A vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Dennis Kucinich’s ‘Privileged Resolution’ calling for a pull-out from Afghanistan gives realists an opportunity to find their voice. Is anyone interested?
Congressman Dennis Kucinich and the Power of One
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
In American parlance, the number “1” is usually associated with Ego, with First across the Line, with winning in general. But occasionally “1” is on the outs, and then it is the subject of ridicule, falling victim to a ‘burn before reading’ mentality. That is very much the problem faced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich of the State of Ohio, who has been leading a variety of quixotic causes in the House of Representatives for several years now.
During 2008, out on the presidential campaign trail, Kucinich ran on a platform of opposition to the war in Iraq, a call for withdrawal of troops and even for the payment of reparations to the Iraqi people. Dennis garnered exactly 1% of the votes cast in Democratic Party primaries before he dropped out of the race early in the summer. At the time, he was sidelined from televised debates of the presidential hopefuls and he was the butt of the typically savage humor of mainstream American political commentators.
Dennis Kucinich’s latest one-man initiative is a vote on the House floor today over his ‘Privileged Resolution’ calling upon President Obama to get all US troops out of Afghanistan during a period of 30 days after the resolution is passed or, if that is not feasible, no later than December 31, 2010. A petition in support of this resolution which Representative Kucinich has dispatched to his supporters by email asks members of Congress to vote against any funding for additional troops in Afghanistan (President Obama’s ‘surge’) by applying the 1973 War Powers Act.
The justification Kucinich gives for his anti-war resolution is that the war is unwinnable, as the experience of other would-be conquerors of Afghanistan shows, and that it is diverting funds otherwise needed in this time of economic crisis to rebuild infrastructures at home, to put people back to work, to prevent housing foreclosures and to provide medical care to the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. One might call this a populist plea except that it flies in the face of Americans’ overriding security concerns and the still powerful remnants of a ‘war on terror’ psychology created and fanned by the last Administration.
America’s newspaper of record, The New York Times, naturally avoided giving Mr Kucinich any coverage in its print edition. However, a 9 March dateline of ‘The Caucus,’ the NYT’s ‘Politics and Government Blog,’ mentions the Kucinich resolution by reflection – without further elaboration it cites the view of The Washington Post’s commentator Perry Bacon Jr. that the measure has ‘little chance of passing the House.’.
To its credit, via Bacon’s article in its main edition, The Washington Post, not known for taking ‘bleeding heart’ political stands, gave extensive airing to the issues of substance surrounding the Kucinich resolution, including the assertion or dereliction by the legislature of its duties of overseeing the budget and, in particular, expenditures for the armed forces. It appears that the Congressman has found 16 co-sponsors, which is already a considerable improvement on ‘1.’ Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is allowing it to come to the floor in order to shut up opponents to the war within her own party, since she is counting on a pitiful showing of support for the resolution.
Of course, in politics, as in war, nothing is totally foreseeable. In this new millennium, Capitol Hill has seen even more hopeless cris de coeur which have, in the end, redounded to the prestige of the bold while leaving the herd of sheep comprising the vocal majority with some explaining to do to their progeny. I have in mind the remarkable solo stand in the Senate against the impending invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and then the still more striking public avowal of shame for his country spoken on the day of the invasion before an otherwise cowed upper house by Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, already then 86 years of age. One old but unbent man stood his ground against 99! This, from a man whose votes in the Senate over the years defied easy pigeon-holing in the left-right divide.
Returning to the issues before us on the vote today, it is understandable if Belgians and other foreign watchers are confused by the political labels used in the anti-war debate. The title which The Washington Post gave to Bacon’s article, “House liberals force vote on pullout from Afghanistan,” is charmingly quaint in its categorization of the resolution backers.
Whatever their stand on domestic issues, Democratic ‘liberals’ in the House are in their vast majority liberal hawks in matters of foreign policy, and thus in the end are almost indistinguishable from Republican Neoconservatives in their votes on defense issues. This is a tradition going back to John F. Kennedy and his Cold Warriors of the Democratic Party.
Dennis Kucinich is a suitable embodiment of left-of-center for those who would be dismissive of the anti-war mood. He makes it all the easier for right-thinking patriots given that he is a pacifist. His initiatives thereby run afoul of the macho rhetoric of the American establishment on both sides of the aisle.
However, in Kucinich’s rallying cry during his short-lived presidential campaign - ‘America as a nation among nations rather than a nation over nations’ – we have the makings of a position against the expanded war in Afghanistan which is something very different from left-liberal. Indeed, it is perfectly aligned with genuine conservatism as opposed to ‘neoconservativism,’ a misnomer concealing the radicalism of an imperial foreign policy.
Denial of American exceptionalism is precisely the position advocated in the late 1990s by that dyed-in-the-wool conservative, Harvard Professor Sam Huntington, in several essays in Foreign Affairs magazine addressed to the foreign policy elites. It would be very good if some realists today emerged from under their hiding places and came out to play. Dennis Kucinich has done the heavy lifting. It is now time for voices on the conservative side of the aisle to join with him on behalf of the national interest.
Postscript, 11 March 2010
The outcome of the House vote yesterday conformed to expectations: Kucinich's resolution was defeated 356 to 65, of whom 60 were Democrats and 5 were Republicans. Nonetheless, as Perry Bacon commented in his follow-up note in 'The Washington Post' online late yesterday afternoon, the initiative by Representative Dennis Kucinich resulted in the first formal House floor session devoted to Afghanistan since 2001. Apart from the usual considerations of feasibility of Administration objectives and scare-mongering of runaway terrorism if the current war policy is not supported, the 3-hour debate allowed legislators to reflect on Constitutional issues of Congressional oversight which cut across party lines. I say 'bravo' to Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas who led the five dissenting Republicans backing the resolution. And shame on other genuine conservatives in the House who. out of cynicism, or intellectual laziness or sheepish conformism went along with the chest-thumping, flag-waving false patriots in the Democratic Party majority. This is a war which only regional diplomacy can solve, not 'surges' of troops from across the ocean.
© Gilbert Doctorow 2010
G. Doctorow is a 2010-2011 Visiting Scholar of the Harriman Institute of Columbia University and author of the newly published Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers on International Relations. ISBN-13 9781453764473. Now available from www.amazon.com in paperback and downloadable e-book edition, as well as via Amazon sites in Europe and Japan. At Barnes & Noble and select book stores.