Progressive Lion: Rep Barbara Lee is one step closer to ending our perpetual war in Afghanistan

On September 14, 2001 Barbara Lee strode up to the podium and made this speech to explain her vote against the AUMF in Afghanistan.

x

Rep Barbara Lee was the lone dissenting vote.

The AUMF passed 420-1 in the house. We have now been at war in Afghanistan for almost 16 years. Her courageous vote that day echoed Jeanette Rankin’s lone vote against declaring war on Japan and entering World War II.

As Lee explained in her speech:

“We are not dealing with a conventional war,” she said. “We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control … If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other noncombatants will be caught in the cross-fire … Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.” — The Guardian

Today, almost 16 years after her lone dissenting voice was heard on the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment to sunset the 2001 AUMF was adopted in committee and will head to a floor debate. If her amendment passes and brings to a close this unending war, it will have been one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of our country and Congress.

x

@subirgrewal


Lee represents California’s 13th district, which covers Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda and surrounding areas in the East Bay. She has a long association with the area, and studied at Mills College in Oakland. While there, she volunteered with the Oakland area Black Panther party, and worked on Bobby Seale’s bid for the mayor’s office. As a student, Lee was inspired by and worked on Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the Democratic nomination for President. She later went on to earn a Masters degree at UC Berkeley.

Lee was born in Texas into a military family, and named Barbara Jean Tutt. Her father, Garvin Alexander Tutt retired from the US Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Lee worked on Congressman Ron Dellums’ staff for several years and served in the California State Assembly for 8 years (1990-1996). Dellums was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and the only member of Congress to identify as a socialist.

When Dellums retired in 1998, Lee ran for and won his seat in the 9th district. She succeeded one of the most progressive voices of his generation. Upon re-districting in 2013, she ran for office in the 13th district, succeeding Pete Stark, another strong progressive voice, and one of the earliest members of the CPC. Lee has served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the CPC.

The vote against the AUMF was a defining moment for Lee and led to severe criticism including death threats. Lee has never backed down and has remained steadfast in her commitment to peace. She voted against the Iraq War Resolution, several bills to fund these wars, and the military action in Libya. She has continued to be a vocal, courageous voice for ending our perpetual war. In a speech to her alma mater, Mills College, in 2014, as we embarked on another series of attacks in Iraq and Syria, she had this to say:

“I have called and will continue to call for a full congressional debate and vote on any military action, as required by the Constitution. The American people deserve a public debate on all the options to dismantle ISIS, including their costs and consequences to our national security and domestic priorities.”— The Nation

That Nation article also notes that Lee, is among a dwindling few other Democrats and Republicans

rejects the argument that resolutions from years ago and votes on amendments to funding measures meet the standard for congressional authorization of new military strikes.

In her autobiography, Rep. Lee revisits that moment three days after September 11, 2001 and explain, once again, her lone dissenting vote. She says that even as smoke continued to rise from the ashes of the World Trade Center, she knew, and acted upon this truth:

Congress voted, almost unanimously, to give President Bush a “blank check” to attack an unspecified country, an unspecified enemy for an unspecified period of time… I stood alone against this “blank check” for what has become known as the Global War on Terror. I knew then that the administration would turn this into a Global War and tried to warn the nation and my colleagues in the Congress. — Renegade for Peace and Justice: A Memoir of Political and Personal Courage​​​​​​​

Progressive Lion is an occasional series celebrating a politician or activist exemplifying progressive values. The goal is the recognize their achievements and lives. If you know aspects of their career or work that are not in the diary, please share them in comments.

Yes, Neil Gorsuch is as terrible as you feared.

The Supreme Court announced today that they would hear Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project. This is the Muslim ban, Travel ban case.

In it’s decision to hear the case, the court also lifted the temporary injunctions granted by the circuit courts against Trump’s Muslim ban:

We grant the Government’s applications to stay the injunctions, to the extent the injunctions prevent enforcement of §2(c) with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.

This means students, employees, spouses, parents, children etc. returning to the US should not be affected by the ban. But, those who do not have such a pre-existing relationship, can now be summarily prevented from entering the US by Trump’s order.

In practice, this likely means first-time visa applicants from the six countries will be rejected right away, and first time visitors turned away at the border (even if they have valid visas).

Refugees will almost certainly be turned away, since most won’t have a pre-existing relationship that would exempt them from the ban.

Hold on though, there’s a dissent…

JUSTICE THOMAS, with whom JUSTICE ALITO and JUSTICE GORSUCH join, concurring in part and dissenting in part.

“I agree with the Court that the preliminary injunctions entered in these cases should be stayed, although I would stay them in full…”

These three justices want the Muslim/Travel ban to go into effect exactly as Trump wants.

So yeah, Gorsuch is on the Alito/Thomas team.

He’s as dreadful as we feared he would be.

Trump said to “take out the families”. Coalition strike kills 80 relatives of ISIS, 33 children.

Today, the AFP is reporting that coalition airstrikes in the Syrian town of Meyadeen killed 80 people, 33 of whom were civilians. They’re being described as “relatives of ISIS fighters”.

A US-led coalition air strike on the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen early Friday killed at least 80 relatives of Islamic State group fighters, a monitoring group told AFP.

“The toll includes 33 children. They were families seeking refuge in the town’s municipal building,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“This is the highest toll for relatives of IS members in Syria,” Abdel Rahman told AFP. — Daily Mail

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump said:

“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families,” Trump said.

Trump said he would “knock the hell out of” ISIS, and criticized the U.S. for “fighting a very politically correct war.”

Intentionally targeting civilians, including “families of terrorists”, is a war crime.


Yesterday, the Pentagon’s investigation confirmed what we suspected back in March, a US airstrike had caused a building collapse which killed over 130+ civilians.

A U.S.-led airstrike carried out on a building in Mosul in March detonated a cache of Islamic State explosives, killing more than 100 Iraqi civilians, the Pentagon said Thursday.

An unclassified summary of the U.S. military investigation into the March 17 incident determined that the 500-pound bomb used in the strike set off additional explosives that were placed in the building by the Islamic State, causing the collapse of the structure.

The blast killed two Islamic State snipers and 105 civilians, including four in an adjacent house in western Mosul’s al-Jadida district, the summary said. Thirty-six additional civilians who were allegedly killed could not be accounted for, because of “insufficient evidence to determine their status or whereabouts.” In the days after the strike, some reports said that more than 200 bodies were pulled from the rubble. — WaPo

The investigation also debunked the spin Gen. Townsend gave a week after that strike, when he claimed civilians had been intentionally positioned to serve as shields. Prior to that, coalition forces had claimed a car bomb took out the building. Since there was no car-bomb crater, that explanation was quickly challenged by reporters:

In addition to determining the cause of the building collapse, the investigation also determined that the mass of people killed in the strike had been invited to take shelter on the building’s lower floors by a neighbor. The Islamic State also warned them to leave, according to locals interviewed during the investigation. This account is at odds with what the U.S.-led coalition’s top officer suggested 11 days after the strike, during a Pentagon news briefing. At the time, Gen. Stephen Townsend said that it appeared that the civilians were herded there by the Islamic State and were being used as shields. — WaPo

Meanwhile, Airwars and Foreign Policy have confirmed that the US’s coalition partners have killed at least 80 civilians in airstrikes. But none of the coalition partners will acknowledge this.

— @subirgrewal

Wilbur Ross calls Syrian airstrikes “after dinner entertainment” that “cost nothing”

Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recalled the scene at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, when the summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping was interrupted by the strike on Syria.

“Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.”

As the crowd laughed, Ross added: “The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.” — Variety

Each of those missiles will cost roughly 1.5 million to replace. That doesn’t account for the operational costs of the mission, moving materiel into position to fire those missiles, activating staff etc.

Sure, it didn’t personally “cost” Trump anything. From his perspective, it was free marketing for the chocolate dessert at Mar-a-Lago.

But what about the cost to us? This missile/bombing cost roughly $100 million. That’s a hundred million dollars we no longer have for education, infrastructure or health-care. It was set alight to create a trans-continental fireworks show and impress Trump’s “guests”?

Are the armed-forces of the United States merely “after-dinner entertainment” for Trump and the billionaires in his cabinet who weaseled out of the draft?

And what about the countries we are bombing? During Trump’s tenure, we have dropped bombs on Iraq, Syria and Yemen, killing hundreds of civilians. What about the moral cost of this carnage? What about the long-term implications of a superpower dropping bombs on brown people across the Middle East as “after-dinner entertainment”?

ACT NOW: The more I think about this, the madder I get. Call your Senators and your representative. Tell them they should impeach this asshole.

Hundreds of civilians reported killed in US airstrikes in Syria and Iraq this month.

On March 16, US forces bombed Idlib, Syria, apparently targeting an Al Qaeda meeting. Almost immediately after the strike, human rights organizations on the ground said roughly 50 civilians had died in the strike and it had demolished a mosque during prayers while 300 people were inside. There are other reports that US led airstrikes in Raqqa hit a school sheltering refugees, leading to 33 deaths.

Today, both the NY Times and Washington Post are reporting that the US army is investigating reports from Mosul, Iraq that coalition airstrikes have killed over 200 civilians in the past few days.

Iraqi rescue workers on Friday pulled dozens of bodies from the ruins of a building in Mosul, where residents allege a U.S.-led coalition strike killed 137 people a week ago.

If confirmed, the number would mark the biggest loss of civilian life in a single incident since the coalition’s air campaign began 2½ years ago. Equipped with a bulldozer and chainsaws, men in red overalls picked their way through the rubble of the large house in the city’s heavily bombarded neighborhood of Mosul al-Jadida.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Mahmoud, Mosul’s civil defense chief, said families had gathered in the building because it was one of the few with a basement. His team had retrieved the bodies of 61 people, including two babies, from the rubble over the past two days. But he said he expected dozens more bodies to be found as the excavation continued, with rescue workers yet to reach the basement or other collapsed rooms. — Washington Post

Iraqi forces who called in the airstrikes have reportedly said there were snipers on the buildings and the strikes were called in to take them out. Airwars, a British organization tracking the airstrikes in Syria and Iraq has said over a 1,000 civilians are believed to have been killed in coalition airstrikes this month. In several cases, residents say dozens of bodies remain buried under the rubble. There are also reports that militants are intentionally keeping civilians in buildings and fighting from the rooftops.

Several children have died in the strikes, which have often annihilated entire families. Ten children also died in the failed Trump-authorized mission in Yakla, Yemen.

Another Iraqi special forces officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that there had been a noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office.

Before, Iraqi officers were highly critical of the Obama administration’s rules, saying that many requests for airstrikes were denied because of the risk that civilians would be hurt. Now, the officer said, it has become much easier to call in airstrikes.

Some American military officials had also chafed at what they viewed as long and onerous White House procedures for approving strikes under the Obama administration. Mr. Trump has indicated that he is more inclined to delegate authority for launching strikes to the Pentagon and commanders in the field. — NY Times

Civilian casualties on this scale have happened before. Last July, a US airstrike in Manbij, Syria killed 150 civilians which we discussed on Daily Kos then.

Tom Cotton got over $2.1 million in campaign ad support from pro-Israel donors

The NY Times is running a story on how contributions from a small group of single-issue mega-wealthy donors is impacting the Republican party’s stance on Israel.

GOP’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift

Donors say the trend toward Republicans among wealthy, hawkish contributors is at least partly responsible for inspiring stronger support for Israel among party lawmakers who already had pro-Israel views.

Cough. No shit Sherlock. Cough.

The Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, spent $960,000 to support Mr. Cotton. In that same race, a firm run by Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire from New York and a leading donor to pro-Israel causes, contributed $250,000 to Arkansas Horizon, another independent expenditure group supporting Mr. Cotton. Seth Klarman, a Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire, contributed $100,000 through his investment firm.The political action committee run by John Bolton, the United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush and an outspoken supporter of Israel, spent at least $825,000 to support Mr. Cotton. That PAC is in part financed by other major pro-Israel donors, including Irving and Cherna Moskowitz of Miami, who contributed 99 percent of their $1.1 million in 2012 races to Republican candidates and causes.

In other news Senator Cotton’s spokesman denied his letter writing campaign was in any way quid pro quo for this support.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said this relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans distorted the views among Jews nationwide who remain supportive of the Democratic Party and a more nuanced relationship with Israel.“The very, very limited set of people who do their politics simply through the lens of Israel — that small group is tilting more heavily Republican now,” he said, adding, “But it is dangerous for American politics as too many people do not understand that of the six million American Jews, this is only a handful.”

Which brings me to the real news in this story. The portion of the liberal establishment that is Jewish (including enough NY Times editors to matter) seems to be breaking big time from the current Israeli administration’s policies.

Uh, did I mention the story’s going to be on the first page of Sunday’s paper?

Or that J Street gets top billing in the story? Looks like the Times is ready to help them boost their profile.

“Israel did not traditionally represent that kind of emotional focus for any element of the Republican Party,” (Geoffrey Kabaservice, a Republican Party historian) said. “But the feeling now is that it is a winning issue, as it helps them to appear strong on foreign policy.”

“Appearing strong” as opposed to being sensible. I’m glad to hear both houses of Congress have majorities who’re focused on appearances rather than substance.

Over all, the most significant contributor by far to Republican supporters of Israel has been Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, who with his wife has invested at least $100 million in conservative causes over the last four years. A large chunk was spent on the 2012 presidential campaign, but Senate Republicans also benefited, and could soon again, particularly those considering a run for president.

The shift has also meant the Republican Party today accepts little dissent on the topic of Israel, said Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, an outcome he believes is in part driven by the demands of financial supporters.“Republicans interested in foreign policy used to understand that it was not in America’s national interest to ignore entirely Arab claims against Israel,” he said. “Now, there is a fanatical feeling of one-sidedness.”

“I know there has been all this fervent speculation that Tom Cotton and Bill Kristol and Sheldon Adelson were at some private room at the Venetian cooking this up,” said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, referring to Mr. Adelson’s casino in Las Vegas, where many prominent Republicans and Jewish leaders will gather this month. “But Tom is a smart guy and has a long record of thinking about the Middle East, and he is entrepreneurial. Tom wrote this letter.”

In other words, it may not be in the country’s interest. And it may not even be in the Republican party’s long-term interest. But it sure as shit was in Tom Cotton’s interest to write the letter.

Also, he’s an “entrepreneur”. Which is funny, I thought he was a United States Senator. But apparently lobbyists know him as an “entrepreneur”, and presumably one who knows you’ve got to watch that top-line sales/revenue number. But to have sales you’ve got to be selling something. So what exactly does Tom Cotton have that’s for sale?

Meanwhile, Chemi Shalev reminds us in Haaretz that “The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference”. In that Netanyahu faces new danger in U.S. following Iran deal: Being ignored. That’s in reference to Bibi’s demand that no nuclear deal with Iran be signed till Iran recognizes Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel introduced a new demand Friday for the final phase of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, saying the completed deal must include an “unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”

Asked on Friday about Mr. Netanyahu’s new demand, a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, told reporters in Washington that the negotiations with Iran on the agreement were “only about the nuclear issue.”

I guess that is State Department speak for “It’s our policy not to feed the trolls”.

And lastly, Peter Beinart looks at The three benefits of ending the U.S.’s cold war with Iran

First, it could reduce American dependence on Saudi Arabia. Before the fall of the shah in 1979, the United States had good relations with both Tehran and Riyadh, which meant America wasn’t overly reliant on either. Since the Islamic Revolution, however, Saudi Arabia has been America’s primary oil-producing ally in the Persian Gulf. After 9/11, when 19 hijackers—15 of them Saudis—destroyed the Twin Towers, many Americans realized the perils of so great a dependence on a country that was exporting so much pathology.

As many have noted, Iran is in many ways our natural ally in the region. For instance, as Beinart pointed out earlier, unlike the Saudis, Iran’s ayatollahs actually permit elections that involve quite vigorous debate.

It could empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis their repressive state. American hawks, addled by the mythology they have created around Ronald Reagan, seem to think that the more hostile America’s relationship with Iran’s regime becomes, the better the United States can promote Iranian democracy. But the truth is closer to the reverse.
[…]
As Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick recently noted, Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards “thrive on hostile relations with the U.S., and benefit hugely from sanctions, which allow them to control smuggling.” But “if the sanctions are lifted, foreign companies come back in, [and] the natural entrepreneurialism of Iranians is unleashed.” Thus “if you want regime change in Iran, meaning changing the way the regime operates, this kind of agreement is the best way to achieve that goal.”

Finally, ending the cold war with Iran may make it easier to end the civil wars plaguing the Middle East. Cold wars are rarely “cold” in the sense that no one gets killed. They are usually proxy wars in which powerful countries get local clients to do the killing for them. America’s cold war with the U.S.S.R. ravaged countries like Angola and El Salvador. And today, America’s cold war with Iran is ravaging Syria and Yemen.

I think Beinart makes the last two hugely complex issues seem too neat. But at least he’s bringing them up, so he should get points for enriching the discourse. Seems to be doing a better job than some of our Senators

Silly Palestinians, if only they’d accepted the state offered in 1947.

Ron Prosor (Israel’s man at the UN) wrote an Op-Ed in the Times on March 31 titled The U.N.’s War on Israel. I found it extremely annoying, but after a few deep breaths I managed to channel my annoyance into something useful.

Prosor is right to note that at times it seems the UN has no other business but to pass resolutions condemning Israel. But why? Are there any reasons for this unseemly obsession? I can think of a handful:

  • Most UN member-states are former European colonies. In fact, the whole non-European world is except for five countries. So as a group, member-states of the UN don’t much like colonialism and naturally empathize with the Palestinians.
  • There are a lot of Arab/Muslim countries that have to support Palestine (or find it convenient to do so). They control resources that many other countries need, and so it goes.
  • The UN has some institutional animosity towards Israel, thanks to the assassination of a UN appointed mediator (Folke Bernadotte), ordered by a sometime terrorist who went on to become PM of Israel.
  • Israel has repeatedly ignored UN resolutions on its West Bank settlements, its administration in the Occupied Territories, and with respect to the various conflicts it has been involved in over the years. Many of today’s resolutions are useless re-iterations of prior resolutions that have been ignored by successive Israeli governments.
  • In many ways, the Israel/Palestine conflict is a problem created by the UN, early in its history.

The last point is what I want to discuss in this super long post. It will involve wading into a thicket of post WW-I maneuvering including the McMahon Hussein Letters, the Sykes-Picot agreemeent, the Balfour Declaration, the Peel Commission, and finally, the UN Partition Plan of 1947.

Towards the end, I’ve quoted, in full, the remarkable statement made by Henry Cattan, representing Palestinian interests, to the UN committee working on the partition plan. Cattan was a Palestinian lawyer who happened to have been Christian. He went on to write a number of books on Palestine, including The Palestine Question. His statement is below the fold and I’d highly recommend reading it when you get to the end. It’s at once both illuminating and tragic.

Since this is such a long post, I’ve marked key sections in bold for those who want to skim it. All emphasis throughout the post is mine.

Continue reading “Silly Palestinians, if only they’d accepted the state offered in 1947.”