Congress is about to consider whether to vote for another $33 billion, not to continue but purely to escalate the level of war in Afghanistan by sending more troops and contractors. A No vote needs to be rewarded, and a Yes vote punished. So I am committing to vote for the reelection of any incumbent who votes No and against any who votes Yes. Here's a whip list: http://defundwar.org
The peace movement shrank dramatically when a Democrat was elected president and the wars became "good wars." But it's been crawling its way back. After a small but impressive campaign against the June 2009 war supplemental, one would have expected a larger campaign against this spring's escalation supplemental. After all, the war in Afghanistan has worsened as a result of last year's escalation, the "this is the last supplemental" excuse looks even dumber the second time, the shine has worn off the new president in Washington, and a No vote just leaves the war at its current level (no "abandoning the troops" scares possible).
Instead, the peace movement's message is muddled, with some organizations -- in a time worn tradition of self-destruction -- promoting an amendment to the supplemental that would ask the president to please create a plan to leave by any future date whatsoever, but not hold him to it if he changes his mind. Of course any gesture in the direction of ending a war would be helpful on its own, but as an amendment -- even assuming it does not pass -- it will give spineless congress members an excuse to vote Yes for the money ("But I voted for the timetable!"), just as it has already given organizers an excuse to neglect the campaign against the funding.
Iraq is offered as an example of a war that was ended by rhetoric rather than the power of the purse. The main flaw in this argument, of course, is that the occupation of Iraq has not ended and appears unlikely to. Needless to say, there is good work to do on media, education, counter-recruitment, international solidarity, etc., etc. But cutting off the money is an approach worthy of not being eternally undermined. And, while all variety of tactics are to the good, when the weaker ones don't damage the stronger ones, there are a couple of major reasons to focus on defunding as a critical tool, among others, for ending wars.
First, the power of the purse is also the power of our representatives in the House of Representatives, and if they abandon their control over wars to presidents, then wars may never end. An amendment dripping in deference to royalty, allowing a president to decide when to end a war, and whether to change his mind -- as if he weren't free to do all that prior to passing the amendment -- may do more harm than good even if it doesn't help fund an escalation.
Second, the power of the purse has been used to good effect in the past, when Congress was less deferential and, not coincidentally, governance was better in many ways. Here are some examples from Senator Russ Feingold:
"On numerous occasions, Congress has exercised its constitutional authority to end military engagements. Here are just a few examples:
"Cambodia In late December 1970, Congress passes the Supplemental Foreign Assistance Appropriations Act prohibiting the use of funds to finance the introduction of United States ground combat troops into Cambodia or to provide U.S. advisors to or for Cambodian military forces in Cambodia.
"Vietnam In late June 1973, Congress passes the second Supplemental Appropriations Act for FY1973. This legislation contains language cutting off funds for combat activities in Vietnam after August 15, 1973.
"Somalia In November 1993, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act includes a provision that prohibits funding after March 31, 1994 for military operations in Somalia, except for a limited number of military personnel to protect American diplomatic personnel and American citizens, unless further authorized by Congress.
"Bosnia In 1998, Congress passes the Defense Authorization Bill, with a provision that prohibits funding for Bosnia after June 30, 1998, unless the President makes certain assurances."
There have been some good discussions of this topic on peace activist list serves, and Ralph Lopez gave me permission to quote this excellent contribution, showing that not only were funds cut off for the Vietnam War, but numerous attempts were made to do so, making the ending of funding a prominent part of the discussion. Lopez writes:
"It is true that previous attempts at stopping wars involved repeated and numerous attempts by Congress. What stands out is that almost all of these attempts involved cutting-off funding. Vietnam was not stopped overnight. It took many tries and a building of public pressure to make it happen. All true. But let's have a look at the history of those heroic attempts:
"1970 H.R. 17123 ('McGovern -Hatfield')
Prohibited the obligation or expenditures of funds 'authorized by this or any other act' to 'maintain a troop level of more than 280,000 armed forces' in Vietnam after April 30, 1971 unless the president finds that up to a 60-day extension is needed in case of a clear and present danger to U.S. troops. Between April 30 and December 31,l971, limited expenditure of funds to 'safe and systematic withdrawal of remaining armed forces'
"1970 H.R. 19911 ('Cooper-Church', Enacted)
Prohibited using any funds authorized or appropriated in this or any other act to finance the introduction of ground troops or U.S. advisors in Cambodia.
"1971 H.R. 9910 ('Cooper-Church')
Stated that the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution had left the U.S. government without congressional authority for continued participation in the Indochina war. Required that on or after enactment of this act, funds authorized in this or any other Act can be used only to withdraw U.S. forces from Indochina and may not be used to engage in hostilities in North or South Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos except to protect withdrawing forces.