Peaceful Alternatives to War Pick Up Steam in Congress
When the nuclear deal with Iran cleared its biggest hurdle in September by securing enough support in Congress to move forward, we argued that the Iran deal could serve as a model that would lead to other diplomatic initiatives. The Iran Deal serves as a reminder that savvy diplomacy can yield strong results, and that it can often do a better job of protecting our national security interests than sheer force can. While Congress debated whether or not to stand in the way of the historic agreement, hundreds of thousands of Americans took political actions large and small to show their support for diplomatic solutions. Grassroots support helped ensure the Iran Deal’s survival in Congress, and now it can help push our government to continue relying on diplomacy as an alternative to war.
In just the last few weeks it’s already become clear that the nuclear deal can open doors for new diplomatic initiatives. The US is currently fighting wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, and is supporting the war in Yemen. In all of these cases, it will be necessary for all of the major regional stakeholders to be at the table as part of the solution. And in each of these cases, Iran is a key player. In addition to this renewed appreciation for the power of diplomacy, the worst refugee crisis since WWII has raised the public demand for diplomatic and humanitarian approaches to address and eventually end those wars.
Realizing that American support for diplomacy is at one of its all-time highs, some members of Congress have begun challenging the assumption that continued or increased military action is the only path forward. On September 29, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) sent a letter to President Obama signed by 54 of his colleagues in the House of Representatives calling on the administration to convene international negotiations aimed at finding at political solution to the Syrian Civil War. It acknowledges that none of the world’s efforts to address the war have led to the desired result, namely “the return of peace and stability,” to Syria. It also acknowledges that there is no guarantee that negotiations will succeed, but it argues that a diplomatic approach that brings all parties to the conflict (including Russia and Iran) to the negotiating table is nonetheless “in the best interests of US and global security, and is also, more importantly, a moral imperative.”
This letter represents an important first step in pressuring the administration to do everything in its power to find a diplomatic solution to the war in Syria, and it may have already contributed to the administrations renewed push for inclusive negotiations. Late last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced an international meeting to search for a political solution to end the Syrian Civil War, and this week, unnamed US officials confirmed that Iran has been invited to the negotiations.
As we work towards a diplomatic solution, we must do all we can to address the devastating humanitarian crisis that has evolved from a war that we helped create. Realizing this, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a bill that would allocate $1 billion towards humanitarian aid and resettling refugees. While Graham is so far the only Republican to attach his name to the bill, his authorship of it and his leadership role on the relevant sub-committee make the bill’s progress at least a possibility. So far, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have co-sponsored the bill.
Regarding the war in Afghanistan, on October 3, the US bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, killing at least 30 people. In response, 18 House Representatives sent a letter to the President calling for an independent investigation into the bombing. This letter will help hold the administration and the military accountable for civilian casualties, which is an important step in reducing them. In addition to holding both bodies accountable for civilian casualties, Congress can continue to play a constructive role by questioning the President’s recent decision to keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017, and by advocating for a renewed diplomatic push to end America’s longest war.
Ending the Saudi-led US-backed war against Houthi rebels in Yemen also necessitates a diplomatic solution. After reports that roughly two-thirds of civilian casualties in Yemen have been caused by the Saudi-led campaign, 13 House Reps sent a letter to the President regarding the US role in the war in Yemen. Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Keith Ellison (D-MI), and Ted Lieu (D-CA) spearheaded the effort, which calls on the administration to hold Saudi Arabia to the same standards we hold ourselves to when working to avoid civilian casualties, and to work with all involved parties to find a diplomatic solution. The letter represents Congress’ first attempt to alter our approach to the war in Yemen. With news today of a second Doctors Without Borders hospital bombing, this time in Yemen, ending US support for the war and finding a diplomatic solution is as pressing as ever.
Congress should be doing so much more to advocate for diplomatic and humanitarian alternatives to our failing military strategies in each and every war the US is involved in. Since the passage of the Iran Deal, some lawmakers have stuck their necks out to call for diplomatic and humanitarian approaches to these wars, and it’s incumbent on the American people to get the rest of Congress to follow suit.
Please take a moment to sign our petition calling on Congress and the President to increase humanitarian aid, increase the number of refugees we accept, and lead the charge for a diplomatic solution in Syria.