Status Report: Our Peace Agenda
Our Peace Agenda: A Status Report
by Paul Surovell, Chair
South Mountain Peace Action
February 5, 2008
South Mountain Peace Action's Focus in 2007: Congress Act Now to End the War!
South Mountain Peace Action's priority in 2007 was to urge Congress to act now to end the war in Iraq. We delivered 1,337 signatures in March and hundreds of letters in September, to our Senators and Congressmen. We held rallies in May and August (in coordination with MoveOn.org) and initiated email and telephone campaigns throughout the year. In September we organized a delegation of students and adults to lobby our Senators' representatives in Newark. We organized two busloads to attend the Washington peace rally in January, and we returned to DC in July with Maplewood's Mayor Profeta and Township Committee member De Luca to participate in Cities for Peace Day.
To review these and other actions taken by SMPA in 2007, including our annual Be About Peace Day event and peace proclamations by Maplewood and South Orange, go to our "actions and events" page at www.beaboutpeace.com and scroll down.
What Congress Did in 2007
There were many initiatives in Congress to end the war in Iraq in 2007. Although none of these efforts succeeded, some received majority votes. In March and April, majorities in both houses voted for an appropriations bill with withdrawal timetables, but the bill was vetoed by the President in May. The withdrawal language was removed in the final bill. In November, a majority in the House voted to attach a withdrawal timetable to another Iraq appropriations bill. A majority in the Senate voted to end debate on the bill but failed to meet the 60-vote threshhold to prevent a Republican filibuster. (In March and April, the Senate Republicans did not demand 60 votes to close debate because they mistakenly assumed the withdrawal language would not get a majority)
In November, Congress passed the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 that authorized -- but did not appropriate -- $189 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. The Act included five sections that (1) prohibited the building of permanent bases and the exercise of US control over Iraqi oil resources (2) the creation of a commission to assess contracting in Iraq (3) enhanced protection for Defense Department whistleblowers (4) a requirement that intelligence agencies reply to armed services committee inquiries within 45 days and (5) an amendment to the US code to hold foreign states liable in US courts for claims of terrorism.
The Defense Authorization Act was vetoed by President Bush on December 28th because of his concern about the impact on the Iraq by the fifth section on foreign liability described above. In January 2008 Congress passed an amended version of the Act which empowers the President to make the Iraq government exempt from claims of prior terrorism. When Bush signed this amended Defense Authorization Act on January 28, 2008, he also issued a "Signing Statement" in which he declared he had the constitutional power to ignore the terms of the first four-described sections on permanent bases and control of Iraqi oil, contracting, whistleblower protection and intelligence accountability.
Also in early December, the House passed an omnibus appropriations bill with no funds for Iraq, but subsequently agreed to a Senate version that provided $70 billion for Iraq with no conditions, after an amendment by Senator Feingold to attach a withdrawal timetable was defeated 71-24 and an amendment by Senator McConnell to provide unconditional funds passed 70-25.
There is a detailed list of all of the above events with links to the texts, votes and Congressional debates on our website at http://www.beaboutpeace.com/archives/2008/02/key_votes_on_ir.html
How Our Representatives in Congress Voted in 2007
Our two Congressmen, Payne and Pascrell, voted for the Iraq withdrawal timetables described above and against the final versions of the appropriations bills in which the timetables had been removed. They also voted to override the President's veto in May. Except for Congressman Andrews, the other five New Jersey Congressmen voted the same.
Our two Senators, Lautenberg and Menendez, voted for withdrawal timetables in March and May and they voted to end debate on the appropriations bill with the timetable in November. They also voted for the Feingold amendment (they were also cosponsors) and against the McConnell amendment which added war funds without conditions. However, our Senators both voted for final passage of the both appropriations bills in May and December.
Only Congressmen Payne, Pallone and Holt voted against the November 2007 and January 2008 versions of the Defense Authorization Act, while Pascrell, Rothman, Andrews and Sires voted in favor. Senator Lautenberg voted for both versions and Senator Menendez voted for the first version and was not present for the second vote.
For the most part, we can be proud of our Congressmen and Senators for their votes against the war in 2007. If every state was as well-represented as New Jersey, we would be well on our way to ending the war by now. To review the voting records of our representatives and Senators go to http://www.beaboutpeace.com/archives/2008/02/key_votes_on_ir.html on our website.
Should We Have Expected More from Congress in 2007?
The Congressional elections of November 2006 are often cited as a "mandate" for Congress to end the war in Iraq. Several days after the election, Robert Dreyfuss wrote on the TomPaine website:
"Just as the election of 1932 was a seismic repudiation of the failed economic policies of the Hoover Republicans, the election of 2006 was a landslide against the Bush Republicans and their criminally misguided war against Iraq."
In fact, most of the newly elected Democrats did not run on platforms to end the war in Iraq. Most made vague calls for "a change of course" but not troop withdrawals or withdrawal timetables. Of the six new Democratic Senators who replaced Republican incumbents, two spoke against timetables (Webb and Casey), one called only for "an exit strategy" (Tester) and the fourth said we should redeploy over two years (McCaskill). It should be no surprise that all of these four Senators voted against Senator Feingold's withdrawal amendments in December and earlier in the year. See
Locally, Linda Stender, the Democrat who failed to unseat pro-war Republican Congressman Mike Ferguson, was typical among Democratic candidates who called for a "change in course" without endorsing a troop redeployment or a withdrawal timetable.
In the race that more than any other was viewed as a referendum on the war, antiwar candidate Ned Lamont was trounced by pro-war hawk Joseph Lieberman in the liberal state of Connecticut after Lamont defeated Lieberman in the Democratic primary.
Finally, shortly after the November 2006 elections, the newly-elected House Democratic caucus chose Steny Hoyer as Majority Leader over antiwar Congressman John Murtha by a vote of 149-86. Hoyer had publicly opposed Murtha's call for redeployment from Iraq and voted "present" on a Republican resolution for "victory" that responded to Murtha's proposal (12-16-05).
If the 2006 elections were a mandate for Congress to end the war, the mandate was not as strong and clear as many assumed. The elections of 2006 gave the Democrats a majority in the House and Senate, but did not result in a committed antiwar majority in either house. We should not be surprised that Congress failed to end the war in 2007.
2008: The Presidential Race, the Surge and Public Opinion
As of February 5, 2008, the remaining Democratic contenders for the Presidential nomination -- Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- are running on platforms to end the war and to withdraw most forces within a year after taking office. Obama, who has been endorsed by MoveOn.org, has also spoken of ending the mindset that led to the war.
The candidates who took stronger positions on ending the war -- Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson -- gained little support among voters in the early primaries and they have dropped out of the race. John Edwards who had urged a more aggressive antiwar effort in Congress and was able to win 20-30% of the electorate, inexplicably dropped out of the race several days before Super Tuesday.
The fact that the strongest candidates on peace issues were forced to drop out of the race early is yet another indication that the 2006 election "mandate" to end the war not as clear as many had assumed.
Ron Paul and the Republican Race
On the Republican side, the leading contenders -- McCain, Romney and Huckabee -- are trying to prove that they are more pro-war than the others. On the contrary, Congressman Ron Paul has a program for peace that is stronger than any of the remaining Democratic candidates. In the debates and in interviews, Paul has consistently denounced the war and its enormous costs. He accuses President Bush of "starting a war" to impose our will on another country. He explains terrorism in part as a reaction to our long-standing military presence in other countries and to the invasion of Iraq. He has called Bush a "warmonger" and warns of his threats against Iran. He has directly attacked the power of the military industrial complex and called for the abolition of the Patriot Act. He has called for the withdrawal of all US military bases overseas and has called for trade with all countries, including Cuba. Paul's support among a block of Republicans in the primaries (he has won 5% to 15%) confirms what we learned at our meeting with Paul Mulshine at Seton Hall in December -- that liberals and conservatives can find common ground on war, peace and civil liberties, while disagreeing vehemently on government enforcement of civil rights and on social and environmental programs.
There are transcripts of Ron Paul's statements on Meet the Press, Bill Moyer's Journal, the Jay Leno Show and the New Hampshire debate on the documents page of our website: http://www.beaboutpeace.com/documents.html
The Surge and the Level of Violence in Iraq
Retired US Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor wrote in Mother Jones December 2007:
"American casualties in Iraq have declined dramatically over the last 90 days to levels not seen since 2006, and the White House has attributed the decline to the surge of 35-40,000 U.S. combat troops. But a closer look suggests a different explanation."
MacGregor cites the "Great Awakening" strategy by the US military to pay Sunni insurgents "lots of money" to cooperate against Al Qaeda, and also Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's decision to restrain his militia from attacks on US forces, as the primary causes for the decline in violence. MacGregor also cites fatigue among Iraqis as another possible factor, but he notes that others believe a resurgence of violence lies ahead:
"A former U.S. Army battalion commander with extensive service in Iraq reports, 'It is my sense the Sunni Arab leaders are using the pause in the fight with U.S. forces to take a breather, harden and regroup themselves much like a conventional army would rest and refit after a major battle. Besides, who do the generals in Baghdad think are targeting and killing Iraqi Security Forces? It's the Sunni insurgents. They're just not shooting at us right now.' "
Although still below summer levels, the US death toll rose to 40 in January 2008, its highest level since September 2007.
The view that the restraint of Shiite militias is behind the decline in violence was reinforced by the State Department's top official in Iraq, David Satterfield, who the Washington Post reported as saying in December that "The Iranian government has decided 'at the most senior levels' to rein in the violent Shiite militias it supports in Iraq, a move reflected in the sharp decrease in sophisticated roadside bomb attacks over the past several months."
While the level of violence in Iraq has decreased in recent months, the massive overall human cost to Iraqis and Americans has become more clear in recent months:
A World Health Organization (WHO) study published by the New England Journal of Medicine estimated 151,000 Iraqis were killed by violence between March 2003 and June 2006.
This figure is less than the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health study of October 2006 that estimated 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq since the invasion. However, Les Roberts, one of the Johns Hopkins study's authors, said:
"There is far more in common in the results of the two reports than appears at first glance. The NEJM article found a doubling of mortality after the invasion, we found a 2.4 fold increase. Thus, we roughly agree on the number of excess deaths. The big difference is that we found almost all the increase from violence, they found one-third the increase from violence."
The New England Journal of Medicine recently published another study that estimated that nearly one-in-six returning soldiers suffered a concussion in Iraq and another 17% reported other injuries. The study found that concussions were strongly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
And finally, Amnesty International issued a report this summer which estimated that 2 million Iraqis have been made refugees and another 2.2 million have been displaced from their homes internally.
Public Opinion on the War
A majority of Americans continues to disapprove the war in Iraq, despite the recent decline in violence. Opinion poll results have remained fairly consistent over the last year, although the Democrats have lost some ground to the Republicans, apparently because of the perceived success of the surge.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of January 20-22, 2008 found that 39% think the troop increase is helping the situation in Iraq, 15% think it is hurting and 42% think it makes no difference. In September, 33% thought the increase was helping, 15% thought it was hurting and 48% thought it was making no difference. The same poll found that 34% think the Democratic Party can do a better job on Iraq, 28% think the Republicans can do better and 20% are indifferent. In July 2007, 38% favored the Democrats, 23% favored the Republicans and 13% were indifferent.
The Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg poll of January 18-22, 2008 found 20% of Americans want the US to withdraw from Iraq "right away" 43% want to withdraw within a year, 31% want to "stay as long as it takes" and 6% are unsure. The same poll taken a year earlier found 19% for immediate withdrawal, 46% for withdrawal within a year, 30% wanted to "stay as long as it takes" and 5% were unsure.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll of January 14-17, 2008 found 34% favor the war in Iraq and 63% oppose it. In June 2007 30% favored the war and 67% opposed it.
The Next Steps for South Mountain Peace Action
The peace agenda has moved forward despite the disappointments of 2007. The Democratic Party will nominate a candidate who is pledged to end the war and the Republicans (barring a miracle by Ron Paul) will nominate one who is committed to "victory." The Presidential election will thus be a national referendum on the Iraq war and the mindset that led to the invasion. The obscene cost of the war -- now recognized by almost everyone as approaching $1 trillion -- has become part of the debate and hopefully will stimulate questions about the need to reduce the overall military budget.
In 2008, South Mountain Peace Action will keep its focus on Congress as we continue to hold actions and events, including our annual Be About Peace Day which takes place on Saturday March 29th this year (save the date!). But most of all, 2008 should be a year to put our energies toward the election of a President who is committed to ending the war in Iraq. I am also hopeful that SMPA will be able to revive its involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and in the campaigns against space weapons and for nuclear weapons abolition.
Regarding the 2008 elections, MoveOn will provide many opportunities for effective involvement in both the Presidential and Congressional races, and I expect our collaboration with MoveOn to be very active during this election year. Toward that end, I've volunteered to be a local MoveOn coordinator.
2008 will provide unprecented opportunities to work for peace in meaningful ways and South Mountain Peace Action will do its best to meet the challenges ahead.
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