Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ten Reasons To Vote YES For The Syria Limited Strike Resolution

1.  The President of the United States, with the authority to engage in limited military action under the War Powers Act has asked the Congress to “authorize” a strike against the user of chemical weapons.  We did not fight Hitler because he gassed millions nor did we fight Saddam Hussein when he gassed Kurds and Iranians. That we blinked twice is no reason to ignore this violation of the post WWI prohibition on use of chemical weapons.  The Chemical Weapons Convention was ratified by the U. S. Senate and we should enforce it. Children died in their sleep gassed by a madman against all the norms of  the civilized world and all its religions.  Surely at least one nation has the capability and the will to stand for those norms and if no one else will then let it be the United States of America.

2.  The fact that the Security Council of the United Nations is stymied by Russian and Chinese vetoes and cannot do anything about this should not prevent us from joining with our allies France and Turkey and taking action to degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons against those of his people who are not of his religious sect.

3.  At the close of WWI the world looked to the United States for leadership.  All the major nations adopted and joined the League of Nations and our Congress said no.  We drew into ourselves and began a twenty year period of isolationism and Fortress America.  As late as 1937 the Congress refused to join the World Court which had been a TR-Taft idea.   I believe that was the last vote of the US Congress where isolationism won. After 76 years Congress should not go back to isolation.

4..  After WWII America accepted the world’s call to leadership and in fact led the free world in a forty +  year Cold War with Communism eventually becoming the world’s only superpower when the Soviet Union imploded in part due to the pressure of the arms race with the US. If Congress rejects this Presidential request we abdicate that leadership and I guess we hand leadership over to China which practices its’ own form of isolationism, i.e. involvement only when it benefits her economically (sort of like the turn of the century American dollar diplomacy).

5.  If the Congress now votes NO on the President’s request we send a green light to the two bit dictators of the world to do what they want when it comes to chemical weapons and nuclear weapons.  Assad will use the chemical weapons again and with a demoralized rebel opposition he will ultimately retain control of Syria. His alliance with Iran and Hezbollah will pose a threat to the security of Israel.  When the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah troika attacks Israel what will we do?  Hold another debate in Congress while Assad gasses the Israeli’s, and then send in troops.  Or if they first invade the Sunni Moslem states do we do nothing because we don’t want to get involved?

6.  When Iran produces its’ nuclear weapon and the world draws a line in the sand will anyone in Iran believe that any nation will enforce that line.  Not China which is engaged in economic trade with Iran; Not Russia which is trying to recapture Putin’s imagined good old days of the USSR;  Certainly not America the new paper tiger.

7.  When the boy dictator of North Korea pushed to the wall by the starvation of his people and the collapse of his economy looks south will he hesitate to invade and use his nuclear weapons because of the U. S. commitment to South Korea and the presence of our troops?  And when he invades do we then refight the Korean War.?

8.  In the 1930's decent Americans opposed involvement in European affairs because they had been lied to during WWI by the false propaganda of the Allies about German atrocities (which of course proved true in WWII).  And, similarly many opposed tough action against Japan in China because some believed that the Japanese were being provoked and anyway we were protected by the two great oceans - well then came Pearl Harbor and millions of Americans had to go to war.  That we were lied to about Iraq is now incontrovertible but we must not make the mistake of now not believing the truth when presented to us.

9. The President shouldn’t have tossed the ball to Congress. But, he did.  So now it’s the responsibility of the Congressmen and women to do the right thing.  The easy vote is NO. That’s what the polls show (by the way a war never won a poll in this country before it started).  A YES vote is much tougher because one would have to explain to a skeptical public that this limited strike is “limited”.  Of course if the Congress votes a limit and the President ignores the limit he could and should be impeached and removed from office. Similarly if the Congress votes No and he acts anyway he should be removed.  But it’s never that simple -- we will probably see either one house vote in the affirmative and the other in the negative or one house not cast a vote.  Whichever, Congressional inaction will be ambiguous and put the entire matter back on the President’s desk - where, as Harry Truman said, the buck stops.

10. In the 1990's President Clinton engaged in a 78 day air war against Serbia to end that state’s attempt to exterminate the Kosovars.  At the end of that air campaign, no American soldiers had died, the Serbs bounced the communists and began a democratic experiment and Kosovo was free. The Clinton intervention in Kosovo succeeded - the Obama one in Libya did also.

Since its founding the United States has been a symbol of many things.  To many it has stood as the Statue of Liberty stands in NY harbor as the symbol of freedom and liberty for all and progress for mankind.  As a nation we haven’t always done the right thing and we have our historic blemishes (treatment of Native Americans; paternalistic attitudes toward our Caribbean and Central American neighbors, failure for one hundred years to enforce the civil rights of many of our citizens).  But,  usually we have been on the right side of history - even when it took a while - emancipation of our slaves; participation in and leadership of world organizations; standing against fascism, Nazism, militarism and communism; and the liberation of countries without attempting to then govern or control them (Europe after WWII,  Japan,  Libya, Serbia and Kosovo).

Winston Churchill said that you could count on the Americans to do the right thing after they tried everything else.  Couldn’t we just once prove him wrong?  Couldn’t we stand tall in Syria against the use of chemical weapons and against the madness of dictators? Some say we should have moved two months ago; while others say wait and see what happens.   It is already later than it should be -  but it is not too late to do the right thing early.

7 September 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Congressman Eliot Engel of the Bronx, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview while the President was reaching his Syria decision that there was nothing worse than doing nothing.  Unfortunately the President found something worse.  He tossed the ball to the Congress and now puts the prestige of his Presidency on the line, as already was the credibility of his country.  Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick President Obama spoke loudly and often about the Syrian use of chemical weapons and then asked permission to use a stick.  Regardless of whether the Congress authorizes him to strike Syria he has done inestimable damage to the office of the Presidency and to our nation’s alliances throughout the world.

If the Congress votes no, and as I write this on Sept. 5 it appears the Senate will vote yes and the House no, the ball is back in the President’s court. If he then acts he negates the very logic and sincerity of going to Congress but if he doesn’t act abdicates the position of the United States as the world leader - a position assumed after WWII because our failure to take that leadership after WWI was in part a cause of WWII.

Should other nations be responding to Syria’s use of chemical weapons?  YES.  But should the failure of others to do something justify our doing nothing. NO.  During the Second World War many people went to FDR and asked him to bomb the death camps - he was dissuaded by those who said we would be killing the inmates (incredible) and by those who questioned the veracity of the evidence. When General Eisenhower liberated the camps he had film makers and photographers take as many pictures as they could because he wanted people never to forget. It doesn’t matter if we remember atrocities if we do nothing when they reoccur.  Due to a courageous American President the genocide in Kosovo was ended and democracy brought to Serbia and Kosovo without one losing the life of one American soldier.  Had he asked Congress first who knows if we would have done anything?

American Presidents of course should ask Congress, under the Constitution, to declare war and Madison. Polk, McKinley, Wilson, and FDR did so.  But for limited military actions most Presidents have sought either Congress’ unofficial approval or post action approval.  In 1801/02 President Jefferson with an almost non-existent Navy sent a battleship to the Mediterranean to combat the Tripolitania pirates -- sufficient force was used to get a negotiated peace -- and he was praised for doing it. 

Americans don’t like War.  We as a people have opposed almost every war we’ve been in before it was declared and get weary and unsupportive if the war lasts to long.  And, that includes the first one - the War for Independence.  But Americans will support their President when they use military force to defend our interests and our values (most notably the support of Pres. Lincoln in both saving the union and freeing the slaves).  Limited strikes such as Jefferson in Tripoli, Reagan in Grenada, Clinton in Kosovo, these met with public approval as did Korea in the early years after Truman acted; but, Americans are not going to decide to involve us in a foreign war when most of them can’t identify countries on a map outside of Mexico and Canada.

Americans would support a President who would tell them the truth, and Obama has, and take a course of action supporting our nation’s historic opposition to use of chemical weapons.  One person is elected to make this tough decision - and it’s not the members of Congress who are elected based on local issues and district boundaries.  And, this nation decided over 225 years ago that the British Parliament doesn’t speak for us.  While we created and have been the world’s greatest proponent of the United Nations we made clear after 1945 that we would not let the veto power hamper action in our nation’s interest and we would not subordinate our values and commitments to a majority vote among nations. 

The President gave the nation his decision. He should have owned it and taken action accordingly.  When the history of this time is written, in fifty years, I hope no historian has to write that America could have stopped a future holocaust had it taken action in 2013 as they write about how the west could have stopped Hitler had they taken action in 1936.   

When the southern states seceded President Buchanan was urged by some members of his Cabinet to take action.  Buchanan was a long time Pennsylvania lawyer and got his start in politics at the local level in 1812 - he knew some of the authors of the Constitution.  So he came to the conclusion that the Constitution did not permit secession -- but, alas, the Constitution according to Buchanan did not permit the President to do anything about it.  In 2008 and 2012 I truly believe that most Americans thought they were electing another Lincoln not another Buchanan.

5 September 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


In 1850 the Congress and the President adopted a series of bills that they thought would end the sectional division in the country over the slavery issue.  It didn’t, it did delay what now appears to have been an inevitable Civil War for ten years and probably bought the North the time it needed to develop strong enough to win that conflict.  Despite what the legislators and President thought, their best efforts were undermined by a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1856 known as the Dred Scott Decision.  That infamous decision ruled that a class of people could never be considered citizens of the United States nor have any rights under the laws and constitution of the nation because they had black skin.  That decision made the Civil War inevitable  upon the election of President who opposed the expansion of slavery; a Civil War with over 600,000 dead and more wounded.

After ten years of an effort by the Congress and the President to assure the rights of the newly freed slaves and enforce amendments to the constitution that fully undid the Dred Scott Decision, the country settled for a society where all were free but only some (white) had rights.  In 1896 the Supreme Court of the United States issued a second outrageous ruling Plessy v. Ferguson. That decision accepted the right to citizenship of ex-slaves but held that black and white citizens could be separated and treated equally. It led to Jim Crow segregation and unequal schools, libraries, wash rooms, public fountains, parks etc.  It took almost 60 years for the Supreme Court to reverse that decision and declare unanimously that separate but equal was inherently unequal and therefore a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection of the laws clause.

It took another dozen years for the country to come to grips with that 1954 decision Brown v. Bd.. of Education.  And, in 1964 and 1965 the people of the country and the President from the South, with a preacher from Alabama and a Senator from Illinois succeeded in enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Some of those provisions led to immediate desegregation of public facilities; and, the Voting Rights Act led to representation at the county, state and federal level for the black citizens of many states.  Every President since Johnson and every Congress through 2006 has renewed the Voting Rights Act.

Now the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision, decides that section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which sets the trigger for the implementation of Section 5 is unconstitutional.  It is Section 5 that has made the Voting Rights Act a success. It is Section 5 that required per-approval by the Justice Department if covered jurisdictions want to make changes in their election laws.  And, it is the means by which the federal government prevents encroachments on the rights of our citizens in the covered states.  If there is a weakness in the Voting Rights Act it is that pre-clearance should apply to all the states.

The Supreme Court is the most undemocratic branch of our government. The Justices are appointed for life by an indirectly elected President (read Electoral College) and a non-representative Senate (read 2 per state).  It has a history of bowing to the powerful interests that rule our economy (witness the attempts to gut the New Deal reforms).  And now in Shelby v Holder it guts the Voting Rights Act.

We are at a crossroads in America.  One road leads to an America with a large underclass of undocumented non-citizens who will provide a cheap labor force for the industrial capitalists; a debt-burdened graduate student population that will live in apartments (read dollars for landlords and real estate interests) as they can’t afford their own homes; and a poor and black population whose voices at the ballot box will be stifled.  The other road leads to the America that the 19th and 20th centuries progressed towards: a Nation where all: men and women, young and old, rich and poor, white and black and Latino, gay and straight, enjoyed the promise of the American Dream - the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to live one's life with dignity.

Twice the Supreme Court has been dangerously wrong on the issue of  race and equality.  Now it is wrong a third time.  Three strikes and you’re out.  It is time to begin a crusade for Democracy in America. It is time to abolish the Electoral College; reform the Congress(and particularly the Senate) and establish a Supreme Court with Justices serving ten-year terms.  It is time to enhance and enshrine popular democracy in the United States.  We can keep the Republic that Benjamin Franklin said was being left to us rather than a Monarchy -- and we don’t want an Oligarchy or a Plutocracy either.   

25 June 2013   

Thursday, May 30, 2013


In 1936 the fascist military leaders in Spain led by Francisco Franco (El Caudillo) revolted against the Republic that had replaced the ancient Spanish monarchy.  The Republic was led by socialist and left-wing democrats.  Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy supported Franco with arms, planes and “volunteer” soldiers.  The Soviet Union supported the Republic similarly.  And the western democracies, England, France and the United States looked on; offering sympathy to the Republic but not wanting to assist them too much lest it strengthen the communists.  Before the start of WWII the fascists won in Spain and the Spanish people were subjected to some thirty-five years of dictatorship (after the war the west allied with Franco during the cold war).

In 2012 the people of Syria revolt against their dictator whose family had ruled for decades.  He bombs and strafes the villages and uses chemical weapons against his own people.  Iran and Russia and the radicals in Lebanon (Hezbollah) send arms and aid to the dictator.  And the western democracies, England, France and particularly the United States send platitudes and good wishes and humanitarian aid.  Weapons to match those that Russia has given the Syrian government might fall into the hands of the Islamists (reads like the Spanish communists).  Without putting troops on the ground the western powers with their missiles and drones and planes could enforce a no fly zone and assist the rebels as they did the Libyan rebels and as they did in the 1990's when they brought down Milosevic in Serbia and saved Kosovo.

But analogizing the Syrian situation to the Spanish situation is considered simplistic and war-mongering.  Because McCain and Graham and other hawkish Senators call for aid to the Syrian rebels our government further temporizes. We will stand by and watch Assad use chemical weapons against his own people as we stood by and watched the genocide in Rwanda in 1995.

In the beginning of the 19th century those who wanted to see a world of democracy and freedom thought of America as the world’s last best hope. The South American revolutionaries modeled their fights for independence from Spain on our Revolution and tried to use our model of peaceful independence rather than the French terror.  When the Chinese struggled for rights in 1989, as the Berlin Wall tumbled, they raised the Statue of Liberty as their symbol in Tiananmen Square.  Under President Obama, during the crisis in Egypt and the revolt in Libya, America began again to be seen on the side of the little people.  Now the waffling and the whimpering and the hesitation and the appeasement in Syria threaten to undo that image. As Russia sends missiles to Syria to shoot down any planes the west might employ in a no-fly zone and Hezbollah sends “volunteers” America pontificates and urges conferences.  We need to learn more about the rebels before we give further assistance. Fortunately for our country the King of France didn’t want to know more about the members of the Continental Congress before he decided to help us he simply wanted to know our enemy.  Why do we need to know more than two things: 1) the regime in Syria is massacring its own people and would rather ruin the country and murder the non-Alawite citizens (90%) than give up power. 2) the regime in Syria is supported by Iran and Russia and Hezbollah.

Winston Churchill once said that you could count on America to do the right thing after it tried everything else.  If we do that in this situation we will do the right thing when it is too little and too late and require more resources than we can expend.  The Syrian people have a right to live in peace and freedom.  All people have a right to live in peace and freedom.  And unless the greatest nation on the planet firmly stands for that than someday no one may be living in peace and freedom.

29 May 2013