AfPak: Congress Clears its Throat

This week Congress continues its formal consideration of the Administration’s request for “supplemental” money for the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a decision expected Wednesday by the Rules Committee on what amendments will be allowed. Regardless of the outcome on the actual money - it’s widely expected that the money will eventually go though - this is a key window for Congressional action.

There’s never a bad time for Members of Congress to try to exert more influence over foreign policy, but a particularly good time is when there is a request for funding pending - the Administration must perform concern about what Members of Congress think, there are opportunities for limiting amendments, and the media and public will be paying more attention to any debate. Likewise, there’s never a bad time to call or write your Member of Congress expressing concern about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but this week is a particularly good time to make contact, whether it’s to oppose the money or lobby for conditions.

And Tuesday, May 12 would be a particularly good day to call, because many advocacy groups - including the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action, United for Peace and Justice, and Just Foreign Policy - are calling on Americans to contact Congress on Tuesday in opposition to expansion of the war and in support of alternatives to military escalation. FCNL has provided a toll free number for calling Congress, which you can find here; if you use the toll-free number, it will add to the official tally of how many people called.

Despite the common belief that Members of Congress won’t take action now because Afghanistan has been perceived as “the good war,” or because Congressional Democrats think we should all hold back and give the new guy a chance, Members of Congress are starting to speak up.

Representative Jim McGovern is working to attach an amendment to the supplemental that would require the administration to develop an “exit strategy” from Afghanistan and report that strategy to Congress by the end of the year. At the level of rhetoric, at least, the idea that an exit strategy is needed doesn’t want for prominent supporters - President Obama himself told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in March that “There’s got to be an exit strategy.” But the President’s request for funds - like any budget, a planning document - does not provide any exit strategy. Representative McGovern’s proposed amendment already has at least three dozen supporters. If Members of Congress hear from their constituents this week, the McGovern amendment will gain Congressional support.

Thanks in large measure to the advocacy of Representative Barbara Lee, the current version of the supplemental bans the use of funds for “for the purpose of establishing any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Afghanistan.” If this provision is becomes law it would be a statement of U.S. policy and could be used to constrain future appropriations. Similar language on Iraq is already U.S. law. Last July Walter Pincus noted in the Washington Post that Congress was rejecting military requests for construction funds in Iraq suspected of being long-term while approving them in Afghanistan.

Peace Action is working to get Members of Congress to demand information about and justification for the continuation of U.S. air strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As Peace Action’s Paul Kawika Martin notes, only a handful of Members of Congress and their staffs have been briefed on air and drone strikes, and there are no non-classified reports on their efficacy. Yet counterinsurgency expert David Kilkullen has told Congress that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are destabilizing the Pakistani government and should be stopped, and the Washington Post reports that some senior U.S. officials think the Pakistan drone strikes “have reached the point of diminishing returns.” Meanwhile, recent U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan may have killed civilians on a scale unprecedented in Afghanistan since 2001. It’s long past time for Congress to speak up about air and drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If you want Congress to assert itself on these issues, Tuesday is the time to call.

The Congress clears everything they wanted. Most especially if it can ruin their names.

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