Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan cast some lonely votes in 2019 against the National Defense Authorization Act, because the Town of Vermont Democrat could not accept massive increases in Pentagon spending and because he worried that Congress was not taking the proper steps to check and balance President Donald Trump’s reckless approach to foreign affairs.
The final version of the NDAA was approved last month, without sufficient checks and balances on the president and without Pocan’s support. Now, Trump has ordered an airstrike that has killed a top Iranian military commander, General Qassem Soleimani, and other key Iranian and Iraqi figures.
That move has heightened tensions across the Middle East and provoked talk of war. French deputy minister for foreign affairs Amelie de Montchalin echoed global concerns Friday morning when she said, “We are waking up in a more dangerous world. Military escalation is always dangerous. When such actions, such operations, take place, we see that escalation is underway.”
At the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, complained that Trump ordered another military action “without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran” and “without the consultation of the Congress.”
This is the circumstance Pocan feared when he emerged as a leading critic of the NDAA — voting with just seven other Democrats against the House version of the measure in July and then voting with 41 Democrats, six Republicans and one former Republican-turned-independent (Michigan Rep. Justin Amash) to disapprove the final version in December.
“One of the biggest problems with the NDAA was the spending increases, which fund these endless wars. But we also wanted to make sure that the United States didn’t get involved in new conflicts in the Middle East without congressional authorization,” Pocan explained Friday morning. “We had particular concerns that wrong actions could happen without consultation. What we’ve just seen reaffirmed the fears that we had.”
Now, says the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congress must deal with the fact that Trump’s “unilateral decision to escalate tensions in the region” has the potential to “destabilize the region and further endanger the lives of innocent Americans, Iranians and Iraqis.”
In a sobering assessment of the crisis that Trump has created, Pocan explained, “The president has repeatedly shirked diplomatic priorities in pursuit of military action across the Middle East, and he is on the brink of starting a wholly avoidable and unnecessary war with Iran.”
In order to avert a new war “and the potential senseless loss of millions of lives,” Pocan says Congress must engage in aggressive oversight and open a serious discussion about diplomatic alternatives to military escalation.
“We have to make sure that this doesn’t turn into another endless war,” he argued. “You have to expect that this (airstrike) is going to escalate tensions. Congress needs to hear why the president thinks this was a necessary step and what we are going to do next in regard to whether this escalates to another war-like situation. We have to be concerned about the prospect that the president hasn’t thought through his actions.”
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com and @NicholsUprising.
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