Where Are the Doves in Congress?

By Nichols, John | The Progressive, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Where Are the Doves in Congress?


Nichols, John, The Progressive


On Iraq, they are few and far between

Russ Feingold, the Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, is frustrated. And he is lonely. In a Congress that once demanded that Presidents account for their warmaking, Feingold finds few who will join him in questioning the legality of the hidden war on Iraq. Some leading Democrats with anti-war roots, such as U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and U.S. Representative Howard Berman of California, have actually sided with conservative Congressional leaders in advising the White House to step up an already intense schedule of bombing raids on Iraq. Even liberal Democrats like Senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut--who decried the illegal wars of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan--are notably silent regarding the wars of Bill Clinton.

"There seems to be an informal understanding that, despite the fact that the Constitution says the Congress must declare wars, and despite the fact that the War Powers Act is good law, the Congress is simply going to ignore its duties," says Feingold. "There has been a willing surrender of Congressional authority to an aggrandizing White House. It suits both their purposes. The Administration does not want to endure tough questioning about what it is doing around the world, and the Congress does not seem to want to take responsibility for deciding whether the country should be engaged in wars all over the planet."

The United States has been pursuing an aggressive bombing campaign against Iraq since December 1998. During the first eight months of 1999, American and British pilots fired more than 1,100 missiles against 360 targets in Iraq, according to The New York Times, which referred to the campaign as an "intense but little-noticed fight." The Iraq bombing, the Times added, was already two-thirds the size of NATO's assault on Yugoslavia.

While the Yugoslav war provoked spirited Congressional debate, high-profile fact-finding missions, threats of funding cuts, and an energetic attempt by U.S. House members to assert the restrictions contained in the War Powers Act, the Iraq war has received little notice among politicians. For instance, when Iraqi officials produced evidence in late August that U.S. bombing raids on the town of Ba'shequa, 280 miles north of Baghdad, had killed two people and injured a number of others, the news passed without Congressional mention.

"The War Powers Act should be in play. One of the biggest pretenses in Washington is the suggestion that it doesn't apply, but that's wrong. It should be applied," says Feingold, who is no fan of Saddam Hussein but who insists the law is the law. The Clinton Administration says its authority to bomb Iraq comes from 1991 Congressional votes authorizing George Bush's Gulf War fight to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait, and to related Congressional votes later that year. But Feingold sees a deliberate effort to circumvent the War Powers Act.

"I hear people say there was a vote in 1991 on going to war in the Persian Gulf. But how can you say that a vote in 1991 justifies these acts in 19997" argues Feingold. "Because on one occasion the Congress gave the President a measure of authority to launch military action, that does not mean that for 100 years any President can do anything he wants."

Even reports by the United Nations Children's Fund, the International Red Cross, and religious delegations have provoked remarkably restrained responses from a Congress that is constitutionally duty-bound to authorize U.S. warmaking.

"It's as if a lot of people in positions of power, people who know better, are simply saying, `We're not going to talk about what our policies are doing to the children of Iraq,'" says Father Robert Drinan, who, as a House Democrat from Massachusetts in the 1970s, was a leading advocate for humane and responsible U.S. foreign policies.

"It surprises me and troubles me that there are not more members of Congress speaking out, deploring the bombings, talking about what these policies are doing to the people of Iraq.

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