Will The New House Democrats Take On The War Lobby?

| Educate!

Above Photo: Among some of the most powerful Democrats in the House, Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16) (far left), who aspires to chair the Foreign Affairs Committee, received $41,000 from the arms industry; Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD-5) (center), who is poised to become House Majority Leader, took $179,983 in arms industry cash in this cycle; and Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-28) (right), slated to chair the Intelligence Committee, took $80,743 from the war lobby. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

How can we expect the new Democratic House of Representatives to stand up to the war lobby if they choose leaders who voted for the disastrous Iraq war, fail to lead on critical current issues of war, peace and record military spending, and are still in the pay of military-industrial interests?

A new Democratic majority will take charge in the U.S. House of Representatives in January, thanks to a remarkable rebound in public participation in U.S. elections.  Based on early data, it appears that over 49% of eligible voters showed up at the polls this year, compared to a 70-year low of 36.4% in the last mid-term in 2014.  More than ever before, the Democrats should thank young voters for their success, as 18-39 year olds appear to have voted for them by a two to one margin.

An incredible 71.6% of 18-29 year olds voted for Senator Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in 2016.  So it should be no surprise that the 2018 “Blue Wave” in the House is the youngest, most diverse and most progressive new class of Democratic House Members in many years, ready to fight for the issues that Sanders ran on in 2016 and that many of them have been working on in their own communities.

“Few new Members of Congress have a background in foreign affairs, so the new House Dems may face a bit of a shock when they discover that all their domestic priorities are held hostage by a huge ‘war tax’ that drains off well over 60% of federal discretionary spending for weapons, war and military spending.”

But an issue that will seriously affect young people for decades to come, i.e. the direction of U.S. foreign policy, hardly featured in the 2018 campaign. Few new Members of Congress have a background in foreign affairs, so the new House Dems may face a bit of a shock when they discover that all their domestic priorities are held hostage by a huge “war tax” that drains off well over 60% of federal discretionary spending for weapons, war and military spending.

Even for those who have little personal interest in foreign policy, tiptoeing around this “elephant in the room” as past Congresses have done will permanently cripple and underfund all their other priorities, from healthcare, education and clean energy to tackling structural poverty in one of the richest countries in the world.

Half a century ago, Martin Luther King broke “the silence of the night,” as he put it, to address this insidious conjunction of foreign wars, record military spending and domestic poverty in his historic “Beyond Vietnam” address at the Riverside Church in New York City.  Dr. King hailed the Johnson administration’s poverty program as a “shining moment” in the struggle against poverty in America and spoke clearly about what had doomed it to failure: the Vietnam war.

“Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war,” King said. “And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

Today, although the U.S. is not fighting a war on the scale of Vietnam and the Cold War is long over, Defense Secretary Mattis’ budget request for FY2019, after adjusting for inflation, is 18% more than the wholesale diversion of resources that Dr. King decried in 1967.

The obstacles to confronting this structural problem will not come only from Republicans. They will also come from hawkish, corporate Democrats who routinely vote with a near-consensus of Republicans to approve the military spending bills that mortgage our children’s and grandchildren’s future and wars that destroy the lives and the future of millions of our neighbors around the world.

Money For Votes For War

As we documented in the CODEPINK 2018 Peace Voter Guide & Divestment Record, many of the Democrats with the most hawkish voting records are the same ones who rake in large campaign contributions from the U.S. arms industry. Former President Jimmy Carter calls U.S. campaign finance and corporate lobbying a system of “unlimited political bribery.”  This bribery, when it leads to record military spending, amounts to paying people to vote for weapons and wars that kill people.

A large portion of the 2019 Pentagon budget includes a $235.5 billion request for “investments” in new weapons and equipment, the largest amount since President Obama’s escalation of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan peaked in 2011.

The ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee—the committee that reviews, amends and approves the Pentagon budget—is Adam Smith (WA-9). It is hardly a coincidence that Smith received $261,450 in campaign cash from the arms industry in this election cycle, the second largest haul of all House Democrats. In 2016, Smith voted with a large majority of Republicans and only 15 other Democrats to keep selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

In the midterm elections, Adam Smith was challenged by a young peace activist and democratic socialist, Sarah Smith, who won 31.7% of the votes, despite an 11 to 1 imbalance in campaign funding. Ms. Smith called the military industrial complex “horrifyingly bloated” and decried runaway militarism:

“We must prioritize diplomacy over war. Our interventionist wars in the Middle East have cost thousands of servicemen and trillions of dollars, as well as the deaths of millions of civilians in the attacked countries, to little benefit in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. This must end.”

Voting for the war on Iraq should have ended the political careers of the 111 Democrats and 263 Republicans who voted for it.  Most of the Democrats have in fact been turfed out or slunk away from Congress since 2002, but not all of them.

Of the 13 Iraq war supporters still holding onto seats in the House, Adam Smith and four others now aspire to powerful leadership positions, even as they all keep taking large campaign contributions from the war lobby.

CODEPINK and our partners in the progressive movement are calling on Adam Smith and all Democrats who aspire to chair Congressional committees in the new Congress to return campaign contributions from the arms industry and stop accepting them from now on.  You can sign our action alert at this link.

Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) had the wisdom to vote against war with Iraq 16 years ago, but she, too, is now backed by the war lobby, to the tune of $51,167 in this cycle.

This may help to explain why Pelosi she showed no leadership on the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today, the catastrophic results of the Saudi-U.S. war on Yemen. While she condemned the Republican effort to quash a bill to end the US role in the war on Yemen, H Con Res 138, it was only after protests from activist groups that she agreed to be a cosponsor of the bill.

How can we expect the new Democratic House of Representatives to stand up to the war lobby if they choose leaders who voted for the disastrous Iraq war, fail to lead on critical current issues of war, peace and record military spending, and are still in the pay of military-industrial interests?

The young Americans who turned out in record numbers in this election voted for new, progressive leadership.  Now it’s up to Democrats in Congress to deliver on what they voted for.


  • mwildfire

    I shake my head at pieces like this. When arms merchants (and drug companies and oil companies and insurance companies) can OPENLY BRIBE our supposed representatives to pad their private bottom lines at the expense of the public, and we all accept this as normal–we’re wasting time asking the public to lean on Congress to do the right thing at long last. They won’t; they can’t. Congress also can’t pass reforms to stop this corruption, because SCOTUS has blocked any reform, stating that the right of billionaires and corporations to “free speech” (actually very expensive speech) trumps democracy. I disagree with my anarchist neighbor about many things, including the value of voting–it will never solve our problems given this built-in corruption, but sometimes it makes a little difference and it only takes like 20 minutes every other year–but he came up with an image I liked. A child in a carseat in the back of a car with one of those toy steering wheels in front of him or her, and the word VOTE written across the toy. Yup, that’s pretty much what elections in the US are for–something to distract the kiddies, keep them quiet by giving them the illusion of control, while the adults up front make all the actual decisions. Only in this case the adults are often childish, mostly depraved, and intent on driving the car over a cliff.

  • chetdude

    With apologies and a respectful nod to someone I deeply respect and admire, my friend Medea:

    If the past is any judge, the short answer to the rhetorical question posed in the title, “Will The New House Democrats Take On The War Lobby?” is “NO!”

    The longer answer is “Hell, NO!”

    The correct answer for us to consider is “Not until a critical mass of We the People decide we’re sick of war and apply more direct, relentless, 24/7/365 pressure on those Congresscritters where they live and work and where they eat and sleep than the paid lobbyists and their good friends and colleagues from the MIC and the Oligarchy can!”

  • Jon

    Well said, Wildfire, but we need to come up with a winning strategy. Marches with signs simply are NOT effective,and the time is urgent. With expert legal advise, we may be able to make arrests of the culprits. How about some discussion?

  • mwildfire

    Well, Kevin Zeese is a lawyer. But I don’t see arrests happening–these people MAKE the laws, they can see to it that what they do is legal. Some of it may be unconstitutional, but so what, if SCOTUS gives it the green light? Which they assuredly will. But I’ve read things suggesting that it doesn’t matter that much who is in Congress or on SCOTUS, what makes progressive change is pressure from a strong movement, from a majority of the people. This we do not have; we have been successfully divided, and a majority made passive. The small minority able to remove their asses from their seats and their consciousness from their friggin phones and get out to do something, is at least half in the deluded pro-Trump camp. We can accomplish nothing with public pressure until we have a significant fraction of the public behind us–even if most are passively sitting at home cheering us on, we need them educated on the real issues.

  • Jon

    I always appreciate and respect your viewpoints, Wildfire, so thanks for all your efforts, including this one. What I am saying is not that we could WIN such cases, at least at first, for the reasons you cite, but merely the effort can change the public mindset–holding people accountable in public and DESERVING to be arrested. I hope people will give this some serious thought.
    To be effective, of course you are right that we need sustained pressure, and we have seen a fair amount with things like Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, the outpouring of women (long overdue), and young folks rightly enraged over lack of attention to the existential threat of climate change.

  • mwildfire

    Well, lots of things can be done as ways of getting attention. You decried marching with signs, but that’s the main point of such actions. It’s also the point of generating attendance at public hearings (something I generally decry as a waste of time, as anyone with experience knows they hold hearings because it’s a legal requirement, then they issue the permits 100% of the time because it’s a political requirement–what’s said at the hearings and the balance of views are utterly irrelevant). Gaining public attention is also the main reason for direct action–it’s not that closing the valves to tar sands oil flow for a few hours is worth the legal risk, it’s that it’s a way to publicize the issue. But I think few groups do a really good job of planning out a long-term campaign.

  • Jon

    Having done my share of marching with signs, I have to agree that it is not a waste of time, but that the time now is so urgent that we need to go beyond to be effective, which brings me to my previous commentary. One area that needs to be addressed is the plethora of competing organizations around most of the same issues, thereby dissipating time,energy and especially financial support.

  • mwildfire

    I totally agree! I’ve been to coalition gatherings where the idea is to create a strategy, but they always get bogged down in spreadsheets using the Midwest Academy scheme, filling in the blanks; that’s not a strategy. Part of the problem is that there is never enough time to really work out a long-term strategy that makes sense, including deciding who is going to do what, making plans for small early wins to draw more people in, and creating a positive vision to inspire engagement.

  • Jon

    A wise slogan is “Necessity is the mother of invention.” So, what we need to do is envision and invent a way out “There must be somewhere out of here . . .There’s too much confusion. can’t get no relief.” (Dylan)Accordingly, I proposed a step forward by using a non-violent method–arrests of perpetrators, but of course this would indeed take careful planning, with a real strategy of thinking at least 2 steps ahead. Open to other ideas . . .

  • mwildfire

    You mean citizen arrests I guess, which would end with the citizens being really arrested by real cops. Don’t forget many of the worst perpetrators have bodyguards, or Secret Service details, and also have public support from the Trump cult. Here’s the key, in my book: you must create and DEPICT a positive vision, an alternative. We respond here to a piece about the permawar, but my prime fight is environmental, with climate change a critical component. Doesn’t matter–these harms come from the same place. The people fighting by my side against pipelines and the proposed petrochemical hub along the Ohio River are also the people opposing wars. We spend too much time laying out what’s wrong with the status quo, not enough talking about the world we could have if enough people demanded it–and hardly any time at all DEPICTING that world, meaning not mere text in academic language but images, stories, movies, novels…for a fine example of people doing excellent work to change public opinion, check out the Honest Government Ads put out by some Australians…street theater is one way to break the “mass media” (corporate media) lockout on access to the public, and your arrest scheme could be one example.

  • Jon

    You say, “Here’s the key, in my book: you must create and DEPICT a positive vision, an alternative” EXACTLY my focus too.* We know what is wrong–need the inspiring counter-narrative–working on that. What I have in mind is not mere theatrical arrest, but real ones with the prior cooperation of relevant attorneys and prosecutors.WHO should be the object of such would involve much discussion–could be at the corporate level, not govt.

    * My book LIBERATE HAWAI’I ! does just that, based on the broad and deep movement for restoration of de facto sovereignty in Hawai’i (de jure sovereignty never having been lost, per international law.)