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How to Tell if a Candidate Backs War or Peace


I just had a chat with a Democratic candidate who has just about wrapped up his party's nomination for Congress here in Virginia's Fifth Congressional District.  John Douglass is a retired Brigadier General, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and a former deputy U.S. military representative to the NATO Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.  

Obviously a candidate for war, right?  That's not what people were telling me, and not what Douglass himself says.  He tells me he's for peace and for moving from an offensive military to one that is truly defensive.  Rather than wars in the Middle East, he says, he'd like to search every container that enters our country and control every passage across out country's borders. Such policies, he says, don't threaten anyone or produce terrorism.

But, here's the catch.  In recent years in this district, Congressman Virgil Goode (a Democrat turned Republican), Congressman Tom Perriello (Democrat), and the current incumbent Robert Hurt (Republican) have voted for every "emergency" supplemental war spending bill they could get their hands on, along with every "defense" appropriations act. Perriello said he was for peace and justice and the rule of law, but would never commit to anything, and always voted for war. So, I asked Douglass if he would commit to anything.

To avoid asking about hypothetical situations, I asked Douglass if he would have voted against any of the war funding bills that his predecessors voted for. "Maybe I would and maybe I wouldn't," he replied. "It's hard for me to put myself in their position from not being there."  

Think about what that means. In this government of the people, the people have no ability to determine whether a bill deserved support or not, even years after the fact, much less when it counts, because the people are not all members of Congress. Those of us who lobby a Congress member to vote a particular way on something have no business doing that because we are not in their position. Their job is to represent us, then, without asking us what we want, since we are not qualified to say.

Douglass said that, "Once the troops are committed, it would be hard for me not to support them." He said he would vote to fund even wars that he had opposed launching. I asked if it would make a difference to him if the majority of the troops told pollsters they wanted the war ended. I asked if it would make a difference to him if the top cause of death for the troops was suicide. Summing up his answer: Nope, he replied, and the question is too theoretical.

So, I asked about a particular bill now in Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee's bill which limits funding in Afghanistan to withdrawal. Would he sign onto it? Again, no commitment. "Probably," he said. This wasn't a theoretical bill, but it was a bill that he said he hadn't read. Still, he would not commit to the principle or to the bill as I described it.

I asked Douglass if he would have voted, as Rep. Hurt did, against this year's National Defense Authorization Act in opposition to the power of indefinite detention. Again the answer was: "Probably." Probably he would oppose authorizing presidents to lock us up forever without a trial. Probably.

Douglass told me that military spending is too high. I asked him repeatedly for a rough indication of how much too high it is, and I never got even a hint at an answer. Repeatedly Douglass suggested that the problem in Washington is partisan division and polarization, even though both parties overwhelmingly back military spending and wars. Repeatedly Douglass changed the subject to reducing nuclear weapons, but he drew the line at maintaining what he called "a credible deterrent against crazy people like North Koreans or God forbid the Iranians get nuclear weapons." He also promoted "modernizing" U.S. nuclear weapons.

I asked about the roles of Congress and the President in decision making. I asked if an agreement for 10 more years in Afghanistan needed Senate ratification to be Constitutional. Douglass replied that his "first instinct" would be to say yes. I asked if presidents could start wars without Congress, and Douglass replied that some wars are not technically wars, but he could still commit to a definite maybe. Elaborating, Douglass said that while he'd like to allow Congress to make such decisions, he would be opposed to giving that power to the current Congress because it's too polarized. This creates a puzzle, as far as I can see, because if Douglass tries to de-polarize Congress by agreeing with the greatest number of his colleagues, that greatest number clearly favors leaving all war decisions to presidents. If instead Douglass were to take a stand for (and not just swear an oath to) the Constitution, he would become part of the horrifying polarization. I pointed out that neither the Constitution nor the War Powers Act makes exceptions for polarized Congresses, and Douglass said, "There are also practicalities."

Given what I took to be his loose reading of the law, I thought I should ask Douglass about the current practice of murdering people around the world with drones. He said he approved of it, including for U.S. citizens, but only for men, never for women or children. I asked about the killing of Anwar al Awlaki, and Douglass said he did not know that case. Nor did he seem to be aware that the United States had also, in a separate strike weeks later, killed Awlaki's 16-year-old son. In theory, Douglass opposes that act, although he apparently doesn't know of it.

I continued to try to figure out what Douglass would do as a member of Congress if he opposed a war or military spending. Would he vote against funding? Would he vote for defunding? No telling. Would he back a process of economic conversion from weapons industries to civilian industries? Not at all clear. So, how do I know whether to vote for you, I asked.  

Vote for my military record, said Douglass.  

Can't do it, said I.  

In desperation, I asked if he would take a stand against a war on Iran. Douglass replied that Iran might attack U.S. ships. Why not move the U.S. ships away from Iran, I asked.  

Responding to that outrageous question, Douglass became more agitated than at any other time in the interview:

"We have a right to send our Navy anywhere we want in the world," he exclaimed. "And the Gulf [sic] of Hormuz is the lifeline of oil for the Western civilization! So why would you want to just walk away from the Gulf [sic] of Hormuz because of those guys?"  

Here's audio of the full conversation with John Douglass:
http://warisacrime.org/downloads/johndouglas2.mp3

 

What a Real Peace Candidate Looks Like

I recently wrote about a conversation I'd had with a fairly typical Democratic candidate for Congress (O.K. perhaps he was below average) — a former military officer who claims to be for peace, but whose every solution involves war. I asked him to make commitments on what sort of things he would vote for or against, and he evaded every such question, while maintaining that he held a desire for peace somewhere in his heart.

The suspicion might arise in a reasonable reader that candidates simply don't make commitments and perhaps shouldn't. Every situation is unique. Candidates can't know the details of a future bill or the context in which it might be brought to a vote. They can simply tell you what values they hold dear, what accomplishments grace their resumes, and how utterly worthless their opponents are. More than that one should not ask.

This suspicion can be set aside in one of two ways. The first would be a commonsense belief in democracy. How the hell can you elect people to do what you want done if they refuse to tell you what they'll do?  If they won't tell you how they would have voted on past bills, or whether they would cosponsor existing bills, and if they consider looming wars that are constantly in the news to be "too hypothetical," you can bet they're hiding something, and you can bet that something stinks.

The other way to set aside the suspicion that candidates won't make anti-war commitments is to find candidates who do. I'd like to point out one who is probably at the top of the list. It's almost unfair to compare him with one of the worst candidates his party is fielding. Yet he is almost certainly the best example of a new candidate running for an open seat and making a commitment to peace a central part of his platform.

Norman Solomon's background involves decades in the peace movement. He's studied and written books and produced films about peace and war. He's traveled to war zones in an effort to prevent wars. It shouldn't be surprising that he would favor peace when he decides to run for office. Yet there is a widespread and growing notion that those who most favor peace and can best work for peace are members of the military, or retired members of the military. Electing these warriors for peace almost always leads to bitter disappointment, and yet the notion remains in the back of people's heads that the best peace makers are the experts on war. The idea that there might be experts on peace, that there might be value in the expertise that caused certain of those experts to draw the right conclusions about our current wars before they started — this is all off the radar screen of our public discussion.

Norman Solomon, Democratic candidate in California's Second Congressional District (the north coast), is committed to supporting two bills that have been introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland. One of them, HR 780, which has 70 cosponsors, would limit Afghan war funding to paying for troop withdrawal. The other, HR 4173, which has 27 cosponsors, would create diplomatic talks with Iran and forbid (with narrow exceptions) any unconstitutional attack on Iran not authorized by Congress. 

Solomon would not only have voted no on this year's National Defense Authorization Act and its provision of presidential power to indefinitely imprison, but Solomon publicly opposed it when it was up for debate.

Solomon would defund the current wars and has publicly lobbied Congress to use the power of the purse to defund immoral, illegal wars since the days of the war on Vietnam.

Solomon is committed to the struggle to restore to Congress its constitutional authority to declare and authorize war.

More can be found on Solomon's website at http://solomonforcongress.com including this:

"Ending Perpetual War

"I favor – and have repeatedly called for – the swift and safe withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"As national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign (along with Congressman John Conyers and Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association), I support significant cuts in unnecessary military spending – with commensurate increases in funding for healthcare, education and other human needs. . . ."

". . . Real national security involves shifting much of our perpetual military spending to programs that create sustainable jobs, expand education and opportunity, and rebuild our economy and our communities. . . ."

". . . I am opposed to any more pre-emptive invasions and attacks that cause enormous human suffering while further inflaming anti-U.S. sentiment. The United States should fully abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons. . . ."

". . . I support robust public investment in economic programs that create living-wage jobs. The government should invest directly in the nation's infrastructure, and in social services that help stabilize our communities. . . ."

". . . I strongly support H.R. 870 – the 'Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act' — introduced by Congressman John Conyers, which provides for a federal policy of full employment. With a one-quarter of 1 percent transaction tax on Wall Street, the bill would generate roughly $150 billion per year in revenues, creating millions of new jobs. . . ."

". . . For decades — as an activist, author and nationally syndicated columnist — I have detailed how big money in politics promotes everything from war and environmental degradation to economic injustice and unfair trade treaties to media conglomeration and corporatization of healthcare. In my largely volunteer-driven campaign for Congress, I have implemented a grassroots approach to fundraising: raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from several thousand (mostly small) donors, while refusing to accept a penny of corporate PAC money. As a member of Congress, one of my top priorities will be to back legislation and a constitutional amendment aimed at removing money from politics."

My recommendation to people who don't have decent candidates in their districts is to organize, educate, mobilize, focus on building pressure in between elections, and support Norman Solomon for Congress.

Full disclosure: I ought to oppose just that, because I have lost Norman as a colleague at RootsAction while he campaigns and will lose him permanently if he is elected. But what's best for my daily grind is in conflict with what's best for the country.

David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio

What a Real Peace Candidate Looks Like

I recently wrote about a conversation I'd had with a fairly typical Democratic candidate for Congress (O.K. perhaps he was below average) — a former military officer who claims to be for peace, but whose every solution involves war. I asked him to make commitments on what sort of things he would vote for or against, and he evaded every such question, while maintaining that he held a desire for peace somewhere in his heart.

The suspicion might arise in a reasonable reader that candidates simply don't make commitments and perhaps shouldn't. Every situation is unique. Candidates can't know the details of a future bill or the context in which it might be brought to a vote. They can simply tell you what values they hold dear, what accomplishments grace their resumes, and how utterly worthless their opponents are. More than that one should not ask.

This suspicion can be set aside in one of two ways. The first would be a commonsense belief in democracy. How the hell can you elect people to do what you want done if they refuse to tell you what they'll do?  If they won't tell you how they would have voted on past bills, or whether they would cosponsor existing bills, and if they consider looming wars that are constantly in the news to be "too hypothetical," you can bet they're hiding something, and you can bet that something stinks.

The other way to set aside the suspicion that candidates won't make anti-war commitments is to find candidates who do. I'd like to point out one who is probably at the top of the list. It's almost unfair to compare him with one of the worst candidates his party is fielding. Yet he is almost certainly the best example of a new candidate running for an open seat and making a commitment to peace a central part of his platform.

Norman Solomon's background involves decades in the peace movement. He's studied and written books and produced films about peace and war. He's traveled to war zones in an effort to prevent wars. It shouldn't be surprising that he would favor peace when he decides to run for office. Yet there is a widespread and growing notion that those who most favor peace and can best work for peace are members of the military, or retired members of the military. Electing these warriors for peace almost always leads to bitter disappointment, and yet the notion remains in the back of people's heads that the best peace makers are the experts on war. The idea that there might be experts on peace, that there might be value in the expertise that caused certain of those experts to draw the right conclusions about our current wars before they started — this is all off the radar screen of our public discussion.

Norman Solomon, Democratic candidate in California's Second Congressional District (the north coast), is committed to supporting two bills that have been introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland. One of them, HR 780, which has 70 cosponsors, would limit Afghan war funding to paying for troop withdrawal. The other, HR 4173, which has 27 cosponsors, would create diplomatic talks with Iran and forbid (with narrow exceptions) any unconstitutional attack on Iran not authorized by Congress. 

Solomon would not only have voted no on this year's National Defense Authorization Act and its provision of presidential power to indefinitely imprison, but Solomon publicly opposed it when it was up for debate.

Solomon would defund the current wars and has publicly lobbied Congress to use the power of the purse to defund immoral, illegal wars since the days of the war on Vietnam.

Solomon is committed to the struggle to restore to Congress its constitutional authority to declare and authorize war.

More can be found on Solomon's website at http://solomonforcongress.com including this:

"Ending Perpetual War

"I favor – and have repeatedly called for – the swift and safe withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"As national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign (along with Congressman John Conyers and Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association), I support significant cuts in unnecessary military spending – with commensurate increases in funding for healthcare, education and other human needs. . . ."

". . . Real national security involves shifting much of our perpetual military spending to programs that create sustainable jobs, expand education and opportunity, and rebuild our economy and our communities. . . ."

". . . I am opposed to any more pre-emptive invasions and attacks that cause enormous human suffering while further inflaming anti-U.S. sentiment. The United States should fully abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons. . . ."

". . . I support robust public investment in economic programs that create living-wage jobs. The government should invest directly in the nation's infrastructure, and in social services that help stabilize our communities. . . ."

". . . I strongly support H.R. 870 – the 'Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act' — introduced by Congressman John Conyers, which provides for a federal policy of full employment. With a one-quarter of 1 percent transaction tax on Wall Street, the bill would generate roughly $150 billion per year in revenues, creating millions of new jobs. . . ."

". . . For decades — as an activist, author and nationally syndicated columnist — I have detailed how big money in politics promotes everything from war and environmental degradation to economic injustice and unfair trade treaties to media conglomeration and corporatization of healthcare. In my largely volunteer-driven campaign for Congress, I have implemented a grassroots approach to fundraising: raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from several thousand (mostly small) donors, while refusing to accept a penny of corporate PAC money. As a member of Congress, one of my top priorities will be to back legislation and a constitutional amendment aimed at removing money from politics."

My recommendation to people who don't have decent candidates in their districts is to organize, educate, mobilize, focus on building pressure in between elections, and support Norman Solomon for Congress.

Full disclosure: I ought to oppose just that, because I have lost Norman as a colleague at RootsAction while he campaigns and will lose him permanently if he is elected. But what's best for my daily grind is in conflict with what's best for the country.

David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio

  

 

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