It turns out there is a slight anti-war reaction emerging in the Democratic Party, for 85 House Democrats said “no, thanks” to President Obama’s request for a formal authorization to train and arm the “good” Syrian rebels in the fight against the Syrian rebels/terrorists, known as ISIS. Given the political risks involved for opposing their fellow Democrat and president so near to the mid-term elections, this vote was certainly significant, though the resolution did not address the expanding of airstrikes in Iraq and into Syria. As Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) reportedly said, according to the NY Times:
“It is more complex than just an up-or-down vote on arming and training members of the Free Syrian Army. The consequences of this vote, whether it’s written in the amendment or not, will be a further expansion of a war currently taking place and our further involvement in a sectarian war.”
Wisconsin’s Rep. Mark Pocan also saw a “yes” vote as a vote in support of a wider war, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Democrat Mark Pocan, who opposed the resolution, said he feared this would turn out to be a much bigger military commitment than advertised. “All of this sounds like it’s looking a lot more like a war rather than a very limited engagement,” he said in an interview.
The House Democratic nay-sayers were joined by 71 Republicans who are anti-interventionist or anti-Obama or anti-only a little war. (Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner voted “no” because he prefers to “annihilate” ISIS. I assume a nuclear response is “off the table.”) Obama did get the vote in favor of arming rebel surrogates that he wanted, however, (273 to 156) as 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats in the House voted “yes” to pass the resolution.
The purest anti-war statement so far was provided by Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) , who got to the heart of the matter: “Launching airstrikes on another country, by any standard, by any definition is an act of war. Have we not had enough of imperial presidencies doing what they want in the world?” Apparently our appetite for imperialism/”war on terror” has not been satisfied yet, though more of our elected representatives, mostly Democrats, are now thinking twice.
Recall that only one member of Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee, had the courage to vote “no” on authorizing the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, a war which by Dec. of 2013 a majority of the nation, 66%, said had not been worth fighting. But only a year later almost the same American majority approves dropping bombs on ISIS in Syria, if not the sending of American ground troops.
Only one House Democrat from Wisconsin, Rep. Ron Kind, voted to authorize the training and arming of Syrian rebels, calling it “the best plan to avoid putting [American] combat troops on the ground.”
But there is now some question about what exactly a combat soldier is, for the Obama administration and his top military adviser are saying that American troops could be placed close to the front lines to assist Iraqi troops with combat stuff, but American troops would not be firing weapons, therefore they would not be, technically, combat troops. (Sure, read that sentence again.) Hopefully any such American non-combatant combat troops would be off-limits to suffering casualties while in the midst of indirectly inflicting casualties.
Today the U.S. Senate is likely to vote on and approve the authorization to put more U.S. weapons into Syria, but it will be interesting to see how Democratic Senators vote, especially the more progressive representatives such as Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders. Sanders is the only member of the Senate who is also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. On Sept. 8, Sen. Sanders issued a statement regarding more U.S. war in Iraq and Syria in which he said he supports airstrikes, does not support a ground war. Sanders told CNN that he is “leaning no” on the resolution to authorize arming the rebels.
No U.S. senator, as far as I can tell, has yet gone on record opposing airstrikes (war) that expand U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. Not even the king of non-intervention, Sen. Rand Paul, is so far willing to say no to the latest outcry for war.
But we have seen the first stirrings of peaceable revolt in Congress, and perhaps now the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at least, can work toward some sort of anti-war agreement and call, not just for votes on authorization, but for the end of military intervention in the Middle East and the resumption of diplomatic and economic intervention.
News comes from The Hill that Senate Democrats will debate and vote on a broader authorization of war against ISIS after the Nov. 4th election. Good, but the delay is, of course, a political cover.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) says he has “serious doubt about authorizing military operation” in Syria.
For the record, Sen. Baldwin, Sen. Warren, Sen. Brown, Sen. Leahy and Sen. Sanders all voted “no.” Sen. Cardin voted “yes.”
And, finally, The Nation’s John Nichols writes of Rep. Barbara Lee’s latest dissenting vote.