To Avoid Unleashing Gaza-Like Airstrikes on Iraq, Congress Must Vote

In the early hours of Friday morning, Gaza’s Ark – the boat preparing to sail from Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade on Palestinian exports – was hit by an Israeli missile and caught fire. When dawn broke Friday morning in Gaza, little was left of the boat.

At this writing, the United Nations says that at least 32 children and women have been killed in the Israeli military assault on Gaza, with at least 166 killed overall. Hundreds of lives can still be saved with an immediate ceasefire, as the United Nations Security Council unanimously (including the United States) called for on July 12.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison and 24,000 Americans have called for a ceasefire. If the demand among Americans and members of Congress for an immediate ceasefire became more widespread, don’t you think that the administration would work harder to bring it about?

The last time Israeli forces launched a full ground invasion of Gaza – just before President Obama took office – 1,391 people were killed, including more than 300 children and more than 100 women, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. So an immediate ceasefire, stopping the now-threatened Israeli ground invasion, could spare some 1,200 Palestinian lives, including 250 children and 90 women.

There is also still time to stop President Obama from unleashing on children and women in Iraq what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unleashed, with effective US permission, on children and women in Gaza.

Those calling for US airstrikes in Iraq now should be pressed to answer a simple question about civilian casualties from airstrikes: has the Israeli military been doing everything it could to avoid civilian casualties in its air campaign?

If the Israeli military has not been doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties, then it has been committing war crimes (as the UN’s human rights chief has said).

If the Israeli military is doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties – as the advocates of US airstrikes in Iraq would no doubt claim, since US advocates of US bombing in the Middle East are unfailingly also US advocates of Israeli bombing in the Middle East – why would we expect that US airstrikes in Iraq would have a different result from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza?

Israeli weapons, technology and intelligence capabilities are very similar to US weapons, technology and intelligence capabilities. If the United States had better means to avoid civilian casualties with airstrikes than the Israeli military, wouldn’t the United States willingly share its technology and expertise? Would the Israeli government refuse such US aid?

Therefore, we can safely assume that the Israeli military has the same technical capacity to avoid killing children and women with its airstrikes as the US military. If the Israeli military cannot avoid killing children and women in Gaza with its airstrikes, then the US military cannot avoid killing children and women in Iraq with its airstrikes.

The unassailable logic of this argument underscores the urgency that the decision to use US military force in Iraq now must not be made by presidential executive order. It would not be constitutional, it would not be legal, it would not be democratic and it would not be moral.

At this writing, 94 members of the House have signed a bipartisan letter initiated by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) and Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Virginia) demanding that President Obama come to Congress for authorization before using military force in Iraq, as required by the US Constitution. Combined with the House who voted on June 19 to block the use of the 2002 Iraq Authorization for the Use of Military Force to justify bombing Iraq today, 195 members of the House are now on record opposing the use of the 2002 Iraq AUMF today – more than the 192 members of the House who insisted last August that President Obama come to Congress for authorization before bombing Syria.

Representatives Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Walter Jones (R-North Carolina) and Barbara Lee have now introduced a bill – invoking a key provision of the 1973 War Powers Resolution that allows members of Congress to force a vote on deploying US troops to a combat situation when Congress has not authorized the use of force – that would withdraw the military advisers President Obama sent to Iraq who could be used to call in airstrikes.

What has happened to civilians in Gaza in the last week is a cruel and terrible tragedy. But if we don’t draw a line in the sand against further military escalation, the tragedy will get much worse. Stopping an Israeli ground assault in Gaza and stopping US military escalation in Iraq could save hundreds of innocent lives. Raising our voices costs nothing. Why wouldn’t we do it?