Robert M. La Follette, the great anti-war senator from Wisconsin, was often asked after World War I about his opposition to U.S. involvement in the conflict. Questioners imagined that they were giving the senator and 1924 presidential contender an opportunity to distance himself from the militant positions he had taken.
But La Follette did nothing of the sort. He made a point of recounting his opposition to imperialism and militarism in general, to the U.S. entry into what was inaccurately described as “the war to end all wars,” and to future demands that the United States might enter into conflicts that “originated in the selfish ambition and cruel greed of a comparatively few men in each government who saw the war as an opportunity for profit and power for themselves, and who were wholly indifferent to the awful suffering they knew that the war would bring the masses.”
Making no apologies, La Follette declared, “I would not change my record on the war with any man in the United States Senate.”
Like La Follette, Barack Obama made no apologies for his opposition to the war in Iraq, a stance that helped to distinguish him from the early front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, who as a U.S. senator had voted to authorize the use of military force by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Making no apologies, Obama declared in a critical January 2008 debate — after which a Politico headline declared, “Obama beats Hillary over head with Iraq …” — that “I was opposed to Iraq from the start, and I say that not just to look backwards, but also to look forwards, because I think what the next president has to show is the kind of judgment that will ensure that we are using our military power wisely.”
As the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination enters a critical stage, the candidates are again confronted with the question of where they stand on issues of war and peace. And one candidate in particular, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is distinguishing himself by highlighting his long record of opposing the U.S. military interventions that have come back to haunt the country.
Last year, Sanders said in a video: "Recently I've been criticized a bit because of my opposition to war. So let me be very clear: I make no apologies to anybody that when I was a young man, before I was elected to anything, I opposed the war in Vietnam. And I know what that war did to my generation. I'm going to do everything that I can to prevent a war with Iran, because if you think the war in Iraq was a disaster, my guess is that war in Iran would be even worse.”
Now that President Trump has brought the U.S. to the brink of a new war with Iran, Sanders is amplifying his “no apologies” message. Last week, after Trump escalated tensions throughout the region by ordering the assassination of Iran's Gen. Qassem Soleimani and other Iranian and Iraqi military leaders, Sanders tweeted: “I was right about Vietnam. I was right about Iraq. I will do everything in my power to prevent a war with Iran. I apologize to no one.”
Sanders was right in the past. And he is right now to propose legislation that would prohibit any funding for offensive military force in or against Iran without prior congressional authorization. The measure, which is being sponsored in the House by a Sanders ally, California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, renews a restriction that the House attempted to include in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020. That measure, which was approved with a strong bipartisan vote in the House, was stripped from the NDAA before it was finally approved by Congress in December.
Declaring that “war must be the last recourse in our international relations,” Sanders and Khanna said in announcing their plan, “We know that it will ultimately be the children of working-class families who will have to fight and die in a new Middle East conflict — not the children of the billionaire class. At a time when we face the urgent need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, to build the housing we desperately need, and to address the existential crisis of climate change, we as a nation must get our priorities right. The House and Senate should pass our legislation immediately and uphold our constitutional responsibilities. We must invest in the needs of the American people, not spend trillions more on endless wars.”
Bob La Follette would undoubtedly approve. And, as the newspaper that was founded to support La Follette and to carry his legacy forward, The Capital Times recognizes the vital importance of taking a “no apologies” stance when it comes to opposing a new war in the Middle East.
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