December 13, 2014
Dear Senator Kaine,
I know we're often told not to seek the ideal instead of what's possible but, when what's "possible" only perpetuates a serious wrong, it is better to say ‘No’ and fight again. That's how I feel about the hollowed-out war authorization, which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.
Secretary of State John Kerry's committee testimony, which appeared to call for Congressional authorization in name only, set the stage for an open-ended authorization of war beyond even Iraq and Syria, assuring both parties that they will not have to take up the issue again until after the 2016 national elections unless they do so in the next three days. That seeming avoidance will hardly sit well with many Americans concerned about the waste of lives and taxes on military missions that have no achievable goals, except perhaps to avoid defeat.
I understand how difficult it was to get the committee to take up the issue at all, and that the War Powers Resolution has been recognized as a law which cannot be easily bypassed.
But here is all that the Senate committee addressed, in a bill by Senator Menendez:
First, there still is an open-ended definition of "the enemy." If the enemy is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that should be stated without any ambiguity about "associated forces." Already affiliates of the Islamic State are being proclaimed elsewhere, such as Egypt. Does Congress really want to authorize US military assistance to Egypt's dictator in the conflict on the Sinai Peninsula?
Second, until the Congress as a whole takes action, the administration is conducting a war limited only by the 2001 authorization;
Third, instead of a prohibition on the deployment of American ground troops, as originally promised by President Obama and by the rhetoric of many members of Congress, such deployment is authorized to "enable" airstrikes, obtain intelligence and, here's the wide-open gap, "other forms of advice or assistance to forces fighting ISIL in Iraq or Syria." It is reported that this language implicitly refers to rescue operations, but of course it could justify a full American invasion as long it "assists" Iraqi troops. General Dempsey already is floating the idea of American ground forces joining Iraqi troops to retain Mosul and other towns. The 1970 Cambodia "incursion" was in support South Vietnamese forces and meant to wipe out the "headquarters" of the Vietcong.
Fourth, and most important politically, the committee bill tries to assure that the war will be protected from Congressional objections through the 2016 national elections, which already are beginning. We know from past experience that democratic elections are the great testing and approval grounds where wars are subjected to public debate and consent. The constitutional power of Congress to decide on war is rooted in the consent of "We, the People" in the founding document's preamble. This is no abstract exercise; as you know, presidential and congressional fortunes often rise and fall based on the expression of the voters.
Senator Rand Paul tried to assure that the sunset provision would take effect before the 2016 election, and for that reason he deserves the appreciation of us all. In fact, Sec. Kerry's testimony left unclear whether the administration even wants another congressional vote. As the New York Times editorially points out, the Kerry proposal for a "renewal" could be automatic.
Thank you for being a champion of the War Powers Resolution for so many years. In this case, however, I believe the Senate Democrats should refuse to become a constitutional fig leaf on a further expansion of executive war. The Long War doctrine, elaborated by General Abizaid in 2005, represents an ongoing threat to the democratic process since it projects a conflict lasting 50 to 80 years in the Islamic world. That requires the political approval of a war with shifting enemies, trillion-dollar costs and indefinite timelines, all of which are extremely problematic for a democracy in which leaders change every two or four years. But the alternative to a constitutional democracy is an imperial presidency under either Democrats or Republicans, draining funds and official attention away from our crying needs at home.
Please support amendments that narrow the definition of enemies, prohibit American ground troops, and which mandate another congressional authorization in 18 months, or decline to support the Menendez measure.