House Moots Afghan Exit, Iran War, Military Budget and “Signature” Drone Strikes

On Wednesday and Thursday, the House is expected to take up consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act. Amendments will be offered to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan, to oppose war with Iran, to cut the military budget and to stop “signature” drone strikes that target people without knowing who will be killed.

According to the way the House operates, the authorization bill is the most open opportunity to challenge current policy. When the House considers the appropriations bill, amendments can be offered to cut money for specific programs. But it is difficult to otherwise alter policy when the appropriation is considered, according to the rules of the House. On the authorization bill, there is much more scope to try to direct policy.

Every American who cares about war and peace ought to be calling Congress. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has established a toll-free number that connects you to the Capitol Switchboard: 1-877-429-0678. Then, you can ask to be transferred to your representative’s office. (If you can’t call, you can write here.)

What should you tell your representative’s office? Whatever else you do, you should tell them that you are a constituent and give them your address to document that fact.

Then, you have some choices to make about what to emphasize. Many amendments have been offered. At this writing, we don’t know which amendments will be allowed on the floor by the Rules Committee. Once the Rules Committee has decided which amendments it will allow, there might not be much time before voting begins. So, it’s better to call when you can and emphasize broad themes.

For example, you could say: “I urge you to support amendments that would expedite US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, oppose war with Iran, cut the military budget and bar the military from conducting drone strikes against people whose identities are not known.”

It is virtually certain that the Rules Committee will allow at least one amendment which would expedite US military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Such amendments have been offered by Reps. Jim McGovern and Walter Jones, Rep. Adam Smith and Rep. Barbara Lee.

Rep. John Conyers is offering an amendment that would push back against the drive for war with Iran. The amendment, offered jointly with Reps. Keith Ellison, Ron Paul and Walter Jones, would make explicit that nothing in the bill authorizes the use of force against Iran. That might sound modest and, indeed, it is. But, in fact, the gang baying for war with Iran is so fanatic that one shouldn’t say anything against war, that if one says, “let’s pass a resolution that we won’t have a war with Iran on Saturday at 3:37 PM,” they break out in hives. So, it’s a brilliant move by Conyers to try to force the House to vote on this.

Representative Conyers is also offering amendments that would cut the military budget by terminating the F-35B, by moving ahead with retirement of 18 Global Hawk drones as proposed by the administration and by delaying the new long-range nuclear-capable bomber.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, supported by Representative Conyers, is offering an amendment that would prohibit the military from carrying out drone strikes against unidentified targets. Senior US officials have expressed concern that such “signature strikes” greatly increase the risk of civilian casualties. Indeed, just in the last week, between eight and twelve civilians were killed in US drone strikes in Yemen, according to CNN and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Kucinich-Conyers amendment shows that members of Congress are concerned about civilian casualties from drone strikes and the expansion of drone strikes that is currently underway in Yemen.

Judging from past years, most of the amendments that have been offered are not going to pass, and that’s not surprising. If everyone already agreed on the underlying policy, in most cases, it would already be in the bill. But Afghanistan might be an exception to this trend, because the Republican leadership is out of touch with the majority of Republican opinion on military withdrawal from Afghanistan; in a free vote on the floor, the Republican leadership may lose. Already, a year ago, an amendment offered by Representatives McGovern and Jones urging expedited withdrawal from Afghanistan got more than 200 votes on the floor.

But amendments that don’t pass are also useful. They force members of the House to stand up and be counted on particular issues and raise the profile of concern about those issues. If they draw sufficient support, they send a signal to the administration of significant Congressional concern. If eighty members of Congress voted for the Kucinich-Conyers amendment to limit drone strikes, it would be historic, because Congress has never tried to limit drone strikes before. The administration would notice and that might lead them to be more cautious in expanding a policy that is already controversial inside the administration. And if that saved the lives of eight or twelve civilians in Yemen who wouldn’t be killed in a US drone strike, wouldn’t that be worth doing?