Yesterday, an organization that lobbies on peace issues asked me to contribute money in the upcoming Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary between Senator Arlen Specter and his challenger, Representative Joe Sestak. I'm ready to donate. But first I need a key piece of information: which candidate will act to end the war in Afghanistan?
Both candidates are currently serving in Congress, so we can compare their records. Last year, Senator Specter strongly opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan, while Representative Sestak strongly supported sending more troops.
But now the troops are on their way, and the key question facing Members of Congress right now on the Afghanistan war is this: who supports establishing a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Whichever one comes out first saying that they support a timetable for withdrawal, that candidate will get my donation. Perhaps the candidates will address this in tomorrow's debate.
But even if the issue is not addressed during tomorrow's debate, there is a straightforward means to test which is the Afghanistan peace candidate: who will be the first to co-sponsor the Feingold-McGovern bill, which would require the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan?
The support of either one would give this effort a major boost.
McGovern's House bill, H.R. 5015, currently has 63 co-sponsors, but not a single one of them is from the great state of Pennsylvania. Yet there are 6 co-sponsors from neighboring New York, three co-sponsors from New Jersey, one from Maryland, and two from Ohio. Representative Sestak would be a great addition to this list.
Add Illinois to Pennsylvania as states where there is a contested Senate primary in which the war in Afghanistan has become an issue. The Chicago Tribune reports that the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for Barack Obama's former seat in the Senate have staked out diametrically opposed positions.
A Tribune poll last month reported that Alexi Giannoulias and Cheryle Jackson were the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination.
On Afghanistan, the Tribune reports that Cheryle Jackson wants to end the war, while Giannoulias supports it:
"It is time to take care of America again and time to bring our troops home," said Democratic Senate contender Cheryle Jackson, a former president of the Chicago Urban League. "Until we stop spending hundreds of billions on wars, we will not have the focus or money to solve the challenges we face at home."
But first-term state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat, said he fully supported Obama's strategy for Afghanistan and indicated that those who oppose it are engaging in wishful thinking.
Indeed, Cheryle Jackson's first TV ad takes direct aim at the wars - "It's time to leave Afghanistan and Iraq":
Who knew Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President's military escalation in Afghanistan?
But so it is. In an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter not only challenges the "surge"; he also challenges fundamental premises of the war. Specter writes:
I'm opposed to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?
What can one Senator do? Well, one Senator can introduce legislation, for starters. At this writing, there isn't a single piece of legislation before the Senate that expresses opposition to continuing the war indefinitely. This is in marked contrast to the House, where Representative McGovern's bill requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan has more than 100 co-sponsors. That's like having 23 Senators.
But Arlen Specter is in a unique position to do much more than introduce legislation. He could turn his Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary into a referendum on the Afghanistan war, because his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation: