I live in the little town of Sebastopol, in northern California’s Sonoma county: think of Berkeley, only with horses. It’s the kind of town where a sign, posted near an impressive grid of solar energy screens, greets you as you enter the city limits, declaring Sebastopol a "nuclear-free zone" – and where, as you might imagine, the Iraq war wasn’t exactly all that popular. My congressman is one Jared Huffman – a liberal Democrat, naturally: Republicans don’t stand a chance in these parts – and so when I heard President Obama was sending yet more troops to Iraq, as well as ordering air strikes, I called Huffman’s Washington office, convinced my concerns would be getting a sympathetic hearing – a notion of which I was soon disabused.
The polite young man who answered the phone listened with great patience as I asked when the Honorable Huffman was going to invoke the War Powers Act in regard to our renewed presence in Iraq. There was what seemed like a long silence before he spoke up – at least it seemed to me like a significant pause.
Having gathered his thoughts, the aide finally replied: Well, you see, Congress is "on vacation," – and then – having already revealed too much – he corrected himself. "Congress is in recess," he said. "So,” I asked, “there’s nothing to be done?" "Not until the 60 day limit is reached under the War Powers Act" he answered. I sighed, and wearily told him I am urging the congressman to invoke the WPA when the time came. The aide said he would communicate my concerns to Huffman.
I forgot about the incident until, the other day, when Rachel Maddow reminded us all that the 60-day limit had been reached: she took a large chunk of her show and devoted it to this subject, putting the President’s letters informing Congress of the troop movements up on the screen and drawing our attention to the dates. And she reminded us again a couple of days ago, pointing out that the 60-day limit had already passed – and still Congress hadn’t voted. What is going on?
Well, Congress is still
on vacation in recess, so I thought the easiest way to reach Rep. Huffman would be on Twitter – and I was right. Here is the exchange that followed:
What jumps out at me about this brief exchange is that Huffman didn’t care about the War Powers Act, he only wanted to correct the impression that he and his congressional confreres might be taking a vacation from their constitutional duties. He didn’t lower himself to answer my question about the 60-day time limit on the President’s alleged power to send troops abroad willy-nilly. Why should he? After all, we’re just peons living in fly-over country – and during my follow-up phone call to his office I thought I heard someone saying in the background: "Is that Justin Raimondo again?"
Yes, our political class disdains our very existence – but only, it’s important to note, on a one-to-one basis. When we show up in numbers, they suddenly begin to pay more respectful attention, and the bigger the numbers the more respectful it gets.
We saw this principle in operation during the last Syria "crisis," a ginned-up incident which purportedly had Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad dropping poison gas on civilians in rebel-held cities – although Seymour Hersh and Carla del Ponte had a different story to tell. In any case, the President announced imminent air strikes and the Beltway know-it-alls pontificated on the need for "boots on the ground" (the War Party’s favored remedy for all ills worldwide), confident they’d soon be getting their wish … except it wasn’t to be.
Congress and the White House were deluged with phone calls, emails, and what-have-you, expressing opposition to this ill-advised course and, most importantly, reminding our leaders of this minor detail called the Constitution of the United States – which explicitly gives Congress alone the power to declare war.
The White House responded by tossing the hot coal to Congress, announcing that Obama would break all recent precedent and let our elected representatives discuss – and vote on – the issue. It was fun to watch these complacent aristocrats – who were then, as now, "in recess" (i.e. on taxpayer-paid vacation) – drop their tennis rackets and rush back to Washington, all the while solemnly declaring they’d been against it before they were for it – and now they were against it again. The congressional phone lines were tied up for days, and it was a joy to watch the fence-sitters and even some of the War Party’s reliable allies pledge to vote "no" in the face of their constituents’ wrath.
Obama backed down, war was averted – and we all went back to our summer vacations. But the War Party wasn’t about to let us off the hook….
First it was the poor persecuted Yazidis, whose fate was supposedly hanging in the balance – unless we rushed in with the 82nd Airborne, bombed the crap out of their persecutors – ISIS, the new Islamist bogeyman – and rescued them. If we didn’t go back to Iraq, we were told, a "genocide" was all but certain. As it turned out, however, the parlous condition of the Yazidis was a bit more than slightly exaggerated: by the time US special forces reached them the remaining Yazidis had undergone a miraculous recovery, they felt much better, thank you – and, as they told their no doubt astonished (and annoyed) would-be rescuers, they preferred to stay on Mount Singar, where they have lived for centuries.
Disappointed but not deterred, the War Party went back to the drawing board and bided their time. They didn’t have long to wait for their next opportunity: it arose when ISIS – formerly a Syrian rebel group which had now invaded Iraq – beheaded journalist-photographer James Foley and posted a video of their horrific act on the Internet. And just to give the War Party an added fillip: in that same video they displayed yet another American prisoner – Steven Sotloff, a journalist – who they threatened to execute in a similar manner. Addressing the President directly, the ISIS orc said – with a distinctly British accent – "His fate is in your hands," or words to that effect. The message: stop the bombing and get your troops out.
This naturally provoked an outcry in the media: even though people are routinely beheaded in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia lopped off 17 heads just the other day – this hit too close to home. Now the drums are beating for the President to "do something," i.e. something more than just lob a few bombs and send a measly force of some 1,000-plus back to Iraq. On the "progressive" left as well as the neocon right the cry is being heard: "Back to Iraq!" And the latter are using this as an excuse to say "I told you so!" on account of their spurned advice that we ought to bomb/invade Syria and overthrow Assad.
The War Powers Act? A rational debate before we step back into the Iraqi quagmire? Not on your life! Our enraged media is having none of that: nor are the Washington eggheads who sit behind a computer all day thinking up new ways to embroil us in futile, destructive wars.
The last public eruption of rage over our foreign policy of endless war – over Syria – didn’t happen spontaneously. A coalition of the few functioning antiwar groups – including Antiwar.com – mounted a phone campaign to scare Congress out of going along with this nonsense. In the end, when the outcome was predictable, the vote was rendered moot by the President’s walk-back. We here at Antiwar.com were a vital part of that effort: we were among the first to publicize and promote it in every way we could. Thousands of our readers called in, wrote in, and otherwise made their opposition to the Syrian strike known to our wise rulers.
This time, however, it doesn’t look like any similar campaign is going to arise to challenge the even more serious threat to the peace posed by the President’s actions in Iraq. And I have to say that Antiwar.com is at the moment so involved in fighting for its very life that our minuscule and hideously overworked staff has neither the time nor the energy to launch such a campaign.
Yes, I said we’re fighting for our life – as we are every time we have to drop everything and concentrate on raising funds from our readers, just to keep going.
The War Party doesn’t have to worry about such mundane matters: they have plenty of billionaire warmongers (Hi Sheldon!) to fill their coffers. They don’t have to troll for small donations from their supporters – it’s all handed to them by the neocon-industrial complex.
We, on the other hand, don’t enjoy such luxury: we depend on you, our readers, to give us the financial means to continue our activism on behalf of a more peaceful world. You’ve been great about this in the past – the past 15 or so years, that is – but lately I’ve noticed it’s getting harder. It used to take us a week to meet our goal: these days it’s closer to three weeks. That last email blast we sent out didn’t garner a big response, and so I’m forced to put today’s column in the service of our fundraising campaign – rather than, say, as part of an all-out effort to hector people into calling their congressional representatives.
Look: I don’t want to dun you any more than I have to – but please understand that I have to. I promise to STFU if only you’ll just click on this – and make your tax-deductible donation to Antiwar.com right now.
The "right now" part of that exhortation is important because we’ve just raised $26,000 in matching funds (and another $10,000 worth of Bitcoin) – which means, we only get the money if we can get our readers to match it with a large number of smaller contributions.
We’re marching back into Iraq with almost no opposition – not even a vote in Congress! What else do I have to say to impress on you the urgency of meeting Antiwar.com’s fundraising goal? Please make your donation today – so we can get to work doing our real job tomorrow.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.