The rebellion in Congress against US intervention in the Libyan civil war was effectively quashed by the Democrats when a majority of Republicans voted in favor of a bipartisan resolution to defund the mission, but the Democratic leadership kept enough of their caucus in line to defeat the measure. The proposed legislation, co-sponsored by Reps. Dennis “Department of Peace” Kucinich, and Justin “Tea Party” Amash, perfectly embodies the spirit of the growing left-right foreign policy alliance as expressed in a recent open letter released by Come Home America, calling for an end to our role as the world’s policeman. The letter was signed by a dizzyingly diverse range of political pundits and publicists, from Ralph Nader and Medea Benjamin to Dan McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative, as well as my reactionary self. In short, a group of people who don’t have much in common politically – except a growing sense of outrage at what is being done in our name overseas.
The fate of this legislation – defeat, in a close vote of 199-229 – underscores the main obstacle faced by this new left-right convergence: the partisan Democrats who are reflexively voting in support of the Obama administration. Voting in favor of Kucinich/Amash were 132 Republicans and a mere 67 Democrats, while 106 GOP’ers of the neocon persuasion voted nay, along with the majority (123) of Democrats.
Interestingly, however, while a majority of Republicans supported the Kucinich-Amash amendment, the top leadership of both parties in the House voted nay. As Felicia Somnez reports in the Washington Post:
“The top three members of the Democratic caucus voted against the Kucinich-Amash measure, although the number four and five House Democrats, Rep. John Larson (Conn.) and Xavier Becerra (Calif.), voted ‘yes.’ The number two and number three House Republicans also voted ‘no,’ while the fourth-ranking GOP leader, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), voted in favor.”
A hard-fought battle pitted the President of the United States and the leadership of both parties against a bipartisan (albeit largely conservative) insurgency directly challenging not only the Imperial Presidency but the policy of imperialism per se – and the latter almost won!
The significance of this vote has little to do with the legislative outcome: it signals a sea change, especially among conservative Republicans, on the vital foreign policy issue – and also a similarly fundamental change — albeit in the wrong direction, sadly — on the left. The Democrats’ complete abandonment of any pretense to being the “antiwar” party, which collared more than a few voters into Democratic ranks during the Bush years, is now complete.
Even more telling is a vote that took place prior to the roll call on Kucinich/Amash, on a measure sponsored by Republican Tom Cole, of Oklahoma, that bars any and all aid to the Libyan rebels. That measure passed, with 177 Republicans voting aye, and 141 Democrats voting nay. When the issue was clearly and narrowly drawn — meddling in a civil war, or not — the Democrats voted overwhelming to meddle, whilst the Republicans just as overwhelmingly voted to stay out of it. What could be clearer?
The President has openly insulted the Congress by donning the clown’s mask of an “argument” for not seeking their authorization, claiming this isn’t really a war, it’s a “kinetic military action.” Surely this has provoked much congressional ire, and there is also the partisan factor – but this last has been over-hyped and largely misunderstood. Because what changes peoples’ minds toward war — and many other vital issues — is the context in which they occur. We live in history, and its tides carry us along in wildly unpredictable directions. “Partisanship” can therefore lead us to make connections we might not otherwise make: in the case of many conservative Republicans, this means making the connection between our President’s free-spending and economically intrusive policies on the home front and his extravagant meddling abroad.
Conversely, the same connections are being made by the President’s ostensibly “liberal” supporters, with very different results. After all, if one believes Big Government can solve the problems of the American people, then why not take that principle and apply it to the peoples of the whole world? To the modern liberal, for whom government action is the ultimate generator and guarantor of human progress, it would be discriminatory – not to mention “racist” – to refrain from projecting Washington’s beneficence on the rest of the humanity.
No matter what the official rationale, however, or what party our warmongering leaders belong to, they all wind up sounding pretty much alike. At a recent press conference, the President confronted his critics on the Libya issue, taking his cue from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
“We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tyrants in the world, somebody who nobody should want to defend. And this suddenly becomes the cause celebre for some folks in Congress? Come on. A lot of this fuss is politics.”
In making the argument that critics of the Libyan adventure want to “defend” Gadhafi, Hillary was even more explicit: “Whose side are you on?”, she shrieked. They both sound like George W. Bush and his neoconservative minions, who were constantly attacking critics of the Iraq war as being somehow sympathetic to “the terrorists.” Similarly, this liberal blogger sounds just like the neocon blogosphere (note the illustration) during the worst of the Bush era.
So it happens that opponents of US military intervention who were once labeled Nixon-hating “hippies” of the“far left,” and typified as pacifistic “peaceniks,” are now characterized as Obama-hating “far right” reactionaries. The epithets may change, but the issue isn’t going to go away – no matter how vicious the smear campaign gets. Because both the left and the right are fast waking up to the fact that they’re being taken for a ride by the War Party – which profits from empire while the rest of us pay.
That’s why Come Home America – a new left-right antiwar initiative – is vitally important. I urge my readers to sign up and get actively involved: this is the one antiwar organization I can unreservedly endorse. Chapters are springing up across the nation, and now is the time to get actively involved. Because there never was a better time for the nation to hear its message loud and clear: America, won’t you please come home?