Sometime during my "brief" spell as an imperial-accomplice, zombie-flicks became all the rage. So did tweeting and texting, by the way – which I learned the hard way when a phone bill ran to several hundred bucks after returning from my first failed war-surge. Turns out my data plan was almost as inadequate as the Pentagon’s Operation Cobra II scheme in Iraq. Perhaps it’s fitting then, that Representative Liz Cheney – progeny of its zombie neocon architect working on his second heart – took to Twitter last month to declare victory in America’s own zombie Afghan war. Not the classic sort of victory that ends a war and brings home victorious troops, naturally. Rather, hers was a partisan triumph, culmination of the bipartisan battle not to end Congress’s favorite endless war. Got that?
The absurd upshot was the Crow/Cheney amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), prohibiting the expenditure of monies to reduce U.S. troops levels below 8,000 unless stringent security conditions are met. Last month, the House Armed Services Committee approved the measure in a 45-11 landslide, then unanimously passed the full NDAA – as did the full House by a 295-125 margin. As if invented in an establishment lab, Crow/Cheney states that "a rapid military drawdown and a lack of United States commitment to the security and stability of Afghanistan would undermine diplomatic efforts for peace." (In the contemporary American-dialect of Orwellian "Newspeak," withdrawal from even 19 year-old wars counts as "rapid.") Good to know that Congress is in the ending-any-ending of endless wars business.
The US Constitution explicitly states that only Congress "shall have power" to declare and finance wars. Yet over time, first gradually, then rapidly, – especially since World War II – legislative primacy eroded. Covetous presidents clutched war powers that Congress often voluntarily abdicated. But even if commanders-in-chief now near-unilaterally resolve where and when America fights, wars cost money and congressmen could shut them down right along with the fiscal spigot. They almost never do.
That’s largely because, since the draft ended in 1973, retaining inertial wars is low risk; and ending them offers almost no rewards. In fact, even when a war – like the record-length Afghan one – becomes clearly hopeless, the party, faction, or legislator that blinks incurs serious political costs. They can expect to be smeared as "soft" on national security (or "communism," or "terror") and/or alienate their true masters: donors, lobbyists, and media moguls who all share a professional and pecuniary interest in a mammoth military-industrial-complex. As a result, aside from some momentary grandstanding, partisan point-scoring, rather than principles or prudence, usually drives decisions on the minor matters of war and peace.
Two standout examples should suffice. Despite enduring hawk-peddled myths that Congress ended the Vietnam War by cutting off votes or funds – thereby "abandoning the troops" – legislators never meaningfully did so. As late as September 1970 – when the US had incurred more than 90 percent of its total fatalities – the McGovern-Hatfield amendment, which called only for an end to the war’s Cambodian incursion, failed by a vote of 55-39. By the time Congress did cut funding to South Vietnam – four years later – from a proposed 1.26 billion to 700 million dollars, 99.88 percent of the doomed American soldiers had already died in vain.
In other words, Congress never actually defunded the troops. It decreased military aid to the South Vietnamese only after Presidents Nixon and Ford had decided, for their own complex reasons, to end the US war. It is true that as North Vietnamese tanks drove towards Saigon in April 1975, key senators came to the White House and firmly refused to reopen the US war effort; but by that point there were few American troops left and they had almost zero combat role. The conclusion of a specially commissioned 1975 House Democratic Study Group may be the final nail in the sell-out-the-troops myth’s coffin: "Up to the spring of 1973, Congress gave every president everything he requested regarding Indochina policies and funding."
Thirty some odd years later, the Democrats seized both Houses of Congress in a November 2006 election that amounted to a veritable referendum on the Iraq quagmire. Still, wouldn’t you know that just a month later – despite polling suggesting 2/3 of Americans opposed the war and a majority desired rapid withdrawal – none other than incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took Congress’s power of the purse off the table. Asked by a reporter if the new Democratic-controlled Congress would vote to stop funding of the war if President Bush refused to change his Iraq strategy, Pelosi answered "We will not cut off funding for the troops…Absolutely not." That master-bargainer is still at the helm of the "People’s House."
Then there was the Democrat’s Obama-era hypocrisy penchant. You remember that stage of the abusive relationship with our representatives, right? The part when we learned that morality and efficacy of extrajudicial drone executions, regime change fiascoes, and forlorn troop surges mainly hinges on the party affiliation of the reigning elected emperor. These were the fearful political calculuses I’ve long dubbed "Congress’s Romance with Cowardice." Only I was wrong – hopeless optimist I am – all along.
The Crow-Cheney pivot demonstrates a congressional capacity for criminal obscenity that should’ve been obvious long ago. We the People’s esteemed representatives have truly jumped the democratic shark and inverted the Founders’ intended function for their war-purse powers. Congress has created the seemingly scientifically impossible: a perpetual (warfare) motion machine. The crime in that, according to my colleague and early muse Andrew Bacevich, "is to persist beyond all reason in a misguided war…to put American soldiers at risk for no definable purpose."
In part, Congress’s proclivity to prolong the Afghan pointlessness is fueled by a dubious and dangerous Russian Bounty-gate yarn that bipartisan majorities fell for hook-line-and-sinker. Worse still, the regrettable roll call of Crow/Cheney and its inclusive NDAA supporters includes more than just the usual militarism suspects. Any sentient subject would expect peace-pushback from Republican neocons, bipartisan Israeli-"assets," and hawkish-Dem "deplorables" like, respectively, Tom "troops-in-the-streets" Cotton, ex-CIA-analyst/recipient of ample AIPAC-largess, Elissa Slotkin, and the Armed Services Committee’s in-house Pelosi-plant Donald Norcross.
But hawkish overreactions to Bounty-gate also included folks with some otherwise admirable antiwar positions. Even Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy – a commendable critic of U.S. complicity in the Saudi crime against Yemen – attacked Trump’s "failure to hold Russia accountable for bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan." He and others decline to define what exactly should constitute accountability-holding in a long lost war that Murphy himself wanted to end – until, that is, it was Mr. Trump negotiating the ending.
Yet the wretched roll contains even the much-touted post-9/11 combat vets recently
by Democrats to bolster their toughness bonafides. These ostensible "brothers"-in-arms
are dead to me. Full stop. After all, what does one call a Mr.
Crow who shares your struggles, employs his vet-badge-of-honor, then "goes
to Washington" only to sell out the 73
percent of his brethren who support full withdrawal from a war that
broke so many? I vote "Congressional Collaborator."
The Democratic Iraq/Afghan veterans on the House Armed Services who backed the perpetual-war-amendment – Jason Crow, Seth Moulton, Jared Golden, and Ruben Gallego – along with all the other vet-quislings on The Hill deserve (metaphorically, I suppose) the same post-liberation treatment as French women who fornicated with their Nazi occupiers. Only instead of shaving their fraternizing heads, let’s trim these turncoats terms in office.
Now that Congress has shown the "courage" of its combat-continuation "convictions," expect a repeat performance enabling the next (potentially extinctive) war – this time in Europe. As I noted with exasperation here last week, congressional majorities are appalled, just appalled, by Trump’s plan to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany. It doesn’t matter that the Europeans can capably handle their own defense in the event of a future war that America’s expatriate-soldiers shouldn’t risk, can’t win, and mustn’t be fought. At least if our species-mates would like to meet their prospective grandkids. After all, Raytheon and Lockheed want to maximize profits, their indebted congressional pawns desire job security, and even re-deployments have price tags – probably several billion dollars, per Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s initial swag.
So strap in for a likely Crow-Cheney encore folks – relentless Liz already tweeted her (and 21 colleagues) opposition, since withdrawing any troops from Germany would surely "do grave damage to our national security." See, those soldiers might not be going anywhere. The Donald rarely denies himself even premature victory laps, but just this once he ought recall the "Gambler” wisdom of the late Kenny Rogers: "You never count your money, when you’re sitting at the table." In Imperial America, the Military-Industrial-Complex "House" always wins; and congressional dealers are a wily lot. Here’s a pro-tip for my buddies stationed in Germany: maybe hold off on packing your bags.
Unfortunately, unlike in Europe, there’s nothing hypothetical about an extant Afghan adventure where Washington’s gamblers count their losses in other people’s blood. At least a handful of the remaining American troops, and who knows how many thousands of Afghans, will undoubtedly perish in this hopeless mess. On the ground, that US zombie-war is already over. It was unwinnable from the start, and lost long ago.
Just a shame no one told all the walking-dead still patrolling the place…
Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and contributing editor at Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Mother Jones, ScheerPost and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. His forthcoming book, Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War (Heyday Books) is available for pre-order. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet and see his website for speaking/media requests and past publications.
Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen