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Lobbying Effort To Limit A President’s War-making Powers Runs Into Trump Veto… But the Administration Gets the Message:Cool It.

May 19, 2020

Who’s threatening whom?

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Working behind the scenes for more than a decade on a such resolution that would force presidents to submit to Congressional approval before going to war have been a number of prominent, longtime peace organizations – flagship among them, the Friends Committee on National Legislation whose focused commitment to ending America’s endless wars is long-standing. In the current environment, to even get such a resolution on the floor of the House of Representatives is no small undertaking.

To get a positive vote on the issue – Trump’s veto aside – is a genuine lobbying achievement. It shows that a well organized, disciplined and targeted lobbying campaign, backed by peace movement activists throughout the country can have and do have an impact.

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1.

Without following such developments closely, it’s difficult to appreciate that Congress – both Houses – passed a resolution recently that had President Donald Trump signed it – would have limited a president’s powers for starting foreign wars without Congressional approval. Not surprising that Trump vetoed it but it was surprising that it passed Congress – sending a message to both the president and his out of control Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo that their penchant for upping the ante for war wherever – against Iran, Yemen, Venezuela – is threatening to blow up in their faces…and that the Administration should back off.

With the Coronavirus sweeping the world and an unprecedented global economic crisis underway the last thing Washington needs is a serious military confrontation. Time to cool it. Even the New York Times, little more than a mouthpiece for this Administration’s foreign policy – if critical of Trump’s domestic policies – is writing exposes that almost could have appeared in The Nation or Counterpunch, more left publications.

In an effort to cool Washington’s ardor for war, The Times ran a piece yesterday (May 16, 2020) “ Why Bombs Made in America Have Been Killing Civilians in Yemen.” For anyone following the Saudi genocidal war against Yemen – which, by the way it is losing despite its superior fire-power – knows that Washington has not only armed the Saudis with sophisticated weaponry for this effort but also gave the Saudi’s the political green light to proceed with this ugly war that included massive Saudi bombing campaigns, embargo of food and medical supplies and some indications of the use of chemical weapons. It has created – up until the Coronavirus – the primo global humanitarian crisis leaving Yemen even more vulnerable to the new pandemic than most places.

In running the story,  The Times – an expose of U.S. arms sales to the Saudis – the message was clear: time for Washington to soften its confrontation with Iran so as not to ignite a regional war and pull back.

The problem is that there is not much left of U.S. foreign policy these days – other than sanctions, military intervention and Diplomacy, cooperation with allies in coalitions that characterized the past, barely exists. The situation of the out-of control U.S. military has gotten so far out of hand that pressed by elements of the U.S. peace movement – shrunk as it is from its former sizable influence – along with an array of religious organizations – has attempted to put the breaks on the president’s power to go to war – pretty much on a whim – the world round.

The Straw that broke camel’s back: The Suleimani Assassination

The straw that broke the camel’s back – or in more contemporary language – the drone assassination that went to far – was the Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s military leader, Major General Qassim Suleimani along with Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, Iraqi government official and senior commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units. It was the first time that the United States openly targeted a foreign military leader since World War II, and as such a dangerous escalation of military confrontation. It was also the first time that an adversary in a medium-sized country responded to Washington with its own missile attack on a U.S. base.

Even the country’s miopic Congress got the message!

The Suleimani assassination, it turns out, shook the U.S. Congress in Washington as well, which seemed to awaken from a long sleep. Trump had initiated the drone assassination without first consulting Congress, Regardless, he was within his legal rights, as a result of vaguely worded and broadly based 2002 “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” (AUMF) Congressional legislation which gave the then president, George W. Bush, the authority and legal right to justify military operations around the world in the name of fighting terrorism; since 2001 three successive presidents, Bush, Obama and now Trump have used it.

The Iranian government responded the the Suleimani assassination with a missile attack of its own, on two U.S. bases in Iraq, Al Asad Airbase in Western Iraq not far from the Syrian border and a smaller U.S. base near Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The success of the Iranian missile strike was a great embarrassment to Washington. Iranian missiles were able to fly undetected under U.S. radar recognition. The much vaunted – and highly priced – U.S Patriot Missile Air-Defense System proved useless for defending against the Iranian strike. The devastation wrought by the Al Asad missile attack shook Congress. The extent of the damage was denied at first by Trump but leaked to the press in dribs and drabs in the weeks after the January 3 event. The U.S. section of the base was entirely destroyed.

Worse for the Trump Administration and its Rapture-seeking Secretary of state: assassinating Qassim Suleimani not only galvanized the Middle East as never before to call for a closing of U.S. military bases in the region, it also triggered strong reactions in Congress here in the USA, not so much because its members opposed assassinating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard military leader but because they weren’t consulted beforehand!

Fortunately, no escalation followed.

Both sides “stood down” as the saying goes, temporarily reducing tensions. But there were aftershocks both within the region and in the United States as well. The Al Asad missile strike was the opening salvo in an Iranian led military campaign calling for the removal of all U.S. foreign military bases from the region, a call that had an immediate response in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In Washington Congress was concerned.

2.

For the first time in a long time, Congress actually realized that a much bigger mess could be in the making, that the Iranians were quite serious that if Washington attacks them, that they would target Saudi and U.A.E. oil and gas fields as well as the U.S. Naval Armada in the Persian Gulf and the ring of U.S. military bases surrounding Iran. The U.S. military took these Iranian threats more seriously than the President at first.

With this in mind, in a mildly rebellious mood, both Houses of Congress supported a resolution introduced by Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass) and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) that would have – if President Trump had signed it – returned some of the power over presidential war-making that Congress blithely gave away in 2001.

It is referred to as the Iran War Powers Resolution, an attempt to limit a president’s ability, using the Taking advantage of the national hysteria in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 to push through legislation essentially gutting Congressional oversight over war-making, the  Auhtority to Use Military Force (AUMF) legislation was an attempt to free presidents from the restrictions that resulted in a post-Vietnam War 1973 legislation, the War Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1541-1548).

The Iran War Powers Resolution (WPR) would have required the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action. It also forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a 30-day withdrawal period, without congressional authorization for the use of military force or a declaration of war by the United States.

The House voted 227 to 186 in favor. It passed in the Senate too but by a 55 to 45 margin. The measure passed both the House and the Senate and was sent to the White House where President Trump unceremoniously vetoed it. In vetoing the Iran War Powers Resolution Trump commented that “We live in a hostile world full of evolving threats and the Constitution recognizes that the president must be able to anticipate our adversaries’ next moves and take and decisive action in response.” He added, with his usual lack of English language eloquence, “That’s what I did!”

It should be of no surprise that Trump vetoed a message that would hamstring his military authority. What is surprising is that seven Republican Senators voted with their Democratic Party colleague in favor of the motion which failed to attain the constitutionally required two-thirds majority which would have overturned Trump’s veto. In early May, the U.S. Senate failed to override President Trump’s veto of a resolution blocking him from engaging in military action against Iran without explicit approval from Congress, “falling short,” as a NY Times article noted, “in its latest effort to curtail unilateral moves on matters of war and peace.”

Although the Iran War Powers Act failed as a result of Trump’s veto, the Administration got the message and backed off, temporarily toning down its anti-Iranian hysteria. Coupled with the fact that the leadership of the U.S. military itself is discouraging war with Iran, the Congressional vote, even if vetoed has been duly noted by Trump and those trying to push him into the abyss. Time to cool it with Iran..

Working behind the scenes for more than a decade on a such resolution that would force presidents to submit to Congressional approval before going to war have been a number of prominent, longtime peace organizations – flagship among them, the Friends Committee on National Legislation whose focused commitment to ending America’s endless wars is long-standing. In the current environment, to even get such a resolution on the floor of the House of Representatives is no small undertaking. To get a positive vote on the issue – Trump’s veto aside – is a genuine lobbying achievement.

It shows that a well organized, disciplined and targeted lobbying campaign, backed by peace movement activists throughout the country can have and do have an impact.

Of course should Trump enjoy a second term as president, all bets are off as to how Trump will proceed, backed and pressured as he is by neo-liberal war enthusiasts, Zionists itching for a U.S. war with Iran and Christian fundamentalist rapturists – all of whom are prominent in his Administration.

Time to redouble the efforts for peace, and against Washington’s endless wars.

One Comment leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    May 19, 2020 6:21 am

    It is great to wake up and read an article like this, it gives me hope that we will be able to make positive change something I haven’t seen much in my life

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