Democratic negotiators have agreed on a NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) that omits all or most of the progressive anti-war amendments they had proposed earlier this year. The version passed by the House of Representatives this summer had amendments for
- restricting participation in Saudi Arabia’s war with Yemen,
- withdrawing the Authorization for Military Force,
- restricting the development of a space force,
- preventing war with Iran,
- stopping transfer of Pentagon funds to build a border wall,
- halting development of tactical nukes,
- and requiring the Pentagon to justify the existence of overseas military bases, among others.
But, according to news reports and to information from Rep. Adam Smith (Chair of the House Armed Services Committee), during negotiations with the Senate and the White House the Dems have given in on the most important anti-war amendments.
The Dems agreed to a Space Force in exchange for paid parental leave for federal workers. Paid federal leave is a worthy policy, but an arms race in space will cost trillions of dollars and risk destroying life on earth. Same with tactical nukes. [Besides, paid parental leave was actually a priority of President Trump! See this link.]
Likewise, on the issue of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the Dems have caved.
Shoshana Abrams of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (a Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest) sent out an email.
First, I want to thank all of you we have done some incredible work this year. Over the past couple of days, Advocacy Teams and all FCNL constituents have gotten a slew of emails from FCNL and I woke up this morning feeling like I needed to send out a more personalized message to all of you, with the timeline of events since Wednesday. Please pass this along to your team.
At the time of the National Call on Wednesday night (12/4), FCNL had continued to hear good things about the 2002 Iraq AUMF repeal amendment being in the final NDAA. Leadership had indicated this to us, both in lobby visits and in the media.
On Thursday morning, Rep. Adam Smith (chairman of the House Armed Services Committee) spoke at an event in which he was asked about the 2002 AUMF- Smith said, “It is beyond indefensible that that thing is still on the books. I’ve read it, and it very specifically says this is so we can deal with Saddam Hussein and the ongoing threat that his Iraq presents to us. 17 years later and I came this [close….], well, we’re not done yet so I shouldn’t say that, but I really have pressed that argument and I’m not sure that we’re going to be successful on it because the Pentagon came back and said ‘well we might want to use that.’ And what I said was – I said this to the Deputy Secretary of Defense – was ‘well I tell you what I am never again going to give you any authority, never, because if 17 years later you can’t.’ I think that’s a huge piece of what we need to do.” direct quote
On Thursday and early Friday, we reached out to constituents to make calls to try to get the 2002 AUMF repeal amendment to stay in the NDAA. Congress often moves at a snail’s pace and then all at once. We waited for months in the conferencing process and things were looking good and in the final hour something changed.
We expect to know for sure what is in the final NDAA early next week, but at this point we are fairly certain that the 2002 Iraq AUMF repeal is out, along with FCNL’s other foreign policy priorities. FCNL, as a Quaker organization, would never have lobbied in active support for passing a military policy bill – with these amendments out of the bill, we are asking all of you to make calls asking your members to vote against the final NDAA. Call your representative and urge them to vote “no” when the NDAA comes to the floor next week!
I am disappointed and I know you are too. We would have never gotten this far without you visiting Congressional offices all year long, we are changing the conversation, and all the success Diana Ohlbaum shared on the National Call stand. We are in this for the long haul and we know that change happens though persistent advocacy. Thank you for your advocacy, for your commitment to peace, and for working in community with all of us for the world we seek.
In explanation of the direct quote above, the following article has a video of Rep. Adam Smith’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute: Restoring civil-military relations: A conversation with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In the otherwise excellent speech, Rep. Smith (no relation) says that Pentagon brass say they may still need the Authorization of Military Force.
Peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Swanson wrote House Compromises Away Peace, Senate Stands By War, which offers more detail about the failed amendments.
Likewise, Medea Benjamin of CodePink is calling on activists to ask their members of Congress to vote against the NDAA: “Senator Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna have announced that they will vote no and are asking others to join them. Call 1-833-STOP-WAR now to tell your Representatives to vote NO. Then send an email to Speaker Pelosi telling her to use her position in the House to do everything that she can to block the NDAA.”
The Democrats had originally agreed on a Pentagon budget of $733 billion, whereas the Republicans wanted $750 billion. They compromised on $738 billion — a 1.6% difference. If you add in costs for the Department of Energy (which manages nuclear programs), Veterans, Homeland Security, and debt from wars, the military budget exceeds $1 trillion a year.
The NDAA is “must pass” bill. But there may still be hope to convince the Dems to stand firm on the NDAA amendments, or at least make a statement. Please contact your member of Congress.
Note added 2019-12-11: In response to criticisms by progressives, Rep. Smith calls defense bill ‘most progressive in the history of the country’.
According to Democrats ‘got completely rolled’ in NDAA talks, critics say, “A coalition of 31 liberal organizations representing disarmament, human rights and other causes said in a statement Tuesday that the NDAA outcome is ‘a near complete capitulation’ in checking the Trump administration’s military policies.” Republicans are jubilant (IBID).