Peace and Justice Movement Pulled a Rumsfeld–It’s Time to Recover

Posted: May 30, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Donald Rumsfeld earned considerable scorn from across the ideological spectrum for his attitude toward post-war planning. One episode in particular illustrated his Defense Department’s attitude toward post-invasion planning:

In a piece from October 2004 entitled “Pre-war planning was non-existent,” Knight Ridder reported on a meeting held at a US Air Force base just days before the start of the war in March 2003. The meeting was held to discuss the plans to oust Mr. Hussein and restore democracy in Iraq. When the presentation came to the subejct [sic] of postwar Iraq, the slide being shown said ” To Be Provided.”

The Knight Ridder story detailed the results of this lack of planning:

In fact, some senior Pentagon officials had thought they could bring most American soldiers home from Iraq by September 2003. Instead, more than a year later, 138,000 U.S. troops are still fighting terrorists who slip easily across Iraq’s long borders, diehards from the old regime and Iraqis angered by their country’s widespread crime and unemployment and America’s sometimes heavy boots.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency was particularly aggressive in its forecasts, officials said. One briefing occurred in January 2003. Another, in April 2003, weeks after the war began, discussed Saddam’s plans for attacking U.S. forces after his troops had been defeated on the battlefield.

Similar warnings came from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. The council produced reports in January 2003 titled “Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq” and “Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq.”

Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Iraqi troops were trying to maintain their grip on Kuwait, “they are now defending their country,” said a senior defense official, summarizing the Joint Staff’s warnings. “You are going to get serious resistance. This idea that everyone will join you is baloney. But it was dismissed.”

Many of us opposed to the Iraq war heaped scorn on Rumsfeld and his subordinates for the irresponsibility of planning a war and refusing to plan for the post-war period. Because the U.S. failed to do serious intellectual work to contemplate the contingencies possible after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the administration was caught off guard by the emergence of opposition to their post-war agenda for the country. Here, the administration typified a phenomenon described in Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power:

“Most people believe that they are in fact aware of the future, that they are planning and thinking ahead. They are usually deluded: What they are really doing is succumbing to their desires, to what they want the future to be. Their plans are vague, based on their imaginations rather than their reality. They may believe they thinking all the way to the end, but they are really only focusing on the happy ending, and deluding themselves by the strength of their desire.”

Ironically, this passage could apply equally well to either the Defense Department’s behavior during the early phases of the Iraq war or to the peace and justice movement’s behavior during and after the 2006 congressional elections and the 2008 presidential elections. In both 2006 and 2008, once the strategy of our movement became largely electoral, we mistook Election Day’s victory for “Mission Accomplished,” leaving us unprepared for the fierce resistance to our agenda following our successful toppling of the opposing regime. With evidence mounting that MoveOn has thrown in with the militarists on Afghanistan, with the preferred presidential candidate of the anti-war movement now busily expanding one or two wars (depending on whether you view the war in Afghanistan and the “covert” war in Pakistan as one war or two) and the party swept into Congressional control on anti-war sentiment busily cramming more and more money into the War Department, it’s pretty obvious that the anti-war movement’s post-election strategy remains “To Be Provided.”

MoveOn’s defection robs the anti-war movement of one of its most effective structures for collective action, and without that structure the movement’s unity and strategic vision have taken a body blow. I commend folks working to pressure them back into the fold, but at some point we’re going to have replace them with new structures. A new “mother-ship” database would be a good place to start.

But just as important as new structures is new vision–a strategic reset triggered by the realization that the anti-war movement was never about electing a politician but about affecting government policies. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the election of more Democrats in 2006 were not ends in themselves but means to the ends–ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (if the anti-war movement is truly an anti-war, vs. anti-Republican-led-war, movement). Now is a good moment to begin that reset, because a new, solid target has appeared on the horizon: the 2010 National Defense Authorization (NDAA).

Even though it’s a “budget” document, the NDAA is an authorizing document, not an appropriations document; in general, it sets policy rather than appropriating funds (although in rare instances a relatively tiny amount of appropriations get tacked on to the NDAA, but that’s not its primary function). Therefore, it’s a prime vehicle for setting restrictions on U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, debate around a recent NDAA focused on whether or not to revoke Congressional authorization for the ongoing occupation in Iraq. So while it doesn’t have a sexiness of a half-trillion dollar, earmark-laden Christmas tree, it can be a powerful vehicle for forcing public debate and broad policy changes.

Congress will utilize the following process to craft the NDAA: (the Senate follows a similar legislative process; I focus on the House as it’s the chamber with which I am most familiar):

  • House Armed Services subcommittees will meet to craft their portions of the legislation. They will hold hearings to gather testimony (often testimony invited from experts who tend to back the chairman’s intended policy choices), and then hold a final hearing to pass their subcommittees’ portion of the NDAA. During this process, the chairs of the subcommittees work behind the scenes with the chair of the full committee to ensure their subcommittees’ portions of the legislation are acceptable. They also feel out other committee members to gather intelligence about possible challenges and amendments that could be presented that are germane to their subcommittee’s product. This part of the process is critical–it creates the starting point for the final legislation, and, due to the complexity of the full NDAA, this represents one of the only true opportunities for in-depth consideration of each component.
  • The full House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will have a full committee hearing, where the various initial components of the NDAA crafted by the subcommittees are gathered and folded into the larger bill. At this point, the behind-the-scenes wrangling over needed changes to these various pieces becomes public: during each subcommittee chair’s presentation of their legislation, the other members of the committee may challenge their assumptions or offer amendments–or oppose the subcommittee’s draft language altogether. Important changes can be made at this stage, but because the entire bill is under consideration, in-depth discussion of any particular piece can be undermined by time constraints and the exhaustion of members of Congress as the hearing drags on. After each piece is presented by the various subcommittee chair (a process that takes hours), a final vote is held on approving the legislation for consideration by the full House.
  • A Rule is passed by the House Rules Committee that sets the ground rules for consideration of the NDAA. The shape of this rule can deeply affect the outcome of the legislation as it decides how vulnerable the legislation will be to amendment, while also potentially limiting parliamentary challenges to the legislation like points of order or motions to recommit the legislation to the originating committee. The rule also determines the length of time the House will set aside for debate on the legislation.
  • The NDAA is scheduled for consideration by the full House of Representatives. During this process the chair of HASC and the ranking member of the minority party split the bloc of time in half, which they then subdivide among members wishing to speak about the legislation. If the rule allows for amendments to the legislation, amendments are offered and debated. The final bill is passed if it survives any potential parliamentary challenges like points of order or motions to recommit it to the committee.
  • The House and Senate must pass identical versions of the NDAA. If the bills which emerged from the two chambers’ legislative processes are not identical (and this almost never happens on any legislation of substance), the two chambers appoint conferrees to a conference committee to work out a compromise bill. This conference report is then reported back to each chamber, where members vote on it. Once it passes, it is sent to the President for his signature.

This process provides an opportunity for the anti-war movement to refocus on our overriding goal: to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of these steps provides opportunities for citizens to influence the process and for creative public education. Focus on affecting the process can help our movement–fractured by our failure to plan for continued public pressure beyond an electoral victory–to recreate structures that have been co-opted by the administration and by Congress.

The subcommittee process is already under way.  Here’s a list of subcommittee hearings coming in the next week:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

10:00 a.m.; 2118 Rayburn House Office Building
House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee will meet to receive testimony on the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for Military Construction.

2:30 p.m.; Room SR -222; Russell Senate Office Building
The Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee will meet to receive testimony on support for military family programs, policies, and initiatives in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2010 and the Future Years Defense Program.

2:30 p.m.; Room SR-232A; Russell Senate Office Building
Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee will meet to receive testimony on strategic forces programs in review of the Defense Authorization Request forFiscal Year 2010 and the Future Years Defense Program.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

9:30 a.m.; Room SH-216, Hart Senate Office Building
The Senate Armed Services Committee will meet too receive testimony on the Department of the Navy in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2010 and the Future Years Defense Program.

1:00 p.m.; 2212 Rayburn House Office Building
The Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee will meet to receive testimony on the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for the U.S. Special Operations Command.

What you can do:

Find your elected representatives:

Check to see whether they serve on House Armed Services or the Senate Armed Services subcommittees. If so, call the congressional switchboard (202.224.3121), ask for your elected official and tell them:

  • “I oppose the continued occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
  • “I expect you to use the subcommittee process to explore non-military options and push for a swift end to U.S. military action on a firm timeline.”

Then, link up with anti-war groups like United for Peace and Justice and Peace Action West to participate in group actions and stay up-to-date.

Because we’re facing the consequences of a movement-wide lack of post-election planning and the loss of a major organizing structure in MoveOn, we’re in a tough time in the U.S. peace and justice movement. This is a good moment to refocus and re-engage in the policy-making process while we work to repair the damage. Take a few minutes to call your elected official and reconnect with the larger peace and justice movement.

We pulled a Rumsfeld, folks; it’s time to get moving again and repair the damage.

  1. […] Peace and Justice Movement Pulled a Rumsfeld–It’s Time to Recover posted on June 1st, 2009 at Return Good for Evil […]

  2. alan joplin says:

    can i link your page to mine….you page is saying something

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