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How to Tell if a Candidate Backs War or Peace

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I just had a chat with a Democratic candidate who has just about wrapped
up his party's nomination for Congress here in Virginia's Fifth
Congressional District.  John Douglass is a retired Brigadier General, a
former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and a former deputy U.S.
military representative to the NATO Military Committee in Brussels,

Obviously a candidate for war, right?  That's not what
people were telling me, and not what Douglass himself says.  He tells
me he's for peace and for moving from an offensive military to one that
is truly defensive.  Rather than wars in the Middle East, he says, he'd
like to search every container that enters our country and control every
passage across out country's borders.  Such policies, he says, don't
threaten anyone or produce terrorism.

But, here's the catch.  In
recent years in this district, Congressman Virgil Goode (a Democrat
turned Republican), Congressman Tom Perriello (Democrat), and the
current incumbent Robert Hurt (Republican) have voted for every
"emergency" supplemental war spending bill they could get their hands
on, along with every "defense" appropriations act.  Perriello said he
was for peace and justice and the rule of law, but would never commit to
anything, and always voted for war.  So, I asked Douglass if he would
commit to anything.

To avoid asking about hypothetical
situations, I asked Douglass if he would have voted against any of the
war funding bills that his predecessors voted for.  "Maybe I would and
maybe I wouldn't," he replied. "It's hard for me to put myself in their
position from not being there."  

Think about what that means. 
In this government of the people, the people have no ability to
determine whether a bill deserved support or not, even years after the
fact, much less when it counts, because the people are not all members
of Congress.  Those of us who lobby a Congress member to vote a
particular way on something have no business doing that because we are
not in their position.  Their job is to represent us, then, without
asking us what we want, since we are not qualified to say.

said that, "Once the troops are committed, it would be hard for me not
to support them."  He said he would vote to fund even wars that he had
opposed launching.  I asked if it would make a difference to him if the
majority of the troops told pollsters they wanted the war ended.  I
asked if it would make a difference to him if the top cause of death for
the troops was suicide.  Summing up his answer: Nope, he replied, and
the question is too theoretical.

So, I asked about a particular
bill now in Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee's bill which limits funding in
Afghanistan to withdrawal.  Would he sign onto it?  Again, no
commitment.  "Probably," he said.  This wasn't a theoretical bill, but
it was a bill that he said he hadn't read.  Still, he would not commit
to the principle or to the bill as I described it.

I asked
Douglass if he would have voted, as Rep. Hurt did, against this year's
National Defense Authorization Act in opposition to the power of
indefinite detention.  Again the answer was: "Probably."  Probably he
would oppose authorizing presidents to lock us up forever without a
trial.  Probably.

Douglass told me that military spending is too
high.  I asked him repeatedly for a rough indication of how much too
high it is, and I never got even a hint at an answer.  Repeatedly
Douglass suggested that the problem in Washington is partisan division
and polarization, even though both parties overwhelmingly back military
spending and wars.  Repeatedly Douglass changed the subject to reducing
nuclear weapons, but he drew the line at maintaining what he called "a
credible deterrent against crazy people like North Koreans or God forbid
the Iranians get nuclear weapons."  He also promoted "modernizing" U.S.
nuclear weapons.

I asked about the roles of Congress and the
President in decision making.  I asked if an agreement for 10 more years
in Afghanistan needed Senate ratification to be Constitutional. 
Douglass replied that his "first instinct" would be to say yes.  I asked
if presidents could start wars without Congress, and Douglass replied
that some wars are not technically wars, but he could still commit to a
definite maybe.  Elaborating, Douglass said that while he'd like to
allow Congress to make such decisions, he would be opposed to giving
that power to the current Congress because it's too polarized.  This
creates a puzzle, as far as I can see, because if Douglass tries to
de-polarize Congress by agreeing with the greatest number of his
colleagues, that greatest number clearly favors leaving all war
decisions to presidents.  If instead Douglass were to take a stand for
(and not just swear an oath to) the Constitution, he would become part
of the horrifying polarization.  I pointed out that neither the
Constitution nor the War Powers Act makes exceptions for polarized
Congresses, and Douglass said, "There are also practicalities."

what I took to be his loose reading of the law, I thought I should ask
Douglass about the current practice of murdering people around the world
with drones.  He said he approved of it, including for U.S. citizens,
but only for men, never for women or children.  I asked about the
killing of Anwar al Awlaki, and Douglass said he did not know that
case.  Nor did he seem to be aware that the United States had also, in a
separate strike weeks later, killed Awlaki's 16-year-old son.  In
theory, Douglass opposes that act, although he apparently doesn't know
of it.

I continued to try to figure out what Douglass would do as
a member of Congress if he opposed a war or military spending.  Would
he vote against funding?  Would he vote for defunding?  No telling. 
Would he back a process of economic conversion from weapons industries
to civilian industries?  Not at all clear.  So, how do I know whether to
vote for you, I asked.  

Vote for my military record, said Douglass.  

Can't do it, said I.  

desperation, I asked if he would take a stand against a war on Iran. 
Douglass replied that Iran might attack U.S. ships.  Why not move the
U.S. ships away from Iran, I asked.  

Responding to that outrageous question, Douglass became more agitated than at any other time in the interview:

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
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