After the House passes a rule banning calls for a debate or vote on war authorization, critics say Obama and congressional leadership are curbing dissent within own their ranks
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: After weeks of conducting airstrikes in Iraq to combat militant group ISIS, the government says it will be bombing at least four provinces in Syria. Amateur videos like this one posted on YouTube are already showing the damage of airstrikes on the civilian population. But on Tuesday, President Obama said that airstrikes are necessary to eventually defeating ISIS and the U.S. would not be going at this fight alone.
BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: We were joined in this action by our friends and partners–Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. America’s proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security.
DESVARIEUX: But while President Obama was delivering his press conference on the South Lawn, a group of demonstrators gathered in front of the White House to protest his actions.
DAVID SWANSON, DIRECTOR, WORLD BEYOND WAR: It is a violation of the Constitution in terms of Congress’s responsibility to declare war, a violation by the president, waging another recess war–when the Congress is out of town, wage a war; this is what his been his habit. But it’s also a violation by Congress itself, intentionally fleeing town.
DESVARIEUX: But whether or not the president has the authority won’t be debated on the Hill, since Congress is now in recess. And on Friday, September 21, the last day before recess, the House passed a resolution banning any member of Congress from calling the members of Congress back from recess to vote on giving the president authority to go to war.
Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern was in opposition of the rule.
JIM MCGOVERN, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE (D-MA): If any member of this House has any concerns about the ongoing military operations in Iraq, the potential of U.S. military airstrikes in Syria, or the possible introduction of U.S. combat ground forces into either country, then this rule will tie their hands for the next two months. Unfortunately, it is not clear if any vote will ever happen at any time in this House, even after we come back in November, even though there’s a growing bipartisan consensus that such an authorization is needed.
DESVARIEUX: Also, Republican members of Congress have come out in support of a vote and debate on bombing Syria. President Obama has maintained that he has the authority to send troops based on the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, which grants the president authority to use force against those responsible for the September 11 attacks, a rule that the president himself recognized goes too far in his speech last year at the National Defense University.
OBAMA: Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.
So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.
DESVARIEUX: Critics say that the War Powers Resolution of 1973 makes it illegal for the president to use force in another country without the approval from the legislature within 60 days of the first military action. The president first deployed troops to Iraq in June, and there still has been no vote.
SWANSON: The Congress members have the same power we have, and they could be protesting their leadership, they could be protesting the president. And yet they passed, through both houses, weapons and training and aid to rebels in Syria, close allies of the people they now say they are bombing. And then they passed a rule that said they can’t be forced back to vote on the war, and they left and went on vacation for months.
DESVARIEUX: These antiwar demonstrators are concerned about increased amounts of American ground troops, especially after former secretary of defense Robert Gates promoted the idea of boots on the ground.
ROBERT GATES, FMR. U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They’re not going to be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces or the Peshmerga or the Sunni tribes acting on their own. So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy.
DESVARIEUX: But President Obama has denied that any mission will involve more ground forces.
OBAMA: As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.
MEDEA BENJAMIN, COFOUNDER, CODEPINK: President Obama knows the American people don’t want boots on the ground, so he keeps saying no boots on the ground while he keeps sending boots on the ground. What do you call the 1,600 people who were there? He says they’re not going to be in combat positions. Hello? You’re sending them into this very, very dangerous area and they’re not going to be in harm’s way? Of course they are.
And so I think the American people are soon going to realize that just like under Bush they’ve been lied to about the imminent threat, they’ve been lied to about the other justifications, like the humanitarian one, like saving U.S. personnel. These are all justifications for a war that the Obama administration has unfortunately decided on.
DESVARIEUX: This week, the organization Campaign Nonviolence is organizing events in more than 200 cities. The demonstrators tried to deliver a letter to President Obama but were denied entrance, and five protesters were arrested. Protesters are calling for a solution outside of militarization.
SWANSON: An arms embargo would be a very good first step. Seventy-nine percent of weapons shipped into the Middle East are U.S. weapons shipped from the United States, not counting the U.S. military’s weapons. So there you’re three-quarters done on an arms embargo with one nation on board. But you have the leverage to talk to the other nations and cut off arms into the Middle East. While you’re talking to them, talk about a ceasefire, talk about realistic representative government in Iraq, talk with Iran and everyone else in the region, talk with Russia and Syria. I mean, and the White House does talk with these countries–it just talks to them about war, not about peace.
And then a massive Marshall Plan of actual aid, not so-called military aid, but humanitarian aid, economic aid, agricultural aid, water, medicine. I mean, these are wars motivated by poverty and desperation and the destruction of an occupation and the lack of clean drinking water in parts of Syria that got this civil war in Syria going in the first place. Use those roots of the problem as solutions. It would cost less.
DESVARIEUX: But with about 20 protesters in attendance, CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin says that they are going to need more mobilization from politicians and from the people if there’s ever going to be a change of course.
BENJAMIN: And if this were being done under Bush, we would see thousands of people out here protesting, we would see the Progressive Caucus yelling and screaming. And right now the Progressive Caucus in Congress, this very large body of congressional officials, is divided on this. You have the two cochairs with totally opposite opinions. One of them, Congressman Keith Ellison, voted to fund the rebels in Syria, and the other one, Raúl Grijalva, voted against it. So we don’t even have unity within the Progressive Caucus. If it were Bush, there would be unity in the Progressive Caucus and there would be a huge grassroots movement.
DESVARIEUX: For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.