When a Member of Congress dies, sometimes other Members name a bill after that Member that advances some cause identified with the Member. So, for example, we had the "Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act" - Kennedy was a champion of volunteer service.
Such naming has multiple effects. Of course it honors the departed. But, like the Spanish hero El Cid, whose companions suited him up and placed him on his horse to drive off their foes, it also gives the departed one last ride into battle. When you name something the "Our esteemed colleague who just passed" Act, you're laying down a challenge - don't leave this one on the cutting room floor. And everyone gets to cheat death a little by giving the departed one last accomplishment associated with that person's name.
The uncompleted challenge of Richard Holbrooke's diplomatic career was a peace deal in Afghanistan. It was the hope of many that Holbrooke would help broker a peace deal between the warring factions in Afghanistan and between their regional patrons that would end the war. This hope was encouraged by Holbrooke's role in negotiating the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia.
This unfinished business was apparently very much on Holbrooke's mind as they prepared him for surgery from which, presumably, he had some inkling that he might not return.
"You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan," Holbrooke said, according to family members.
Are peace talks to end the war a pipe dream? Not according to many Afghanistan experts with decades of experience in the country.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action, NETWORK, Just Foreign Policy and Voters for Peace (update: and other groups, see updated list of signers at end) are sending the following letter to President Obama, urging him to say yes to the Afghan government's request that the US support peace talks. An ad with the same message will run in the Politico on Wednesday, and can be viewed here:
UPDATE 5/12: the final letter, as delivered, is here:
Dear President Obama:
President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington this week will mark a critical juncture for U.S. policy in the war in Afghanistan.
After conducting “talks about talks” with Taliban leaders and intermediaries for more than a year, President Karzai will seek U.S. support to launch Afghan national reconciliation talks that include the Afghan Taliban. We strongly urge you to agree. Hindering Afghan efforts to resolve their differences can only prolong the war and increase its human suffering and material costs.
Recognition is growing that talks with Afghan insurgent leaders, including the Taliban, are essential to ending the war. President Karzai and other senior Afghan politicians support talks with the Taliban. More and more ordinary Afghans, including Afghan women professionals, believe that peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without including Taliban leaders in a national reconciliation process.
In the next several weeks, Congress is likely to be asked to approve $33 billion more for the war in Afghanistan, mainly to pay for the current military escalation, whose focus is the planned assault on the Afghan city of Kandahar.
Some Members of Congress will vote no on the funding. A larger group of Members is likely to support efforts to pass language which would require an exit strategy or timetable for ending the war.
Barring some unforeseen event - like Afghan President Karzai joining the Taliban - an extrapolation from the recent past would suggest that neither efforts to block the funding, nor efforts to constrain it with real conditions, are likely to be narrowly "successful" in the short-run: extrapolating from the past, the most likely short-run legislative outcome is that the war money will be approved without conditions attached that would significantly constrain the war. This is especially true if 95% of Congressional Republicans continue to vote as a bloc to support the war.
Nonetheless, the fight over the war supplemental is tremendously important, because Congressional pressure can move Administration policy, even when critics of Administration policy don't command a majority of votes. This is especially true when, as in this case, critics are in the majority in the President's own party, and when, as in this case, the policy under pressure is an international policy which is also under significant international pressure.