Be My Guest

Guest Column By Congressman Charles B. Rangel

Despite my own personal vote, Congress recently approved additional funding to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that seem to have no end. It is a sad reality because even as our combat troops are leaving Iraq, we continue to wage war in Afghanistan, making it now the nation’s longest military conflict, even longer than Vietnam.

I strongly support President Obama’s policies, particularly his historic initiative to extend health care coverage to millions of Americans, an effort which I helped design and move to passage in Congress. The President’s economic stimulus not only saved the country from a total collapse into a depression, it created and saved millions of jobs and started the beginnings of a recovery. Nearly $300 million has been funneled by the program into my Congressional district alone.

The devastating oil spill in the Gulf, which the President has handled as well as anyone could, has highlighted our need for a new energy policy, as pointed out earlier by President Obama. It also points up the nation’s vulnerability with respect to alternative petroleum sources, including those in the Middle East and Central Asia.

I cannot challenge the President’s handling of the war in Iraq, where he was left with few options after inheriting the conflict from the previous administration. I support his intentions to withdraw, but I’d like to see it happen sooner. In my view, no additional tax dollars should be appropriated for hunkering down in Iraq and Afghanistan, where taxpayers have already spent over $1 trillion. That is why, despite my unequivocal support for our troops, I voted against the additional funding. From here on, all expenditures should be for one purpose: to safely bring our brave and exhausted troops home.

And we must never undertake something as serious as war without a sense of shared sacrifice among the American people. That is why I have introduced a bill in Congress to reinstate a draft, both for military and other national service, during wartime. The previous president made no such demand for sacrifice in the run-up to the war in Iraq, instead pushing through a destructive tax cut that primarily benefited the richest among us at a cost to our economic security and stability that we all continue to pay every day.

As a Korean War combat veteran who understands what our service members put on the line every day, I must ask: Would those whose votes authorize the President to send our brave young men and women into war be so quick to accede if they knew that it could be our sons and our daughters called upon to enter harm’s way?

The 5,400 families who have lost loved ones in these wars – 4,400 in Iraq, and 1,000 in Afghanistan, where monthly casualties are climbing fast – and the 2 million others who have served – nearly half for more than one tour of duty – do not have be told about sacrifice for the country we love. Medical advances have allowed many more troops to survive serious head injuries, but post traumatic stress disorder and suicides have increased dramatically.

Again in this war, troops recruited from large urban communities and economically depressed small towns, carry the heaviest burden of service. Financial incentives to enlist have reached as much as $40,000 which, combined with the economic recession, have made for record recruiting results.

While the longest in our history, the Iraq and Afghan wars are far from the bloodiest. The media coverage has receded from our newspapers and television screens in large part because so few Americans have a stake in the war or any reason for concern about the fate of the men and women who have served.

I believe our nation’s leaders would be forced to think long and hard before embarking on questionable wars if every family felt that their sons or daughters were at risk–or subject to be placed in harm’s way.

Whether in Afghanistan, or any future conflict, the test is whether Congress– in supporting a war policy–is willing to require all eligible residents of this great country to make a contribution–to put their own children at risk.
In other words, in order to fulfill one’s moral responsibility to this democracy, anyone who supports this, or any war, should also support a compulsory military draft.

Congressman Charles Rangel represents the 15th Congressional District in Harlem, New York, an office that he has held since 1971.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 20, 2010

It is summertime, but few would suggest that the living is easy. There are also few songs about autumn or winter being any easier, so it will best for us to brace ourselves. Meanwhile, all around us the content of our national character is tested and ascertained daily:

In all of the discussion about the proposed Islamic cultural center (NOT a mosque) in Lower Manhattan, it would appear that the basic and dispositive constitutional point is ignored – purposely, I would imagine. The Constitution of the United States clearly establishes freedom of religion in this country and just as clearly states that government (that would mean federal, state and local) cannot take any steps to limit that freedom. That would seem to be the end of the discussion.

But Minnesota Governor Tim (“smash the government”) Pawlenty claims that this reference to the Constitution is a mere “technicality” and that the feelings of the majority in this country trump the rights of the minority. Former Governor Sarah Palin calls on the Muslim community to “refudiate” (whatever that means) the cultural center because it is offensive.

Of course there are some who find Jews offensive and would wish that there would be no synagogues. There are some who find African Americans offensive and would wish that their children should never go to school with white children. There are some who find Catholics offensive and would close every church, chapel and cathedral if they could. None of these represent the majority of Americans, but those feelings did represent the feelings of loud and large numbers of Americans at different points in time within the past 200 years and it was the Constitution that turned away the venomous slings and errors embodied in these points of view. But now, the Constitution is a “technicality” when it is applied to Muslims.

Of course, the worse part of this entire travesty is the transparent rabble rousing and hatemongering that is going on, without the slightest regard for fact or truth. Fact: there are two mosques close to the 9/11 site. One is 4 blocks away and the other is 12 blocks away. Both have been there before the 9/11 tragedy and have been in continuous operation ever since without the slightest hint of a trace of a glimmer of controversy. Fact: the proposed Islamic center is not a mosque. There is a prayer room planned along with a culinary school, a banquet facility and a basketball court. Could the logical outcome of this travesty be that Muslims be denied a place to pray in any place that the majority finds “offensive”? A useful question to ponder as we peer down the slippery slope slathered with mass hysteria and prejudice.

And finally, Fact: There is a mosque within the Pentagon, another site of attack during 9/11. Many American died at the Pentagon that day so presumably the ground is as “hallowed” as the ground in Lower Manhattan. Yet, there has not been the slightest hint of a trace of a glimmer of controversy. Where fear and hatemongering live, truth and justice find it hard to survive.

Time Travel
A recent poll indicates that 26% of (presumably) adult Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. The fact that he is an acknowledged Christian who worships in Christian churches, was married in a Christian ceremony and has had his two daughters baptized as Christians doesn’t seem to matter.

What is not mentioned, but is just as fascinating, is that there is an underlying assumption that President Obama being a Muslim would be a bad thing. And I am reminded that there was a time that even the hint of being associated with Roman Catholicism would doom a political career for all time. Of course, that was over 100 years ago. And, of course, we really haven’t come that far in 100 years after all.

Have a great weekend!