Monday, September 22, 2014

Update: 5 things you need to know about the president’s rush to war in Iraq and Syria

A terrible situation in Iraq and Syria may soon get worse.

Last week both the House and the Senate rushed to pass a bill authorizing the president to train and arm so-called "moderate" Syrian rebels.1
CREDO members reported pouring well over 3,000 calls into their representatives and senators. But, in the end, the majority of Democrats joined with Republicans to rubberstamp the president’s proposal.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is already fighting with American weapons it captured from the Iraqi military, could likely be the main beneficiary of Congress’ rush to war. The shifting, opportunistic alliances and fragmented opposition in the Syrian civil war make it virtually inevitable that American-funded rebels will end up fighting alongside Sunni extremists like ISIS. They'll bring their American weapons with them, and those weapons may well be trained on American targets.

This is eerily reminiscent of the CIA operation in the 1980s to arm and train the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion -- a fighting force that with the help of U.S. aid evolved into the Taliban and launched al Qaeda into the world.

Congress’ decision will make America less safe and fuel further violence in the Syrian civil war and in Iraq.

Funding and arming the Syrian rebels is the first part of President Obama’s plan to fight ISIS by opening a new American front in Iraq and Syria. Our movement may have lost this round, but it’s a wake up call for the anti-war movement to organize and stop the Obama administration and Congress from repeating the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan. We must not end up entangled in yet another costly and unwinnable war that makes Americans less, not more, safe.

There are five things you need to know about the president’s plan to go to war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria:

1. The main fight over whether we go to war in Syria and Iraq is going to happen in Congress in December over a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force to renew George W. Bush’s blank check for war.
Congress is widely expected to debate and vote on whether to give President Obama the authority to wage a sustained, multi-year war against ISIS during the December "lame duck" session, once the pressures of election season have subsided. This will come in the form of an Authorization for Use of Military Force (or AUMF). Senator Dick Durbin has already announced that the Senate will debate and vote on a new AUMF for Iraq and Syria after the 2014 midterm elections.2
Will Congress write a blank check for war like it gave George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq?

Will it approve a limited intervention that expires after a short time limit, bans the president from putting troops on the ground, and includes significant Congressional oversight? Or will it vote to block the administration from starting a war with Syria and expanding the war in Iraq? What happens will depend on us, and whether we can organize strong opposition in the run up to the 2016 presidential election. In fact, several presidential hopefuls voted against arming the rebels, foreshadowing what could be a major issue in both Republican and Democratic party primaries for the presidency.

Our best shot to stop another blank check for war is in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority. The Senate is threatened with a Tea Party takeover if Republicans can win six seats in the November mid-terms. If that happens, it will make a tough fight to stop another war dramatically more difficult. That’s why earlier this year CREDO SuperPAC launched the Save the Senate, volunteer voter contact campaign to organize thousands of volunteers to get out the progressive vote in five key battleground states and stop a Tea Party takeover of the Senate.

President Obama's publicly stated position is that he doesn't need authorization from Congress to go to war with ISIS.3 Instead, he has claimed that the outrageously broad 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) -- passed at the behest of George W. Bush just days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 -- grants him sufficient authority to launch airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

This is a dramatic flip-flop for President Obama, who campaigned for president on a platform that included winding down George W. Bush’s disastrous wars of choice overseas, and last year called for the repeal of the very same 2001 AUMF that he is now using to justify bombing Iraq and Syria.

Anti-war activists must urge Congress to vote against authorizing the president's new war in Iraq and Syria. Congress rejecting authorization is no guarantee that the president won't still go to war in Iraq and Syria -- but it's the best shot we have to stop his plan for war.

2. This war is going to get much bigger and include ground troops if progressives don't organize a major campaign to stop it.
President Obama's war plan is to attempt to "degrade and destroy" ISIS by arming and training "moderate" Syrian rebels and launching sustained airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. He's also deployed 1,600 "military advisors" in Iraq to assist the Iraqi government and the Kurds as they battle ISIS -- and that number is likely to grow.

Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the war against ISIS could last for three years, making it clear that the war to destroy ISIS is an open-ended commitment to U.S. military action in the region.4
Obama's plan puts the United States on a slippery slope to a drastically escalated war. It's certain that war hawks will push for a U.S.-led ground war once airstrikes don't immediately resolve the conflict.
While President Obama has declared that no ground troops will be deployed, his top military advisors say different. Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has already said that he would recommend using American ground troops against ISIS if the current strategy is unsuccessful -- which we know it will be.5 Gen. Ray Odierno, Army Chief of Staff, has said publicly that ground troops would be necessary to defeat ISIS.6
Even without U.S. troops on the ground, airstrikes threaten to drag the United States into a massive conflict with Bashar al-Assad, in addition to ISIS. President Obama has reportedly pledged to retaliate against the Syrian government if it fires on U.S. war planes.7 If that happens, the United States would simultaneously be fighting against two sides of the Syrian civil war: ISIS and President Bashar al-Assad's government. That's a recipe for disaster and further instability, which will only make ISIS stronger.

3. The war against ISIS is a war of choice. There is no urgency driving an American response at this moment. Even according to the Department of Homeland Security, ISIS poses no immediate threat to the United States.8
There is no immediate crisis as there was in August when CREDO supported the emergency U.S. air strikes that blocked the genocidal ISIS and helped protect minorities by holding the Kurdish defense line in Northern Iraq.9 Since then, the situation in Iraq has stabilized, and Iraq has formed a new government, replacing the corrupt and divisive former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The civil war in Syria is stuck in a bloody stalemate. The current media frenzy that has been ginned-up largely by chickenhawks from the Bush administration and parroted by politicians from both parties is not an adequate justification for the United States to continue its intervention in either Iraq or Syria.

Despite rampant alarmism from war hawks and media pundits, ISIS is a relatively small extremist group surrounded on all sides by formidable enemies like Iran, Syria, the Kurds and the Iraqi government.

4. The sad and simple truth is that the United States cannot lead any intervention without making a terrible situation even worse.
When it comes to the current brutal conflict, rooted in centuries of religious hostilities in Iraq and Syria, there is no solution that American leadership can offer. Unfortunately, at this point in the conflict there is no viable campaign for peace and stability initiated by any other international or regional actor that the U.S. can join in support.

Given America’s history of waging wars of aggression and covert operations in the region, we are in no position to lead the way in resolving the current conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Regional players have the power to make a difference -- especially Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s own government. But at this juncture a U.S.-led military intervention would harm, not help, their ability to broker a solution.

The bottom line is that there is no simple American solution to this messy conflict, and anyone who says there is is deeply deluded.

5. Anti-war progressives can fight back. We did it a year ago and we can do it again, but we’ll need your help.
It was just over a year ago that Congress, under massive pressure from progressives across the country, rejected President Obama's proposal to launch airstrikes against Syria. Leaders in this fight included progressive members of Congress like Reps. Alan Grayson, Rick Nolan and Barbara Lee. CREDO was the first large progressive group to come out against bombing Syria, and CREDO members helped provide the massive grassroots pressure necessary to help them turn their colleagues against war.

Members of the House who were expected to rubberstamp the president's resolution authorizing military force in Syria received an unprecedented number of phone calls opposing strikes against Syria -- including almost 40,000 reported by CREDO members. One-by-one, members of Congress started to come out against the attack. While it was widely believed that the president and Majority Leader Harry Reid had the necessary votes in the Senate to approve bombing Syria, Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Chris Murphy stepped up and opposed a resolution authorizing military action in Syria in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The tide turned in the Senate, and soon the press was reporting that opposition outnumbered support by 2 to 1.

But since last fall when we successfully rejected war with Syria, war hawks have exploited ISIS's military successes and brutal crimes in Iraq and Syria, including the beheading of three journalists, to increase pressure on President Obama to go to war.

The only way to stop the march to war is to raise our voices again and make it clear to President Obama that his progressive base will not support war in Syria, or expanded conflict in Iraq. We’ve done it before, we can do it again -- anti-war progressives can cut through the hype and alarmism and put the brakes on our president's rush to war.

You’ll be hearing from us in the coming months asking you to take action to stop this next war -- from signing petitions and making phone calls, to organizing meetings with your representatives and hitting the streets in protest. It will take massive pushback, but if we fight together we can win.

It's going to take a full-court press from progressives to stop President Obama from starting a third Iraq war. And we need your help to pull it off.
Thank you for all that you do.
Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
1. Paul Kane and Ed O'Keefe, "Senate votes to approve Obama’s plan to fight Islamist militants," The Washington Post, September 18, 2014
2. Alexander Bolton, "Senate Dems to debate force vote against ISIS after the election," The Hill, September 18, 2014
3. Stephen Braun, "Can Obama Wage War Without Consent of Congress?" AP, September 12, 2014
4. Eric Schmitt, Michael R. Gordon, and Helene Cooper, "Destroying ISIS May Take Years, U.S. Officials Say," September 7, 2014
5. Jeremy Herb, "Martin Dempsey: Ground troops possible," Politico, September 16, 2014
6. Alison Smale, "U.S. Army Chief Says Ground Troops Will Be Needed Against ISIS," New York Times, September 17, 2014
7. Peter Baker, "Paths to War, Then and Now, Haunt Obama," New York Times, September 13, 2014
8. Rogue Planas, "DHS Doesn't Think ISIS Is Plotting Attack Through U.S.-Mexico Border," Huffington Post, September 11, 2014
9. Michael Kieschnick, president of CREDO Mobile, "President Obama Is Right to Block the Genocidal ISIS and Hold the Kurdish Defense Line," Huffington Post, August 8, 2014