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Cost of War
STOP TRANSFER OF MANPADS TO SYRIA
On June 19, the House of Representatives took an important step by prohibiting the transfer of MANPADS – shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles – to actors in Syria. House passage of the bipartisan amendment showed that its members understood that these are particularly dangerous weapons due to the possibility that they could be used by terrorists against civilian planes in the region. The Senate version of the Defense Appropriations bill will be presented for the first time, or “marked up”, on July 8.
Recent events in Iraq have shown that there is no border separating Sunni insurgents fighting the government of Syria from Sunni insurgents fighting the government of Iraq, nor any boundary between different groups of Sunni insurgents.
Members of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, are in a unique position to advance this legislation. They could virtually ensure that the House provision becomes law by including it in the Senate’s Defense Appropriation. The burden would be on any Senators who opposed the provision to try to remove it from the bill, which would be difficult. With Feinstein in on the conversation, Californians can endeavor to play a part in the outcome of this issue.
ACTION: Contact Senator Feinstein to urge her support for a Senate amendment that would forbid sending MANPADS to insurgents in Syria. Tell her that, while these and other weapons we send could fall into the wrong hands and maybe be used against U.S interests, the MANPADS pose a particular danger to civilians.
IRAQ – GOT OUT, LET’S STAY OUT
As a military campaign by a radical Islamic faction threatens to change the geographical landscape in Iraq before our eyes, we are faced with the possibility of our government feeling the need for its own military action. Already President Obama has sent “advisors” to Baghdad, which a number of folks in Washington and the media agree accomplishes nothing – but could eventually lead to something worse.
The debate has begun, generally from Congressional Republicans and architects of the 2003 invasion, about whether we should have left when we did, how badly our departure was mismanaged, and that we should conduct airstrikes and drone strikes. These “experts” have conveniently forgotten that the deal for us to leave was signed by the previous president, and Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki refused to change it in favor of keeping some U.S. troops in Iraq (fine from this corner). And they have overlooked the additional missteps by al-Maliki of excluding Sunni factions in the fledgling Iraqi government…helping to bring on an attempted military takeover of Iraq.
U.S. military action in Iraq? We tried that, 8 years’ worth. The latest results are all over the news, and they are not good. There is no reason to think doing it again would bring about anything positive. There is good reason to think we would kill more Iraqi citizens (pretty much a given in war anymore), inflame local feelings against us, and make a political or diplomatic solution impossible. Plus it would add to the $1.5 trillion (and counting) expense of making war over there, which would be better spent on infrastructure, education, etc. over here.
A bipartisan letter from the House of Representatives, circulated by Reps. Barbara Lee and Virginia Republican Scott Rigell, was sent in early July to the White House, asking Obama to consult with Congress before launching any military action. Both Rep. Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo signed the letter. But what many who grew tired of the Iraq war really want to hear is that we will instead pursue a political and diplomatic solution rather than once again try to “bomb our way to peace”.
ACTION: Contact Reps. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo (whomever represents you) and thank them for signing the Lee-Rigell letter calling for approval from Congress on military action. Tell them a political solution is far better than a military solution to secure peace in Iraq, and ask that they oppose air strikes or any other military action. Contact Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (who, as a recent advocate for air strikes, really needs to hear this) with the same message. And let Obama know how you feel about another military action in Iraq.
IRAN DEAL: GOOD FOR THE U.S.
The international community is in the midst of historic talks with Iran to minimize the chances of that country acquiring a nuclear weapon. There is a soft deadline of July 20, but they may need an extension. A successful deal would leave the rest of the international community enough time to act if Iran were to still pursue a nuclear weapon, and at the same time give Iran enough sanctions relief to justify limiting its nuclear program and keep it open to significant inspections.
Foreign policy experts agree that a military strike on Iran would at best delay any nuclear program, and at worst start a disastrous war in the Middle East. It would also most likely embolden Iranian hardliners and ironically push Iran closer to a decision to pursue a nuclear weapon.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has cooperated with all of IAEA’s requests: It has reduced its enriched uranium stockpile, stopped the installation of centrifuges, and increased transparency and international access to key facilities.
This may be the only opportunity to reach a deal with Iran. If negotiations are scuttled, that could lead to a number of unacceptable consequences, including a collapse of the international sanctions regime. To keep other countries on board, the U.S. cannot be seen as sabotaging the deal. And without limits and intrusive inspections, Iran could move closer to a nuclear weapon and the U.S. would be left in the dark.
If diplomacy fails and war becomes more of a possibility, the U.S. is left with two bad options: containment or military action. And Israel could edge closer to a military strike.
On the other hand an effective agreement will verifiably reduce Iran’s nuclear capability and put in place an inspections regime, unprecedented in scope and frequency, that could detect any sign of building a nuclear weapon. In exchange for this transparency and limiting of its nuclear program, Iran would receive significant sanctions relief. Also, a successful deal could lead to more opportunities to tackle other challenges with Iran: It may be more open to discuss ballistic missile issues and support of terrorism; it could help with solving the internal conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and a good agreement will also be one small step towards a WMD free zone in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Congress can take actions that can help bring about a successful agreement, including supporting the talks without undermining them.
ACTION: Contact Reps. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Sens. Feinstein and Boxer, and urge them to speak out publically in support of the Joint Plan of Action, including an extension if necessary. Ask them to also be ready to support sanctions relief as a part of a successful deal to verifiably limit Iran’s nuclear program, and refrain from handcuffing the negotiators with redlines and unreasonable expectations. Suggest that positive reinforcement would be a most effective tactic.
AND ABOUT THOSE SANCTIONS…
During the UN-levied sanctions on Iraq between the 1990 Persian Gulf War and just last year, over half a million Iraqi children died from all kinds of treatable diseases because various medicines were somehow related to the possible production of WMD’s. This story is threatening to take shape to some degree in Iran.
Tens of thousands of Iranian civilians with treatable illnesses have suffered unnecessarily and unjustly because of medicine shortages created in part by U.S. sanctions. This has happened despite the fact that by law, U.S. sanctions are supposed to protect trade in medicines. Moreover, sanctions that block civilians’ access to medicines violate international humanitarian law.
Now in the House, Virginia Democrat Jim Moran has written a sign-on letter pressing the White House to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not continue to block life-saving medicine for Iranian civilians. Among other points, Moran’s letter states:
“As the legislative record makes clear, it is not Congress’s intent to block or impede the export of medicine, food, or humanitarian goods to peoples living under the rule of sanctioned regimes. Under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000…the export of licensed medicines, medical devices, agricultural commodities, and food are exempt from sanctions.”
This is a chance for members of Congress to stand with the people of Iran and show that they want to prioritize justice as well as peace.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, and ask them to sign Rep. Moran’s letter pressing President Obama to address this issue so that sanctions do not continue blocking medicine for Iranian civilians. Tell them you don’t want to see a repeat of the humanitarian crisis that befell Iraq in the 1990’s and beyond.
A PENTAGON “SLUSH FUND”
There is more “reining in” of Pentagon spending to do, and it involves the cessation of hostilities in which our country robustly has taken part over the last several years. The wars in Iraq (presumed finished until recently) and Afghanistan (presumably winding down) have been funded with a special item called Overseas Contingency Operations funds. It has amounted to over $1 trillion since 2001; $79 billion is proposed for the FY ’15 budget, in addition to the $500 billion in the military base budget.
While the Budget Control Act of 2011 – the same legislation that gave us the sequester – nominally set a cap on Pentagon spending, Overseas Contingency Operations funds were exempted. And the Pentagon – with the blessing of folks in Congress in charge of defense appropriations – has simply shifted tens of billions in spending from its base budget, which is subject to the spending caps, to the Overseas Contingency Operations budget, which is not. This item is also low on accountability and transparency – a hallmark of many military budget items – and in many peace advocates’ eyes it amounts to a “slush fund” for the Pentagon to keep on spending.
If the U.S. is not conducting “overseas operations”, we would hope to spend that money for more peace-related priorities such as health research, food stamps and education that are otherwise shorted due to the sequester…or that we are told we just can’t afford with our huge Federal deficit. It also seems that if hundreds of billions in Pentagon spending are meant to prepare for war, the question arises of why we would then need extra money to actually fight said war. Kind of like “having your cake and eating it too”.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier (a member of the House Armed Services Committee) or Eshoo if she is your rep, and tell them to do what they can to stop Congress from transferring funds that could otherwise be cut over to the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. Likewise tell Sens. Boxer and Feinstein to make the same case in the Senate. Suggest that the Pentagon needs to share the pain of budget cuts that are already happening to social programs, and certainly should not be entitled to a budget loophole that includes a lack of accountability.
TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP – OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Recent U.S. history has seen a series of dubious international trade agreements that seem meant to help wealthy corporations at the expense of working people around the world. A significant hallmark of such agreements is the element of skirting U.S. laws by turning damaging policies into international agreements that become “the law of the land”. The latest such accord in the (mostly alternative) news is the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We turn to the organization RootsAction for a few details about this dangerous agreement:
“The TPP would provide special benefits to, and eliminate risks for, companies that offshore jobs (and) would push wages downward. The TPP would impose limits on labeling food to let you know where it comes from or how it was produced; the only way to know may be if you grow it or buy it from a neighbor who grew it. But the odds will be stacked even more heavily against the small farmer if the TPP is enacted.
“Corporations would be able to overturn domestic patent and drug-pricing laws. The big drug companies would be able to raise prices with extended monopolies over drugs and over surgical procedures. Internet censorship, defeated in Congress, would be snuck through within the TPP. Serious bank regulation or a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions would be forbidden.”
There is more: “Under the TPP, foreign or domestic corporations could force governments to change their laws on healthcare, the environment, banking, or other public policies – by appealing to a special tribunal of three corporate lawyers accountable to no voters, no precedents, and no appeals process.”
None of the 600 corporate lawyers writing this accord want the public to see it. They would prefer that Congress put it on a “fast track” to ratification without amendments or even a proper vetting. A brave whistleblower (who as far as we know has not had “war” made upon him or her) did help get these particular details into public view. And there are many more details of TPP to see, if only Congress would insist they be seen. As with 16 other questionable trade agreements that did not survive public opposition, how Congress deals with TPP may be up to us.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Sens. Boxer and Feinstein, to tell them to oppose fast-tracking of the TPP and instead make the entire agreement public. Contact the White House with the same request. Suggest, as has RootsAction, that “If it’s as good as (you) seem to think, what have (we) got to lose?”
SUPPORT THE PRESIDENT’S PLAN TO CUT NUKES
Right now the Obama administration is making the decision to cut back on nuclear weapons we don’t need. This could be the beginning of a major step to nuclear disarmament. In fact, the President reinforced his commitment to disarmament in the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, saying, “…we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals…”.
Whatever size this step winds up amounting to, Obama will need the support of the Senate to keep moving it forward, and of course some senators will do anything they can to stop any cuts to our massive nuclear arsenals. Those who support further nuclear weapons cuts need to speak up, thus they need to hear from people who feel the same way.
ACTION: Contact Senator Feinstein and Boxer and tell them to actively support nuclear weapons cuts by making public statements of that support. Suggest this is an important window for them to step forward on behalf of nuclear disarmament, in order to make the world truly more secure. Perhaps add that we have a chance to set an example for Iran and North Korea that nuclear weapons are unnecessary and obsolete as a foreign policy option.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121
Senator Dianne Feinstein
One Post St., Ste 2450 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3841 FAX: (202) 228-3954
(415) 393-0707 FAX: (415)393-0710
Senator Barbara Boxer
70 Washington St. suite #203 Oakland CA 94607
(510) 286-8537 FAX: (202) 224-0454
Representative Jackie Speier
155 Bovet Rd., Ste 780 San Mateo, CA 94402
(202) 225-3531 FAX: (202) 226-4183
(650) 342-0300 FAX: (650) 375-8270
Representative Anna Eshoo
698 Emerson Street Palo Alto, CA 94301
(202) 225-8104 FAX: (202) 225-8890
(650) 323-2984 FAX: (650) 323-3498
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20500
(202)456-1111: FAX: (202)456-2461
Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6607 FAX: (202)647-2283