Congresswoman Barbara Lee pushes for debate on war and peace

Listen to this article

In 2001 California Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Ca 13) objected to passage of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) which gave President Bush unfettered ability to wage war. She was the only member of Congress to do so. Not even one senator objected. Since then presidents, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump, have used that authorization to mount more than 30 military actions in 20 countries around the world.

In the intervening 16 years Congresswoman Lee has repeatedly tried to add an amendment to repeal the AUMF to the Defense Authorization bills Congress must pass every year, but to no avail. On June 30 of this year the House Appropriations Committee voted to add her amendment to the 2018 defense spending bill. It was a long time coming. In 2001 when Congresswoman Lee voted against the AUMF, she called it a “blank check” for presidents to wage endless war.

How prophetic that was. During President Obama’s administration we learned of the unrestricted drone strikes in many countries around the world that often killed innocent civilians indiscriminately.

This time we are getting the sense Rep. Lee’s amendment may pass in the House of Representatives.

Despite President Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished,” on May 1, 2003, the Iraq War continues. (Wikipedia)

Before President Obama came into office President Bush used the AUMF to start what has now become the most tragic military mistake in American history: the War in Iraq. Even though the war was based on a lie — that was blamed on the intelligence community, not Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff cherry picking information to justify the war — no one has been held accountable for starting that war. The destruction of Iraq has completely destabilized the Middle East and given rise to ISIL (or ISIS if you prefer) which has spread its brand of terror around the world.

It led to the destabilization of Egypt, Libya and now Syria. No one doubts the dictators that were in charge of Egypt and Libya, and the one in Syria, were brutal, but there is no question destroying Iraq was the first domino in the unrest we have witnessed since March 2003. We are locked into two quagmires with no end in sight and there is the possibility we could get locked into another — Syria.

We can lay the blame at the feet of President George W. Bush and his administration — and rightly so — but as Congresswoman Lee has pointed out over and over again for the past 16 years the United States Congress abdicated its duty to debate and declare war, or decline to declare war. There lies the other half of the blame. The U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section 8 states it is the responsibility of the U.S. Congress “To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.”

We should applaud Congresswoman Lee for standing tall against the AUMF for all these years, but her amendment has only been added to the bill. It could be stripped from the defense bill on the floor of the House. Plus it would have to pass in the U.S. Senate, so there is a long road ahead for this amendment to become law. As bad as things have been with Presidents Bush and Obama, I shudder to think of how President Trump might use the AUMF. Congress needs to do its job.

Instead of expanding the military it should at the very least be held to it’s current size. Do we need more aircraft carriers, destroyers and war planes? We could cut the military in half and still have a bigger military than every other nation on Earth. But lets be practical (there’s no accounting for the warmongers in Congress) and say cut it by 10 or 15 percent. At 10 percent that’s nearly $60 billion that could be used for infrastructure work or to shore up the Affordable Care Act — and that’s in just one year’s budget. Think of the savings over five years and 10, and how many domestic issues could be taken care of with the cut in the military budget.

We lag behind the rest of the western world in every category but three: the number of citizens incarcerated per capita, the number of adults that still believe in angels and the size of our military.

U.S. Marines in Iraq

Congresswoman Lee agrees about the size of the military and she just released a statement two days ago saying as much. One of the heroes of the House of Representatives — the only person in Congress who was right about the AUMF in 2001 — hers is a voice we and the rest of Congress should heed. There’s a lot that could be done, that should be done and Congresswoman Lee spells sone of it out. Below is her statement.

“The National Defense Authorization Act should be a roadmap for reigning in Pentagon waste and responsibly drawing down our endless wars oversees. Instead, Congressional Republicans have chosen to bankroll bloated Pentagon spending and funnel billions into the Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund, while refusing to address our fundamental obligation to debate our ongoing military operations.

“I do applaud the inclusion of the Cole Amendment, which directs the President to report on a strategy on Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. However, the Cole Amendment should not be considered an effective substitute for my amendment repealing the 2001 AUMF that was adopted in the DOD Appropriations bill last month. I remain convinced that, absent a mandatory deadline, Congress will have no incentive to hold a debate and vote on this issue.

“Additionally, I was pleased to see that the Burgess-Lee Amendment requiring a Pentagon audit report from Secretary Mattis was adopted in this bill. It’s been more than a quarter of a century since legislation was enacted requiring every federal agency to conduct an audit. It’s outrageous that all these years later, the Pentagon is defying this law and asking taxpayers to foot the bill for excessive and unexamined spending.

“It’s also encouraging that this bill directs Secretary Mattis to report to Congress on policies regarding HIV-positive service members. It’s long past time for the US military to ensure its HIV policies are based in science, not stigma. Finally, I was relieved that the offensive and bigoted Hartzler Amendment was defeated on the House Floor yesterday. Our men and women in uniform deserve our deepest gratitude, not baseless discrimination.

“However, any defense legislation that fails to require a debate and vote on a new military authorization is a missed opportunity. After almost sixteen years of unrestricted war, the best action that Congress can take for our troops is to debate matters of war and peace.”