If you've ever spent quality time trying to move an agenda through Congress, you know that moving an agenda isn't just about lobbying individual Members. You need a "champion" for your issue. The champion introduces your bill. The champion recruits other offices to sign up. The champion introduces an amendment that carries the same idea as the bill and lobbies other Members to vote for it. The champion circulates letters to other offices. The champion raises the profile of your issue in the media.
When Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election, advocates working to end the war in Afghanistan lost their champion in the Senate. It was Feingold's office that introduced the bill, introduced the amendment, circulated the letter, led the lobbying of other offices, led the charge in the media.
Now California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced Feingold's bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan - a timetable with an end date. So far, Senators Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown have signed on as co-sponsors of Senator Boxer's bill.
The re-introduction of this bill is extremely timely and important, for two reasons.
It's bad enough that we lost progressive champions like Russ Feingold, and that the leadership and committees of the House will be taken over by advocates of domestic austerity and endless war. In addition, the airwaves and print media will now be filled with pundits saying that the lesson of the election is that Obama must move to the right and cut the budget, except the military. But the worst thing we must now face is that the 2010 election is likely a preview of 2012, unless at least one of two things happen: decisive federal action to boost economic growth and employment, now much more difficult to achieve than before, and some dramatic new element is introduced into our national politics that changes the character of national debate.
Jonathan Chait pointed out last week that based on the state of the economy, historical trends predicted a Democratic loss of more than 40 seats, enough for Republicans to take the House. In other words, on average, based on historical trends, the fate of the election was sealed when the Obama Administration proposed and Congress enacted an economic stimulus package that was much too small to counter the fall in domestic demand resulting from the collapse of the housing bubble. Everything else that happened in the election has to be judged according to the baseline expectation of the Democrats losing at least 40 seats - enough to lose the House - due to the failure to restore economic growth and employment with a sufficient stimulus to counteract the fall in private economic demand.
You can't follow U.S. print media coverage of the war in Afghanistan for any length of time without running into some variation of the following assertion:
"The Taliban Will Never Negotiate, As Long As They Think They're Winning."
No serious effort is usually made to substantiate this claim, which is asserted as if it were a self-evident truth. What you generally don't see, reading the newspapers, is a sentence that looks like this:
"The Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning, and the reason that we know this is...."
Yet, if you look back over the course of the last year, the assertion that "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning" is a very important claim. Why did the U.S. send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan last year? Because "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning." Why are we killing innocents today in Kandahar? "Because the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning."
A claim that is a key buttress of life and death decisions about people we have never met and know little about and who have no say in our decisions, and yet which has never been substantiated, is a claim that deserves sustained scrutiny.
How could it be a self-evident truth that "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning?" Logically, two possibilities present themselves:
1) It is an immutable fact of human nature that no party engaged in a conflict ever negotiates as long as they think they're winning. The US never negotiates as long as it thinks it is winning; Britain never has; France never has; no guerilla army or insurgent movement ever has.
"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" was former non-Senator Al Franken's 2003 examination of the lies and distortions of right-wing pundits and politicians.
Such a book, if it were written today, should certainly include a fair and balanced look at some of the lying liars still running our foreign policy: in particular, at Mr. David Petraeus. (Mr. Franken might not be the best candidate for writing such a book today, given that he voted recently against Senator Feingold's amendment requiring the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Democratic leaders like Senator Durbin supported Feingold's amendment.)
Harsh words about Mr. Petraeus? Yes. Justified? Absolutely.
Consider: Mr. Petraeus has been leading a campaign of "domestic information operations" to browbeat Congress and the American people to accept limiting the size of, and possibly even a delay of, the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011that President Obama promised when he acceded to the military's demand for a "surge" of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan last fall.
In a recent interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Petraeus implied that he might recommend against any withdrawal of US forces next summer, causing the White House to reaffirm its commitment to the July 2012 deadline in response, saying, "The date is not negotiable."
Tonight, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Pentagon's request for $33 billion for open-ended war and occupation in Afghanistan. While press reports suggest that when the dust settles, the Pentagon will have the war money, it's likely that a record number of Representatives will go on the record in opposition to open-ended war and occupation.
Representative Jim McGovern [D-MA] and Representative David Obey [D-WI] are expected to introduce an amendment on the war supplemental that would require President Obama to present Congress with a timetable for military redeployment from Afghanistan.
Ninety-eight Representatives have already signed their names to this policy, by co-sponsoring McGovern's bill, H.R. 5015.
In addition, the McGovern-Obey amendment would try to lock in the President's promise to begin a "significant withdrawal" of troops in July 2011 by requiring another vote on funding if the promise is not kept. The amendment also requires a new National Intelligence Estimate by January, which would hopefully have the effect of forcing the Administration's promised December review of the war policy to be real and its main conclusions public.
So far, the high-water mark for House opposition to the Administration's war policy in Afghanistan came in June 2009, when 138 Members voted for an amendment introduced by McGovern requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy. Among House Democrats, McGovern's June amendment had majority support by a margin of 131-114, a 53-47 split.
Today eighteen Senators voted for Senator Feingold's amendment to the war supplemental requiring the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. This could be a turning point in U.S. policy on the war in Afghanistan.
With this vote, the number of Senators on the record in support of the policy of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal just increased from two to eighteen: on Tuesday, Senator Boxer added her name to S.3197, Senator Feingold's bill that would have the same effect.
The other sixteen Senators who voted yes were Baucus [D-MT]; Brown [D-OH]; Cantwell [D-WA]; Dorgan [D-ND]; Durbin [D-IL]; Gillibrand [D-NY]; Harkin [D-IA]; Leahy [D-VT]; Merkley [D-OR]; Murray [D-WA]; Sanders [I-VT]; Schumer [D-NY]; Specter [D-PA]; Tester [D-MT]; Udall [D-NM]; and Wyden [D-OR]. (Noteworthy votes against included Senator Franken and Senator Feinstein. Last September, Feinstein called for a specific date for the withdrawal of American forces.)
This "surge" in Senate support for a timetable for withdrawal should make it easier to build support in the House for a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the war supplemental, as it is expected to do after the Memorial Day recess.
Already, 92 Members of the House have co-sponsored H.R. 5015, Representative McGovern's companion legislation requiring a timetable for withdrawal, including members of the House Democratic leadership, like Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. George Miller; if you add in Members who earlier this year supported Representative Kucinich's withdrawal resolution, more than 100 Members of the House are already on the record in favor of a timetable for military withdrawal.
On Tuesday, Rep. Michael Honda signed his name to legislation put forward by Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Jim McGovern and Rep. Walter Jones that would require the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
This is potentially a bellwether event, because Rep. Honda - together with Rep. Grijalva, who also signed his name to the McGovern bill on Tuesday - has been a leader on Afghanistan in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including chairing the CPC Afghanistan task force. Rep. Honda has been very critical of the war, but he has not been an automatic supporter of anti-war legislative initiatives.
If the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" in Washington gets onto the McGovern bill in the next few weeks, the political space to be a "liberal" in Washington who supports an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan will have largely evaporated when the House considers $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan between now and Memorial Day. Progressives in the House may be able to extract from the leadership a vote on a timetable for withdrawal when the House considers the war supplemental.
Yesterday, Senator Russ Feingold, Representative Jim McGovern, and Representative Walter Jones announced the introduction of legislation that - if it attracts enough support - could end the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, and bring the troops home.
The key idea of the bill is straightforward. By January 1 - or within 3 months of the enactment of the bill, if that is earlier - the President is required to submit to Congress a plan for the redeployment of the U.S. military from Afghanistan, with a timetable for doing so. After submitting the plan, the President has to update Congress every 90 days on how the implementation of the plan is going.
The bill allows Members of Congress to sign their names in favor of the all-important policy of having a timetable for military withdrawal, without everyone having to agree on a specific proposal for what the end date should be. Instead, it instructs President Obama to tell us what he thinks the plan should be.
The importance of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal cannot be overstated.
If you want to figure out how we are going to get the hell out of Afghanistan, the most obvious precedent to look at is: how are we getting the hell out of Iraq? And the answer is: with a timetable for military withdrawal, which is now the basis of a signed agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
U.S. officials have repeatedly conceded that the endgame in Afghanistan includes a negotiated political settlement between the Afghan government and the main insurgent groups in Afghanistan. Such a settlement will only be possible if it is supported by the United States, and the key chip that only the United States can bring to the negotiating table is willingness to agree to a timetable for military withdrawal. So long as the United States refuses to agree to a timetable for withdrawal of U.S.
Senator Feingold, Representative McGovern and Representative Walter Jones have announced the introduction of legislation that would require the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
In the Senate, S. 3197; in the House, H.R. 5015.
Feingold's announcement is here.
The bill can be read here.
You can ask your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor it here.
On Monday, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin broke a Beltway taboo: he called for a public timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, in an interview with the Appleton, Wisconsin Post-Crescent. My colleague Megan Iorio has excerpted highlights from the interview relating to Afghanistan:
Already, Feingold's call for a timetable for withdrawal is shaping press coverage. The Washington Post reports today:
As the Obama administration prepares for a report from its senior field commander that is likely to request additional forces, congressional Democrats, in particular, have begun to question the wisdom of further reinforcements on top of the 62,000 U.S. troops already deployed in Afghanistan, with an additional 6,000 scheduled to arrive by year's end.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called this week for the first time for Obama to set a "flexible timetable" to withdraw U.S. forces, saying he is "not convinced that simply pouring more and more troops into Afghanistan is a well-thought-out strategy."