PEACE, JUSTICE AND CLIMATE ACTIVISTS SHOULD - AT THE VERY LEAST - SEND MESSAGES NOW TO CONGRESS MEMBERS AND 2016 CANDIDATES FOR SENATE AND PRESIDENT THAT THEY WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE IF THE WAR THEY VOTE FOR YEAR TURNS INTO A QUAGMIRE. AT THE SAME TIME, THE PEACE MOVEMENT SHOULD NOT SIT OUT THE FIGHT OVER A COMPROMISE WAR AUTHORIZATION BUT SEE THEMSELVES AS A HUMAN VOTING BARRIER AGAINST ANOTHER AMERICAN GROUND WAR. PEACE ADVOCATES SHOULD SPEAK OUT FOR DIPLOMACY FIRST, A NARROW AUTHORIZATION IF NECESSARY, AND A BAN ON AMERICAN GROUND TROOPS. THE GOAL SHOULD BE TO SLOW OR STOP THE ESCALATION.
Let's take a look at where we are while the war authorization debate looms.
First, the spirit of the 1973 War Powers Act continues to influence the debate, although the law itself lies in tatters. After nearly 5,000 bombing missions over six months, at a cost to taxpayers of $312,000 per day*, President Obama finally has called for a congressional vote. Not that he considers such a vote constitutionally necessary, just that he wants Congress "on board." Like every chief executive since Nixon, Obama claims unilateral presidential war powers despite the constitutional mandate that the decision be shared by the Congress.
That's far better than imperial rule, if only because it forces Congress to think and act, giving local constituencies a chance to be heard loudly and clearly at congressional offices and in letters to the editor. Those are democratic warm-up exercises before voters have a chance to insert ourselves into the 2016 primaries and general elections.
In addition to salvaging the War Powers Act, public opinion is the only reliable force against another US ground war, which would cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Senator McCain and many other Republicans are the ascending voice of those Pentagon hawks who want American boots on the ground in a wider war.
Obama is trying without success to split the difference between the Democratic peace camp and the bipartisan war lobby by drawing a line against the "enduring" use of American ground troops. That means that "incursions" by US troops, or secret counterterrorism operations, or advisers embedded with Iraqi ground troops are legitimate, but not invasion and occupation by division-scale American troops.
To prevent an outbreak of peace sentiment during the 2016 elections, the proposal carries a three-year timeline before it must be renewed. A one- or two-year deadline would be far more sensible, but it is ridiculous in any event to think the growing war will be ignored in the politics of 2016. Potential candidates like Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders could draw the peace agenda into their party primaries and even influence the vote in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Retaining the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force will hollow out the coming exercise, since the administration will claim the authority to attack terrorist strongholds under that first AUMF. It is meaningless to simply replace the 2002 AUMF against Al Qaeda and associated groups with another AUMF targeting the Islamic state anywhere its banner is flown. And given its history as an offshoot of Al Qaeda, there is little doubt that ISIS will evolve into more splinters of itself.
As this Journal has asserted before, the Long War needs a long peace movement. If that movement cannot be organized and funded on the scale required, readers are encouraged to keep following the pages of the Long War Journal for the projections of its strategists.
Obama's war strategy might make sense, especially in comparison with McCain's, if it actually could block the expansion of the Islamic State until a regional peace settlement could be reached. But it is just as likely, or even more likely, that Obama's escalation will deepen a quagmire in which calls for more American troops will grow. This has been the character of escalation all along.
All the peace movement can do is slow the pace and raise the political costs of the escalation. That is worthwhile if only because of the dollars saved for domestic programs like health care and community college education - and advocates of domestic reform should take notice of the costs of foreign policy to their agendas at home.
Those with long memories should compare this spreading disaster with Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge were the equivalent of today's ISIS. In those terrible times, the US launched the escalation by an invasion, which resulted in the coup against the neutralist Prince Sihanouk and the rise of the Khmer Rouge, in the tradition of the Chinese Red Guards. Mass killings rose to genocidal levels until North Vietnam invaded Cambodia to defeat the Khmer Rouge and help install a more stable and rationale government. For that military action, which prevented a complete genocide, the North Vietnamese paid a price in diplomatic condemnation for decades.
To stop ISIS, the equivalent of the North Vietnamese army is needed today, and it does not exist. China's role is played now by Iran, which skillfully incorporates Shiite Iraq in its sphere of influence, setting in motion a sectarian war against the Islamic State, which cannot be "won" except by partitioning Iraq. Obama perhaps has known this all along, but his frantic efforts to foster a new Sunni-led security force to fight the Islamic State in Iraq may be too little too late. A deal with Iran over Iraqi peace and Iran's nuclear program, seems out of the question. And that is perhaps the reason Obama doesn't want Congress to take up a war authorization again until he is out of office.
* Budget cost from National Priorities Project