Wednesday night’s packed Town Hall at the Robert A. Millikan Middle School auditorium in Sherman Oaks (January 4, 2012) to meet Congressman Howard Berman (D), the San Fernando Valley’s longest serving representative, was an informative and low-key affair about a good number of hot-button issues, punctuated by occasional but persistent outbursts from . . . the sound system.
The issues during the Q&A, which was the main part of the evening, ran the gamut from the inane and highly suspicious (Q: Do you spend tax payer money to fly first class? A: Only when traveling with Brad.) to the important but predictable topics of social security, Israeli-Palestinian issues, and the wars. But there were also a number of issues raised that were not on the public’s radar just a few months back, before the Occupy Wall Street movement burst on the scene to push them front and center, such as reinstating the Glass-Stiegel Act; reining in abusive behavior by the banks; defeating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a very hot item for many people in the audience who weren’t buying Berman’s position as a co-sponsor of the legislation; and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the defense budget for the year laced with national security and foreign policy attachments, which was passed by congress at the end of the last session and signed into law by President Obama over New Years weekend while people were busy partying. The last item contains a provision that permits, at the President’s discretion, the indefinite detention of US citizens and legal resident aliens without recourse to a trial or access to a lawyer, in effect codifying into law two Supreme Court rulings that touched on these issues within the context of presidential and military powers under the war on terror.
There it is. Howard Berman is at the forefront in congress for tightening sanctions against Iran and that’s all he cared about when it came to the NDAA. Sherman is just as vehement and the two republicans running in the race for the 30th are even worse, advocating military action, one of them preemptively, like now, so there is no choice for the voters if they want a representative in congress who is not a hawk on this issue.
Of course, Berman denies that he is. In reply to a question from an audience member critical of his confrontational foreign policy approach with regard to Iran, saying it risked another war, he claimed that he is not in favor of military action against Iran. Rather he prefers to pursue a diplomatic course. The tougher sanctions he advocates (and succeeded in getting passed) are designed to force the regime to comply with international law over its nuclear development program.
But that is disingenuous. Diplomacy, real diplomacy, is conducted between nations to reduce tensions and find common solutions to seemingly intractable problems. The diplomacy Howard Berman advocates, if you check the details, only makes sense if part of a larger strategy requiring military action. It is designed to heighten tensions by internationally isolating and economically squeezing the target regime in advance of removal. The goal is to cripple Iran’s oil export business, its main source of revenue. If that happened to us, then we would call it tantamount to an act of war. In short, Berman and too many of his colleagues are operating under a mind-set that has set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy: Iran is a going to attack us or one of its neighbors, and to prove it we shall threaten its economic survival until it behaves exactly as we say.
I don’t want a guy like this representing me in congress.
Many people in the hall do, it appears, about half, I’d say, judging by the positive response he received at the start of the evening when he first mentioned the Iran sanctions; later on the applause was thinner. I think reality intruded: there are consequences for catastrophic foreign policy mis-ventures, such as wars that go bad, and we have just lived through one. Still, there will always be people who are prepared to prove American dominance regardless. But for those of us who live in the real world, we are a war weary nation that is looking forward to another quick in and out action to remove the latest existential threat in the Middle East with about as much enthusiasm as sitting through another thunderclap from Berman’s PA.
That was made clear when a young lady in the audience too young to follow how we got snookered into Iraq, but fully aware now of how the consequences have impacted her generation, asked the congressman to please explain his vote in 2002 in favor of granting George Bush War Powers Authorization, which he used to launch the Iraq War.
Judging by his response, she should have asked for an apology instead, because it is obvious he has learned nothing. He still excuses himself from any responsibility for enabling a war policy based on lies that was obvious to thousands of his constituents calling in to challenge all of the crap the Bush administration was putting out. To summarize, the congressman said he was persuaded that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction, but after the invasion when it became clear that Iraq's WMD systems did not exist he realized he should have been more skeptical. In other words, it was all an honest error on his part. There was no admission of getting the facts totally wrong, no regrets, no apology. And so, here we go again.
On a personal note, I recall calling Berman’s office in 2002 to urge him to vote against the war powers authorization resolution, and then calling once more a day or two later after it had passed with Berman’s help. I asked his spokesperson if there had been an unusual number of calls to his office in Van Nuys and Washington, DC about the issue and he said there had been. Then I asked what was the percent of callers urging him to vote “No”?
“Um, ah, well, that was about ten to one.”
My response was not as vocal as the sound system Wednesday night, but it did prompt the aid to bleat, “Sir, it was just one vote!”
That was five Berman sho-in re-elections past. And today he is still pushing for war in the Middle East. Not diplomacy. War. Learning to be more skeptical is for other people.