All of those efforts will require incredibly skilled leadership and a long-term willingness of the entire society to face hard facts.

Will we really be able to sustain sufficient long-term public willingness to attack those problems if our national determination is drained by ten more years of what is already the second longest war in American history?

This is stunning progress for Congressman Obey. He is moving ever so slowly, as the bodies continue to pile up, in the direction of the only real leader in Congress, Dennis Kucinich, who released this statement the same day:

Why I voted No on the National Defense Appropriations Bill

“Throughout my time in Congress I have been a champion for human rights. My opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by extension, the inclusion of an authorization for an additional $130 billion to fund these wars, is in part predicated on an understanding that war violates the human rights of the affected populations.

“Unemployment in both Iraq and Afghanistan is devastatingly high; access to humanitarian aid is limited; medical care and education are difficult to obtain or completely unavailable. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly violated the human rights of the civilian populations in which they are being waged.

“As a staunch supporter of human rights I have consistently supported, voted in favor of, and advocated for passage of hate crimes legislation. I am fully committed to ensuring that the human rights of all individuals are protected. Therefore, I believe that passage of hate crimes legislation is essential to ensuring strong human rights protections for the victims of violent crimes that are perpetrated based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability of the victim.

“But there is a deep-seated irony in including a human rights provision in a funding bill that will inevitably ensure the continuation of human rights violations in parts of the world. I believe that, as a nation and a part of the global community, we cannot fully ensure the protection of our own human rights here in the United States without being equally diligent in ensuring the human rights of our global society. I cannot trade the human rights of some for the human rights of others.”

David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press, from which part of this article is excerpted and modified. You can order the book and find out when the tour will be in your town at


Associated Press rewrites history:

“Rep. David Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who led an effort in 2007 to block money for the Iraq war,”

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