We are feeling a sense of déjà vu right now. A Republican administration is lying to the American people about the “imminent threat” posed by a Middle Eastern country. The vice president is falsely claiming the government in question is linked to the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. Hawkish lawmakers in Washington accuse voices of restraint of “strengthening our enemies” and being “in love with terrorists.”
These developments — the lies, the jingoism, the false urgency of military action — led to the Iraq invasion in 2003. That unilateral war was the worst foreign policy disaster in modern American history.
As opponents of the Iraq War who warned of the devastating consequences of that invasion, we believe a new war against Iran would be far, far worse. Donald Trump’s escalating military actions and threats could trigger perpetual conflict, the further destabilization of the region, unimaginable human suffering and death, and trillions of dollars squandered.
Although we come from different generations, our involvement in politics as young people emerged out of our shared opposition to unjust war — the Vietnam War in one of our cases and the Iraq War in the other’s.
We know how each war harmed millions of civilians abroad. Thousands of American service members lost their lives. And those who survived often came home wounded — physically, emotionally and spiritually. Two generations of veterans were plagued by depression, homelessness, PTSD, unemployment, chronic illness, disability and suicide.
If we are to prevent this kind of devastation at home and avert a new cycle of endless violence abroad, we must draw the right lessons from history.
First, we must recognize the Vietnam and Iraq wars were, tragically, bipartisan affairs. Far too many Democratic lawmakers went along with these unjust wars, cheered them on, voted for them and even blocked efforts to stop or limit them. And it continues. Shamefully, Congress recently passed a Pentagon budget that handed Trump $738 billion but imposed no constraints on his belligerence toward Iran or his disregard for the Constitution.
The solution, then, is to make our opposition to a war with Iran bipartisan, as well, and strong enough to take on the competing bipartisan consensus made up of arms manufacturers, lobbyists, hawkish think tanks and the military industrial complex that dominate our government in order to profit from endless war.
Over the past several years, we have been laying groundwork to do just that. As progressives, we have built long-term partnerships with conservatives in the House and Senate against endless war. Republicans such as Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, for example, are standing up with us to prevent an illegal military intervention against Iran.
Second, as Vietnam and Iraq showed us, once begun, U.S. wars can drag on for years across multiple U.S. administrations, even after it is long understood they produce nothing but senseless violence. Since 2015, for example, the United States has been supporting the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has killed at least 100,000 innocent people from direct violence and many more from the famine and disease caused by the war.
We are proud to have led the effort — with Senator Lee, Representative Massie and others — to reassert Congress’ constitutional authority and direct Trump to end unauthorized U.S. involvement in that war. Our multi-year legislative campaign forced votes in the House and Senate over and over again, until we succeeded last year in securing bipartisan, bicameral majorities to terminate an illegal war for the first time in American history.
Trump, however, vetoed our historic bill invoking the War Powers Act of 1973. He chose instead to unconstitutionally continue supporting the Saudi dictatorship in a conflict that kills a Yemeni child every 10 minutes, according to a UNICEF report.
That is why it is so important right now to prevent the United States from deploying troops into an endless military intervention in the first place. Our job as lawmakers is to reassert our sole power under the Constitution to block such a military action and any money for it unless the Trump administration makes its case to Congress and obtains an authorization for a war against Iran after a public debate and vote. The Constitution’s framers required this process precisely in order to stop a president from plunging our country into needless conflict.
Congress now has an obligation to adopt a new War Powers Resolution to prohibit unconstitutional military action against Iran, as well as to pass our bipartisan No War Against Iran Act, which uses Congress’ power of the purse to defund any unauthorized military force against Iran. We are committed to doing everything in our power in the House and Senate to see that this happens.
Finally, we need to mobilize the American public to get involved. No successful effort to end war happened without massive grassroots pressure. We are collaborating at this very moment with organizers and activists across the country who are responsible for hundreds of demonstrations to prevent war with Iran. Thousands of people are calling their elected representatives to force Congress to serve as a check on this reckless, lawless and deceitful administration. If enough ordinary people get engaged in the political process at this fateful moment, we can change the course of history.
Our young people have never known a world without the United States engaged in an 18-year-old global war. This generation — which already faces the prospect of a planet on fire, lower living standards than their parents, massive student debt and an economy dominated by Wall Street — could experience horrors akin to what previous generations suffered in Vietnam and Iraq. This would be unconscionable. Let us never forget it is working-class kids who will be the first to fight and die in a new war in the Middle East — not the children of the billionaire class.
That means we must also offer a different vision for America — a vision in which, one day, human beings on this planet will live in a world where international conflicts are resolved peacefully, not through violence. A world in which global military budgets, like the $1.8 trillion spent in 2018, can be used instead to fight humanity’s common enemy: climate change. A world in which the United States uses diplomacy to de-escalate conflict and uses its power and prestige to bring countries together. Given how unthinkable the alternative is, we have a moral duty to fight for this vision until it is a reality.
This joint op-ed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) first appeared on CNN.com.