Pelosi defies history and her district

Pub date September 17, 2013

OPINION How is it that, despite deep congressional opposition to an American-led war on Syria, the representative for one of the nation’s most progressive districts, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has been among President Obama’s most ardent backers of war?

While Russia’s deal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons offers a temporary pause in the march to war, the arrangement is fragile and Obama — with support from Pelosi — continues to threaten military action that could lead to a disastrous widening of bloodshed and chaos in Syria and beyond.

What’s particularly outrageous about the pro-war push from Pelosi and US Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, also from the Bay Area, is their willful dismissal of history. Did they somehow miss the well-documented memos on US wars and interventions? You know, the ones that list American lies on Iraq’s WMDs, provocations in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin, and the long, long list of CIA-backed coups of democratically elected leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and beyond?

The nightmare in Syria needs an international solution—but given our ugly track record, how can anyone place faith in American-led military intervention?

This history offers a distressingly reliable prologue to the present. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US expended vast amounts of blood and treasure attacking brutal thugs it supported for years. How can we expect different results from the same military-security state apparatus that has, for decades, undermined democracies, aided thugs and dictators, and trumped up wars based on lies? How can anyone believe that the US military and security state complex has suddenly found a veracity and moral center it has always profoundly lacked?

There is no question that international pressure and diplomacy must be brought to bear on Bassar al-Assad’s sickening Syrian regime, and that chemical weapons, and nukes for that matter, must be wiped off the planet. But the US has an unrivaled record of using these tools of mass killing, and has zero credibility as a force for peacemaking.

The hypocrisies Pelosi chooses to ignore run deeper. The US refuses to enforce the chemical weapons ban on Israel, for instance. And remember the saber-rattling last year over Iran’s nuclear program? Not a word about Israel’s nukes, not to mention America’s. Yet both Israel and the US have a well-documented history of outright aggression, where Iran has none.

The San Francisco Chronicle explained Pelosi’s war support as part of her Democratic Party leadership duties, quoting UC Berkeley professor Eric Schickler: “One of the jobs of the party’s leader is to support the president of your party, except under the most extenuating circumstances. If she didn’t have such liberal credentials already, she would be in much more vulnerable position.”

While party leadership and allegiance may be a factor, consider also that Pelosi, Boxer, and Feinstein take in far more dollars from pro-Israel lobbies than do their counterparts (Boxer got more than twice the Senate average, and Pelosi roughly six times the congressional average, according to research by MapLight and Open Secrets).

Despite some loud and colorful protests by Code Pink and other groups, it’s sadly true that Pelosi hasn’t been very vulnerable: San Francisco’s political leadership has done little to let her know how deeply out of step she is with her district.

In years past, the Board of Supervisors has passed resolutions opposing US military interventions; now, they and the Democratic County Central Committee are silent. Where is the outrage and pushback within Pelosi’s district? Pelosi’s hawkish stance on Syria follows her lamentable defense in July of the NSA spying program. In both cases, these are policies that Pelosi opposed and so many progressives protested vigorously when they were enacted by President George W. Bush. Where is the mass outrage now?