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“That day” in September.

Written By: - Date published: 6:14 pm, September 12th, 2018 - 6 comments
Categories: International, us politics, war - Tags: , ,

I half thought about doing a post on the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile in 1973 – the coup that arguably marked the beginning of the end for social democratic priorities of governments across the English speaking world, and the resurgence of liberal orthodoxy. But instead, I’m going to reproduce the text of a submission given to the the US Congress committee on “Congressional War Powers” by Bernie Sanders.

It strikes me as quite remarkable stuff, given that it’s coming from a Senator who, some would say, came within a hairsbreadth of being the 45th President of the USA, and who has inspired a regeneration of Progressive tendencies across the United States. The seven and a half minute video of his submission is here, and the text (with an occasional link) is all of what follows.

Senator Paul, thank you very much for holding this hearing and let me thank our panelists for, without exception, their very cogent testimony.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution states very clearly, and I quote “Congress shall have the power to declare war” end quote. The Founding Fathers gave the power to authorise military conflicts to Congress for one very simple reason – Congress is the branch of the government that is most accountable to the people. There is no question, but that over the years, Congress has allowed it’s authority over this very important issue of war making, to ebb. It is time for us to reassert that authority, and to start asking some very tough questions about the wars – and I use the words “wars” -w-a-r-s – that we are currently in.

Now some people may think that this is an interesting, abstract discussion, we have brilliant constitutional scholars, wonderful intellectual debate. But let me assure every person here, that the abdication of Congress to its responsibilities over war has had incredibly dire and horrific consequences for the people of our country, and in fact, the world. I want to bring this down to earth, and away from an abstract, though enormously important constitutional discussion.

I want to give you three examples in recent American history, where Congress did not ask the right questions – abdicated its responsibility – and the consequences were enormous. Very few Americans know that when we deal with Iran – very much in the news right now – how many people know that in 1953, the United States, along with the British, overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh, reinstalling authoritarian rule under the Shah? In 1979, the Shah was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution bringing into power an extremist anti-American government. In 1953, the United States government, without Congressional approval, thought it could simply remove the government of Iran, in order to protect wealthy oil interests. And what have been the consequences of that over the years?

Congress abdicated its responsibility.

And the second one, more relevant to my generation, was the war in Vietnam. In 1964 – now, Iran took place under Eisenhower, a Republican – in 1964, Lydon Johnston, Democrat, otherwise in my view a very great President, but in this instance, cited an attack on a US ship in the Gulf of Tonkin as a pretext for escalating the US intervention in Vietnam. But we now know, from his own recordings, that Johnston himself, doubted that story about that attack. Johnsons administration misled both Congress and the American people into a war that resulted in the loss of over 50 000 American soldiers and over 1 000 000 Vietnamese. Congress was lied to. There was no serious debate about American intervention in that war.

Third example, more recently, that we all remember was Iraq. Today it is now broadly acknowledged that the Iraq war was a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude. In this case, the Bush administration lied to the American people claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass distraction destruction. The result of that war? The loss of thousands of brave American soldiers and the displacement of millions of people in the Middle East and bringing us to where we are right now.

In other words, what we have seen is time and time again, disasters occur when administrations – Democrat and Republican – mislead Congress and the American people, and when Congress fails to do its constitutional job in terms of asking the hard questions of whether or not we should be in a war. And I think we need to ask that very hard question today. And here is the point that I hope American people are asking themselves. Is the War on Terror a perpetual, never ending war necessary to keep us safe? I personally believe that we have become far too comfortable with the United States engaging in military interventions all over the world.

After 9/11 Congress passed an authorisation for the use of military force, quote “against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States” end quote. The following year Congress passed the 2002 AUMF against Iraq.

We have now been in Afghanistan for 17 years. We have been in Iraq for 15 years. We are occupying a portion of Syria, and this administration has indicated it may broaden that mission even more. We are aging a secretive drone war in at least five countries. Our forces, right now, as we speak, are supporting a Saudi led war in Yemen which has killed thousands of civilians, and has created the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet today.

Clearly, these outdated and expansive AUMFs have been used by three different administrations, Republican and Democrat, as a blank cheque for the President to wage war without Congressional consent or oversight. Meanwhile we are currently, quote, unquote, “fighting terrorism” in some 76 countries, with an estimated cost of 5.6 Trillion dollars, and untold lives lost since 2001.

I think it is very clear, and our panelists I think ade the point extraordinarily well, without exception, that the time is long overdue Mr Chairman, for the UNited States Congress to respect the Constitution of this country, and to stand up for that Constitution, and to demand that it is the Congress of the United States – not a President – who determines whether our young men and women are put in harms way.

Thank you again Mr Chairman.



6 comments on ““That day” in September. ”

  1. Incognito 1

    Wow! Only one single woman has consistently opposed the AUMF since 2001.

    Interestingly, Sanders voted in favour: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2001/roll342.xml

    However, a year later, in 2002, he voted against the AUMF against Iraq: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/05/14/only-a-third-of-the-114th-congress-was-around-for-the-iraq-vote-but-a-lot-of-presidential-candidates-were/?utm_term=.1b6e16a21af1

    Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernie_Sanders#War_in_Iraq

    As long as the cycle of violence continues and the military-industrial complex makes trillions I think it will be near-impossible to repeal the AUMF.

    Awful stuff!

    PS I hope this comment won’t end up at the bottom of the OM pile as well.

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    Well, I share his sentiment but must point out the flaw in his logic. In the late 18th century the practice of state-craft and foreign policy incorporated the declaration of war as precursor to military attack. It was a geopolitical foreign policy norm.

    As far as I know, the last time war was declared was the start of WWII. Since the UN was founded to prevent repeats, we probably ought to assume that the practice of declaring war was discontinued as a result. Which was why the Korean War was never declared, and those since likewise. So now we have a different geopolitical foreign policy norm: states attack others or go to war without declaring war.

    So the authority Sanders is trying to invoke actually got eliminated 73 years ago. He was only four years old, so can’t blame him for not noticing. He ought to notice now, and reframe his stance accordingly. The power to make war has been usurped in the USA by the president. His task is to attack that usurpation!

    • Bill 2.1

      It’s a question of accountability.

      So the UK didn’t get to go whole hog on Syria because of a Parliamentary vote. Now sure, the UK military is still doing shit in Syria, so…..

      Anyway, pointing to how “the executive” (if that’s the right term) has usurped the authority of Congress, and how Congress has been happy enough to give up its constitutional responsibility, and doing that while giving a basic run down of, what to most Americans would be news, is quite a big thing.

      Wonder why (I don’t really) snippets of that speech, or the points raised, haven’t been reported on CNN, The Washington Post etc. 😉

      Anyway, I was quite surprised to learn that the US, apparently, hasn’t declared war since 1941, and that it’s actively engaged in this “War against Terrorism” in about 1/3rd of the countries in the world.

    • AB 2.2

      He’s doing exactly what you say he should be doing .
      You are getting bogged down in semantic pedantry around the word ‘declare’. Change the word ‘declare’ in what Sanders says to the word ‘wage’ or ‘make’, and your elaborate objections disappear.
      B*gger the semantics – the intent of what he is saying is perfectly clear and correct, whatever word he uses.

      • Dennis Frank 2.2.1

        Your logic applies to ordinary folk like you & me. At the level of statecraft & geopolitics, the key players co-create their own rules and conventions of engagement. I described the historical reality in the centuries leading up to WWII.

        The mistake Sanders made was basically to assume that those he was speaking to were as ignorant of that historical reality as he was. Those familiar with history would have felt he was insulting their intelligence. Uncool. Also, politically ineffective. You have to engage reality to be effective in politics: moral grandstanding hardly ever works.

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