On Wednesday afternoon, I testified before an Oregon legislative committee for the first time. I spoke in support of HB 2556 and HR 4 (see comment 1 for links); I spoke of the need to keep the Oregon National Guard from deploying to Iraq (and possibly, later, to Afghanistan) this coming July. On Thursday evening, I was able to convince the Multnomah County Democrats to endorse this legislation as well. Today and tomorrow (Monday, March 16), peace activists as well as those who believe supporting the Guard means preventing this deployment will be mobilizing in Salem on behalf of these bills and the need for Gov Kulongoski to refuse to order the deployment.
And in July, whatever happens in Salem, whatever the Legislature, Governor or citizens do, over 3,000 Oregonians will leave for Iraq to take their place in a wa, as President Obama has repeatedly described it, that never should have been authorized and never should have been fought.
As Joe Smith asked me Thursday night, What's the point?
One point is that of being morally consistent: You should always take the opportunity to do the right thing regardless of your chances for success. Others in the "Keep the Guard in Oregon" Campaign may disagree with me, but I have never held the slightest hope that we would actually succeed in preventing deployment, not by a single day. Nonetheless, I am determined to act as if the outcome is uncertain. What choice do I have? Bow before inevitably as if that were an excuse for inaction? My choice is infinitely less hazardous than that of the young man who stood before the tanks in Tiananmen Square, but it's the same moral choice: Doing what is right even when the outcome is already certain.
The point — and why should I even have to say this? — is to always do what you believe is right. Always.
But there are some practical points to be pursued as well. While we will not stop this deployment, we can be part of a movement to challenge the legal structure under which state guards are federalized, a process Bush/Cheney was able to exploit to the detriment of the regular military, the Guards and the states whose defenses are their primary task (ask the residents of the Ninth Ward; the Louisiana NG was in Iraq when Katrina struck). In raising these issues, we keep a light focused on the lies used to sell the Authorization of 2002, the basis for federalizing the National Guard.
By fighting this deployment, we fight the forces, the lies, the politics and greed that let those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks get away while our nation invaded and occupied a sovereign nation that had as much to do with the attacks as did Ecuador, Botswana or New Zealand.
And in saying that, let me add: In fighting the Bush/Cheney lies, there is one group we do not fight: The men and women of America's armed forces, especially those of the National Guard. While many of us disagree with their willingness to serve in an occupying force, we respect their commitment to duty. As citizens, our opposition is not aimed at those wearing our nation's uniforms (as many of us did, myself included) but their faithless commanders who were willing to trade the lives and honor of American service members for the causes of greed and power. We do support the troops; for us, support means not wasting their commitment to duty in wars that are morally and legally indefensible.
However, in testifying before the House Rules Committee, I said virtually nothing about the politics of war, about the deceit that led to the AUMF and the crimes (as I perceive them) committed by our nation's leaders after 2001. For even though one always does what is right — and calling out the wrongs done by the Bush/Cheney Administration is always the right thing to do — one has to be smart about doing right. On Wednesday, it was enough for me to speak only of what I believed the Legislature needed to do, and that I could not support a deployment of the National Guard, in which my son serves, for a cause unworthy of their courage, honor and commitment. No need to refight the AUMF or eight years of lies and shame; my only goal on Wednesday was to urge the members of the Rules Committee to send HB 2556 and HR 4 to the floor for debate and vote.
Here is what HB 2556 and HR 4 do (SR 1 has the identical language to HR 4). HB 2556 requires the Governor to deploy the Guard when a legal authorization for doing so exists (as Federal law indeed requires him to do). HR 4/SR 1 state the Legislature's belief that no such legal authority exists. That's it. The Pentagon will ignore these bills, of course, even if AG John Kroger were to pursue the matter in court. But getting the issue into court would be a major victory for the Campaign, an opportunity to address what we believe is the abuse our of nation's National Guards. One goal of the Campaign is to ensure that no such abuses ever occur again, that the National Guard is federalized only under proper, defensible and completely legal conditions — all of which the Bush/Cheney Administration failed to do.
On Thursday evening, after the Multnomah County Dems passed a resolution endorsing the bills, a friend came up to me and said she would have voted Yes if the resolution had not mentioned Afghanistan. I understand that sentiment, as well as that of another opponent who wanted to give our new president the benefit of the doubt and a free hand to both end the Iraq War and finish business with Al Queda in Afghanistan. Yet both views involve a fundamental misunderstanding of the national Campaign to Bring the Guard Home and what we believe the proper use of the National Guard.
To the first point, and the central legal principle behind the Campaign: the 2002 AUMF can no longer be used as the means for federalizing the National Guard. The AUMF has expired because its mission has been fulfilled. Saddam Hussein ceased to be a threat years ago, and Iraq never had weapons of mass destruction. With the Authorization fulfilled, the basis for federalizing National Guards no longer exists. This is not an opinion; Title 10 requires that the President receive legal authorization to federalize the National Guard. The AUMF of 2002 was held to be such authority; the Campaign to Keep the Guard in Oregon asserts that authority has long since lapsed.
If President Obama and the Congress want to federalize the Oregon National Guard, they need only pass the appropriate legislation. If they believe they are just in sending the Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan, an authorization to that end should be a simple matter. If they cannot, or will not, pass a new and valid authorization, then they have no business attempting to federalize the National Guard in violation of the law.
Of course, we would fight an attempt to pass a new authorization. The National Guard may be well-trained, brave and capable, but their job is not to serve as a replacement for the nation's standing military. One of the great travesties of the Bush/Cheney years is that, while fighting two aimless, ill-conceived and disastrous wars, they managed to gut our armed forces. Why do we not have enough Army personnel for Iraq and Afghanistan? Why are we resorting &Mdash; and resorting it is: the Pentagon has used the National Guard in desperation for the troops it lacks for these wars — to troops whose purpose is not to participate in overseas military debacles but to protect the states in which they reside and under whose governors' command they serve? The Guard may be willing to serve in Iraq; that does not mean it should.
So I gave my testimony on Wednesday, imploring the members of the Rules Committee to take a stand for what is right. Rep Jules Bailey, among the many wonderful young new members of this Legislature, summed up the spirit of the Campaign perfectly; those are his words that appear as the title of this post:
We support our troops. We honor our troops. Our troops are doing ... what we ask them to do. This bill is not ... a referendum on particular conflicts. This bill is about protecting those who are protecting us in the National Guard. And sometimes when they do what we ask of them, sometimes they are doing what the Federal government asks of them, and sometimes they are doing what the State of Oregon asks of them. What these bills do is allow for a determination to be made about which is which.
These are troops that have served with distinction and have made their country proud. We honor their sacrifice, whether that sacrifice is abroad or whether that sacrifice is here at home, filling sandbags, fighting fires, or being good fathers and mothers. We also honor the sacrifice of their families. These are men and women who have a role to play at home. These are not weekend warriors; these are people who have been sent abroad again and again and again. And whether that was the mission for which they signed up or whether it was not, we want to make sure the State of Oregon is able to act under the United States Constitution, honor the United States Constitution and uphold the United States Constitution and make a determination of the use of our National Guard soldiers.
Will we keep the Guard from deploying in July? I'm sad to say, No. The Army will take them whatever the Legislature or Governor do (and I have no doubts, either, that the Governor will hide behind his version of "constitutionality" and refuse to act on the authority granted by these bills). Does this dishearten me? Not really. I do believe the President will have troops out of Iraq as promised, and that his emphasis in Afghanistan will be increasingly less militaristic and more diplomatic. I'd rather he not use my son as a placeholder, however. Like most of what Bush/Cheney left behind, the Army is a half-broken mess. President Obama should have sufficient troops in the Regular Army for this mission; he does not. I believe, under the law, he should seek a new authorization for the continued use of National Guard troops, but I know that won't happen, either. Instead, my son and 3,000 comrades will ship to Iraq and possibly Afghanistan.
In the words of journalist and Campaign supporter Jim Lommasson, who has interviewed dozens of Iraq War vets from Oregon: Every one one of them will return a casualty of war.
If our children, our spouses, our parents, our loved ones are going to be thrown to the dogs of war, should it not be done legally? And should it not be for a cause higher than extricating our nation from a war it was wrong to wage in the first place? I urge you, if you support Oregon's Guard and believe in the rule of law, contact your state Representative and Senator and ask that they vote for HB 2556, HR 4 and SR 1. The point is quite simple: It's the right thing to do.