Stop War on North Korea, Despite Bolton
Donald Trump has upended the structure of the Executive Branch with his dismissal of H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor, followed by Trump’s replacement choice of John Bolton. He is a longtime proponent of war over diplomacy, and peace advocates everywhere are troubled by what could happen when he gets Trump’s ear regarding what to do about North Korea and Iran – and who knows where else.
Of obvious concern is the Korean Peninsula. Just as the “Olympic Truce” has created momentum for diplomatic overtures between the U.S. and North Korea, Trump is bringing in Bolton and his vitriolic hawkishness to take positions that could lead us to war. Not the least of such factors is Bolton’s push for ending the nuclear deal with Iran, which would certainly cause North Korea to wonder about the credibility of the U.S. in diplomatic efforts.
Congress can do nothing about Bolton’s appointment, which requires no Senate confirmation. Some say anyone with his extreme views would have no chance of being confirmed to anything. That leaves it up to Congress to minimize Bolton’s potential to prompt a war with North Korea, and both chambers had already stepped up with the “No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea Act”. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey introduced S. 2016 back in October, and South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna followed in January with H.R. 4837. The respective bills forbid any initial military action by the U.S. on North Korea, without the constitutionally-mandated approval of Congress.
At least there would be debate about the dubious wisdom of such a war, even what has been called a “bloody nose” attack, with the possibility of a retaliatory attack on South Korea, a wider war with the help of other countries like Russia, and escalation – perhaps even nuclear – beyond any of the actors’ control.
Action: Contact Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and tell them to cosponsor S. 2016 (which now has just three co-sponsors), to keep the possibility of war on North Korea in the hands of Congress. Rep. Jackie Speier’s constituents should urge her support for H.R. 4837; Rep. Anna Eshoo’s people can thank her for being among the 68 co-sponsors of the bill. Everyone in both chambers should hear that the stakes are high, especially with John Bolton about to join the mix.
Wrong Choice for Secretary of State
Ahead of Donald Trump taking office, activists rallied and protested the nomination of former Exxon/Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson. Now Trump’s pick to replace the fired Tillerson, current CIA director Mike Pompeo, might fill us with a bit of nostalgia for Tillerson. (That is what it has come to with this White House.)
Tillerson was one of the cabinet members trying to keep some rationality in U.S. foreign policy, engaging in back-channel talks with North Korea and discouraging Trump from pulling out of the P5 + 1 nuclear deal with Iran. Pompeo, whose role in the CIA was preceded by his election in 2010 as a Congressional Tea Party Republican, like Bolton has expressed nothing but opposition to the Iran deal – for that matter to Iran itself, which he compared to ISIS in a speech last October. If Trump, Pompeo and Bolton have their way, Trump could unilaterally tear up the agreement by May, and the U.S. could also be on a path to war with Iran.
In addition to the seeming lack of any semblance of the diplomatic acumen required of a Secretary of State, Pompeo is in favor of torture as a tactic, as well as expanding both domestic spying and the National Security Agency’s capacity to collect data from U.S. citizens. He is also a denier of climate change and backed Trump’s pullout of the Paris climate agreement. Some may expect such a position from someone like Pompeo who is also the former head of an oilfield production business affiliated by Koch Industries. However the Senate, whose confirmation would allow him to take office, has some say-so over its appropriateness.
Action: Contact Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, and tell them to either ask or suggest questions that would expose Mike Pompeo’s radical turn away from proper diplomacy and toward war and U.S. missteps on the world stage, should he become Secretary of State. Tell them to vote against his confirmation, and to encourage their colleagues in both parties to do the same.
…And for CIA Director
Trump is looking to promote CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo – but there are issues with this nomination as well, relating to her history of facilitating torture overseas. Here is another case where the Senate can consider a dubious record rather than “rubber-stamping” a confirmation.
During her career, Haspel ran a secret "black site" prison in Thailand, one of many places where detainees in the “war on terror” were taken. Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in boxes and other torture techniques were all in the toolbox of CIA interrogators under her supervision. And in 2005, Haspel engaged in suppression of information about it, signing off on an order to destroy videotapes of the cruel activities.
Promoters of torture such as Haspel often cite the “imminent threat” intelligence that can be gleaned from the practice, but a Senate report in 2009 left ample doubt about the efficacy of such techniques. It concluded that tortured detainees often said anything, including incorrect information, in order to stop torture – and were in fact more likely to give useful information without being tortured. A 2015 law made it all illegal, though did not address “extraordinary rendition”, in which detainees are taken to other countries that are contracted to carry out torture.
Trump seems oblivious to all of this, having expressed the desire to bring back waterboarding, “and a hell of a lot worse”. He wants to bring on a person with experience like Gina Haspel to carry it out, and it’s up to the Senate to try to see that someone more vigilant of human rights and the U.S. standing in the world gets a try at running the CIA.
Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Harris and tell them to also vote against the confirmation of Gina Haspel as CIA Director. Feinstein, who is on the Intelligence Committee, should ask pointed questions of Haspel about torture practices to which she is tied. Feinstein has made positive statements about confirmation, but perhaps needs to think again about this.
Upholding the Deal
Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated between Iran and the U.S. along with five other nations to regulate Iran’s nuclear program, Trump was required by October 15 to certify to Congress whether, in his opinion, Iran is complying with the agreement – and whether he believes the deal remains in the U.S. national security interest. Unfortunately, he chose to decertify the JCPOA.
This opens the door for Congress to introduce and perhaps pass new sanctions on Iran, a move that many in the peace community see as provocative and destabilizing. It also could isolate the U.S. by setting it apart from the other six nations who are a party to the agreement. After all of the work on the 2015 plan, Trump’s words about “renegotiating” are unrealistic and a non-starter. Indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and nonproliferation experts around the world have affirmed that Iran is keeping up its end of the deal – a fact best not ignored by either the White House or Congress.
North Korea becomes a factor here as well, in that they would see no motivation to sit down and negotiate on their nuclear arsenal if Iran’s cooperation is rewarded by turning away from that deal and turning up sanctions. North Korea could instead further escalate its own program. Congress needs to recognize all of these implications.
Action: Contact Reps. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Senators Feinstein and Harris, and urge them to become vocal about the need to keep the JCPOA functioning. (Bonus points for contacting Sens. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.) Remind all of the success of the deal so far, as reported by the IAEA, and that a new one would be impossible. Add that – assuming Trump decertifies U.S. participation – they need to oppose new sanctions on Iran, which could escalate tensions and cause them to reconsider any nuclear ambitions they might have.
Whose Finger on the Button?
The current U.S. policy that threatens the first use of nuclear weapons has always been controversial; in these times it’s a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Even military leaders who have been in charge of our nuclear forces, such as General James E. Cartwright, argue that there is no need for such a policy that cannot be addressed by economic, diplomatic and conventional tools. And of course, should the United States ever launch a nuclear first strike, the risks of catastrophic escalation would be great. If one nuclear attack led to others, a nuclear winter could ensue, risking billions of casualties and any number of global crises.
Maintaining this first-use policy, especially when the decision of whether to carry it out is left in the hands of one person – in our case, the President – encourages other nations to pursue advanced nuclear weapons in order to deter a potential U.S. first strike…which in turn increases the chance of an unintended nuclear war. The current resident of the White House, and the manner in which he has so far done his job, brings new significance to the notion that no president should be able to unilaterally launch a nuclear first strike.
In January California Rep. Ted Lieu and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey introduced corresponding bills in the House and Senate, entitled the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. This legislation – H.R. 669 in the House and S. 200 in the Senate – would prohibit a President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. In a government that thrives under a system of checks and balances, the bills would seem to be the ultimate “check” in favor of our survival. While nuclear weapons should never be used under any circumstances, the bills are a move in the right direction to prevent what amounts to what has been called a “thermonuclear monarchy”.
Action: Contact Reps. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo to thank them for co-sponsoring H.R. 669, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. However, contact Sen. Kamala Harris and tell her she needs to add her name to the corresponding S. 200. Suggest this is a long-overdue bill, but especially timely during the present administration. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has signed on in the Senate, so feel free to also thank her.
A Call for Better Priorities
The Republicans’ single signature legislative achievement in Congress in 2017 brought smiles to the faces of a lot of wealthy people and corporate board members, but it should not (and does not, if public polls are to be believed) do the same for the middle class on down. The tax overhaul bill cuts corporate taxes drastically and permanently, and many basic workers’ taxes marginally and temporarily.
On the way to a $1 trillion budget deficit increase that suddenly, for now, isn’t important to the majority party, they are moving to preserve tens of billions of dollars in military spending increases, while somehow coming up short when it is time to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired in September. $81 billion for disaster relief was also left off the recent subsequent short-term spending bill, as was a renewal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provision. These are all expected to see funding in the new year, say the Republican leadership, but we will of course believe it when we see it.
Meanwhile, the deficit will soon become important again – when Republicans start targeting, as they have foretold, programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start. “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan recently on a conservative talk radio show, adding, “... Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on (them) – because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
In this corner we beg to differ. When nearly $600 billion went to the military in 2015 (about 54% of discretionary spending), including expensive weapons systems the Pentagon didn’t ask for and nuclear weapons that could end virtually all life on the planet, a question for our elected representatives is likely to be “What makes us more secure…better health care and education and taking care of our citizens? Or weapons we hope to never use?” We hope for votes based on the replies we expect.
Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, as well as both Sen. Feinstein and Harris, and tell them to fight for preserving such programs as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – that Congress needs to keep its hands off these programs that so many Americans have worked to earn. Add that they should make sure CHIP and DACA remain intact, since they let the end-of-the-year spending bill go without inclusion of these important programs. Suggest that we should cut the fat and the fear out of our military budget before we target such benefit programs.
A Free and Just Internet
(Here is an item less “peace-related” but properly “justice-related” and steeped in common sense.)
The effort to preserve net neutrality – the idea that all participants in distributing information on the world wide web are entitled to the same speed and the same costs regardless of their size – hit a big roadblock in December when the Republican-majority Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal it. Should the repeal stand, large communications companies like Comcast and Verizon (for which FCC Chair Ajit Pai was once a lawyer), can charge internet providers whatever they want depending on such issues as ability to pay or politics (which certainly can be intertwined at times).
Interestingly, a public comment period that preceded the FCC vote featured an overwhelming number of comments in opposition to the repeal, but also the presence of millions of comments in favor from “bots” that didn’t reflect reality. Despite calls to delay the vote pending investigation of the phony comments, Pai went ahead with the vote and got the results for which he was looking.
But the net neutrality issue is still in play – in the courts where legal challenges will emerge, but also in Congress, which can use the Congressional Review Act to pass a “resolution of disapproval” that would nullify the FCC vote and bring back the net neutrality rules. Currently Senator Harris is a co-sponsor of that resolution, while Senator Feinstein is not...though she has spoken in support of net neutrality. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer intends to force a vote on such a resolution in that chamber, and the hope is that a similar action will take place in the House. With over 70% of voters (and that would include a lot of Republicans) in favor of net neutrality, the decision in Congress to preserve it is liable to be an easy one – if its members respond to us rather than big communication companies.
Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and tell her to support the “Resolution of Disapproval” in the Senate, of the FCC vote to repeal net neutrality. Send the same message regarding a possible House action to Rep. Speier or Eshoo. Suggest that a less-than-open internet will be even more unfair than the phony comments used to tilt the tally of public comments on the issue – and that we need to be able to communicate freely in our modern world.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121
Senator Kamala Harris
50 United Nations Plaza, Ste 5584 San Francisco, CA 94102
(202) 224-3553 FAX: (202) 224-2200
(916) 448-2787 FAX: (202) 224-0454
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6575 FAX: (202)647-2283