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Cost of War
A WAY OUT OF ANOTHER WAR
While the Senate rolls up co-sponsors for a “nonbinding” resolution expressing support for military action against Iran (see below), East Bay Representative Barbara Lee has countered in the House by re-introducing a measure she brought to the last Congress. HR 783 is the new number for Lee’s “Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act”, designed to advance the idea of diplomacy over what many in and out of the Pentagon feel would be a disastrous war.
HR 783 would, as Rep. Lee has said, “require President Obama to appoint a high level Special Envoy to Iran to engage in sustained, comprehensive negotiations to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.” This would be a focused effort to overcome the diplomatic roadblocks brought on by the Iranian revolution 30 years ago.
The bill gives a nod to the idea that Iran may in fact be pursuing nuclear weapons, but calls for talking instead of fighting. It allows funding for combat only under the most extreme cases related to actual defense – rather than for a “preventive” war. It also contains language referring to the pursuit of “opportunities to build mutual trust and to foster sustained negotiations in good faith”, as well as exploring solutions for stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the heavily-supported resolution in the Senate and a fair share of bellicose language coming from the House, this is a time for Rep. Lee’s bill to get as much support as possible. If Congress seems not to have learned anything from the past 11-plus years of war, we need to tell them what we have learned.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to co-sponsor HR 783, the “Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act”. Suggest we and our military veterans don’t need and (probably can’t afford) another war; also that this bill provides for avenues of diplomacy that we still can and should pursue.
...OR SMALL STEPS TO A BIG WAR
The American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) came to Washington in early March for its annual conference; to herald this powerful lobbying group’s influence, the Senate unveiled a new bipartisan resolution that hints at providing “diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel” should it go forward with an attack on Iran over the latter country’s nuclear (alleged nuclear weapons) program. S. Res 65, co-authored by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Robert Menendez, also includes such loaded references as U.S. “defense of (Israel’s) territory, people, and existence…”
While Graham affirmed S. Res. 65 is nonbinding, in the view of peace advocates it represents a new step to legitimizing an attack by Israel…plus possible U.S. involvement in a war that is opposed by members of both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The emphasis on war of course will also undermine continuing diplomatic efforts aimed at minimizing the chance of Iran having a nuclear weapon. Indeed, American and Israeli military leaders – including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates – have speculated that a military strike would make a nuclear-armed Iran ever more likely.
The resolution is now up to 76 co-sponsors in the senate, including both California Senators Barbara Boxer Dianne Feinstein. Needless to say there has been lots of pressure from AIPAC to get the Senate “in line” and on record as being ready to wage a war on Iran. While the resolution could pass whenever Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid chooses to bring it to the floor, this is a time to push back against the notion of another preemptive war.
ACTION: Contact both Sens. Boxer and Feinstein to let them know how you feel about their co-sponsorship of S. Res. 65. Suggest that their actions lead us closer to a war with Iran that will not make us safer, and tell them to remove their names from the resolution. Add that whatever they do regarding the resolution, they should nevertheless be vocally opposing the idea of a war on Iran.
NUCLEAR BOMBS OR BETTER PRIORITIES?
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is pushing for the extension of the life of various tools in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. These expensive programs are designed to extend weapon lifetimes for an additional 20 to 30 years and modernize the arsenal…but according to some in the Pentagon fall short of actually increasing our national security. One costly and possibly unnecessary candidate for life extension, scheduled to happen over the next decade, is the B61 nuclear bomb.
Originally built in the early 1960s, the B61 is the oldest weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. There are about 200 of them stationed at six bases in five NATO nations: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Two are U.S. bases that use U.S. aircraft; the other four are not U.S. bases and would use non-U.S. aircraft to deliver the B61.
The cost for this particular life extension program has jumped from $4 billion to 10 billion. That estimate is based on 400 of these bombs running $25 million each to refurbish. It also would make the B61 the most expensive nuclear warhead in the U.S. arsenal. In the meantime some of these European nations where it is stationed, most notably Germany, would like to end the practice of hosting U.S. nuclear weapons. This is partly because of their own expense – over $100 million – to upgrade their bases to meet the Pentagon’s “security standards”.
Some in our own military have also called into question the need for extending the B61. Contrary to a general belief that it would be vital to our and NATO’s security, General James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a 2012 report, “All U.S. tactical nuclear weapons (i.e., the B61 nuclear bomb) would be eliminated over the next ten years. Their military utility is practically nil. They do not have assigned missions as part of any war plan and remained deployed today only for political reasons within the NATO alliance.”
When the military agrees with us, it is time to also get Congress on board, especially with so many of its members concerned about the federal budget deficit. The B61 looks like a good place to start saving money.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo to urge their opposition to the life extension program for the B61 nuclear bomb. Also contact Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein with a similar message. Suggest that we don’t need to spend precious federal dollars on a nuclear bomb that most of its host NATO countries as well as Pentagon experts don’t feel are necessary – and the extra $10 billion would look much better in education and health care programs (for two).
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.
REIGN IN HONDURAN POLICE
The U.S. gives millions in tax dollars to the Honduran National Police, with the assurance from our State Department that the Honduran police are no longer being run by one Director General Juan Carlos Bonilla. This is because Bonilla is accused of responsibility for extrajudicial killings, for which he has never been investigated. The allegations include a 2002 internal police report accusing Bonilla of three extrajudicial killings and linking him to 11 additional deaths or disappearances.
Despite the State Department’s claims, the Associated Press reported that all Honduran National Police units operate under Bonilla's supervision. Thus our financial support of the Honduran police is a violation of federal law. In addition, the AP reported that in the past three years roughly 150 formal complaints have been made to Honduran prosecutors about death-squad type killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa – and more elsewhere.
Congress holds the purse strings on such aid to other countries’ authorities, and when appropriating funds to the Honduran National Police, it was clear in its opposition to Bonilla as that department’s leader. This is a moment when Congress can stand up for human rights elsewhere in the world, and when we can let them know we are watching them do so.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, as well as the White House, and tell them the U.S. needs to cut off aid to the Honduran National Police until Juan Carlos Bonilla is removed and the department’s human rights record improves dramatically. Suggest this is not only U.S. law, it is also another way to use our influence in the western hemisphere in a positive way.
SPIES IN YOUR COMPUTER
U.S. citizens are already subject to different versions of warrantless wiretapping by the federal government through the National Security Agency. Now they want to take such gathering of information to another level, and there is a new bill in the House to help them. HR 624, the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act” (CISPA), would give the NSA a new mandate to read, watch and listen to everything we do on the Internet.
The bill would allow companies and the agency to bypass privacy protections in order to look at emails and text messages, as well as filter online content and block access to certain web sites. It would also permit companies to give the government people’s Facebook data, Twitter history and cell phone contacts.
The NSA and supporters of CISPA talk about the possibility of cyber attacks, and will surely invoke “national security” to justify this level of surveillance. But the bill's language is so vague and overreaching that there is no level of control over what is done or allowed to be seen by internet users. And there is little oversight regarding repercussions when people are using certain language or otherwise speaking freely on the internet or their cell phones. The concepts of privacy and free speech would be threatened. This kind of national security would lead to a fair degree of insecurity among Americans.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and tell them to oppose HR 624, the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act”. Suggest that we should be able to protect our national interests from cyber attacks, but we also need methods that don’t compromise our online freedom of speech and right to privacy.
START WATCHING THE PENTAGON
One of the lesser-challenged and examined budgets in the federal government is the one submitted every year by the Department of Defense. With its huge and unwieldy morass of weapons systems marked by cost overruns; classified programs that aren’t identified and thus aren’t scrutinized; and procurement practices that would drive most businesses into a sea of red, the U.S. military budget has become a monster that a number of people in and out of Congress feel needs to be reined in. The fact that some legislators – often under the rubric of jobs (and votes) in their district – are inclined to give the Pentagon not only as much as it wants but, (again) frequently more than it asks for seems to reinforce the military budget’s aura of unassailability in our country’s political landscape.
East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee will no longer tolerate that, and in early February introduced a bill meant to shed light on our country’s military budget largesse. Her “Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013” mandates a 5% cut in any Federal agency that does not have an independent audit for the previous year. Veterans’ benefits, military personnel accounts and the Defense Health Program would all be exempt from such cuts.
In bringing forth this bipartisan bill, Lee said, “The American people want some basic measure of accountability in the way the Pentagon spends tax dollars…the Department of Defense’s refusal to provide an audit is a recipe for financial disaster. As the daughter of a veteran, I grew up believing in the power and patriotism of the U.S. military, but being patriotic does not mean blindly accepting bloated Pentagon spending.”
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that auditing the Pentagon was just about impossible, and that the Pentagon is not consistently able to “control costs; ensure basic accountability; anticipate future costs; measure performance, maintain funds control; and prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse.” Conservative legislators and candidates have often called for running government agencies more like a business. This is a bill that calls such folks on that idea on behalf of a military that seems to particularly need it.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and urge their co-sponsorship of the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013. Suggest that if Congress is really serious about deficit reduction, finding and eliminating waste in the military budget would be an important (and often overlooked) step.
COMPLETELY END THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN
(Thanks to Peace Action West for much of the text in this alert.)
Also during his State of the Union address, President Obama announced that another 34,000 troops will come home from Afghanistan by this time next year. This is wonderful news for those 34,000 soldiers and their friends and families…but it’s not enough for the 32,000 troops and the Afghans who will still be mired in this war.
Obama is moving forward with a withdrawal plan because of the immense pressure peace advocates have helped put on the administration over the past few years. Certainly the need to remain vigilant continues, for both us and for members of Congress.
Rather than acknowledging the failure of the military strategy in Afghanistan and bringing all our troops and war dollars home, the president is trying to please antiwar voters and the Pentagon at the same time. This halfway strategy means thousands of troops and Afghan civilians will remain in harm’s way for years to come.
There are still many decisions to be made, and the Pentagon isn’t going to let up in trying to drag out this war as long as possible. The administration still hasn’t announced what will happen after 2014, but reports indicate they will keep troops on the ground far into the future. We owe it to the troops – and the civilians – on the ground in Afghanistan to raise our voices until every soldier comes home.
ACTION: Contact Reps Speier and Eshoo, as well as Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, to urge them to push for a faster end to the war in Afghanistan. Remind them that although about half of the troops will come home (and that next year seems like a bit long to wait), the fight to end this war continues, and we would like to know how they plan to carry it on.
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
1700 Montgomery St., Ste 240 San Francisco, CA 94111
(510) 286-8537 FAX: (202) 224-0454
Representative Jackie Speier
400 S. El Camino Real, Ste 410 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 Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6607 FAX: (202)647-2283