Following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the floodgates opened in Washington this week for reconsideration of U.S. plans to continue the open-ended war in Afghanistan.
Now Representatives Jim McGovern and Walter Jones have introduced the "Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act," bipartisan legislation that would require the President present to Congress a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a clear end date for the war. It would require the President to submit quarterly reports to Congress on the progress of troop withdrawal, as well as the human and financial costs of continuing the war. The President would also have to report how much money U.S. taxpayers would save if the war were brought to an end in six months, instead of five, ten, or twenty years.
Other Members of Congress have spoken out this week against indefinite continuation of the war, including Senators Dick Durbin , Richard Lugar, and Robert Menendez; (jointly) Representatives Lee, Ellison, Grijalva, Woolsey, and Waters; Representative Barney Frank; and Representative Cliff Stearns.
If your Senator has not co-sponsored S. 186, The “Safe & Responsible Redeployment of U.S. Combat Forces from Afghanistan Act of 2011”, make sure you do so here. But don't stop there--you can take the next step by writing a letter to the editor in your local newspaper or by visiting your Senator's in-State office with the Talking Points posted below, which you can download here as a PDF.
For more background, check out JFP Policy Director Robert Naiman's piece on "Barbara Boxer: Champion in the Senate Against the Afghanistan War".
Support S. 186, for a Timetable for the Redeployment of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan, Including an End Date for Near Decade-Long War
Senator Boxer’s bill S. 186 would require President Obama to submit a plan to Congress for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, including a date for the completion of that redeployment. As the White House prepares its decision on the extent of the July troop drawdown and works to conclude a security agreement with the Afghan government, it is a crucial time for Senators to weigh in.
S. 186, “Safe & Responsible Redeployment of U.S. Combat Forces from Afghanistan Act of 2011” would:
- Put the Senate on the Record in Support of Obama’s Plan for a Significant Drawdown
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.
The budget bill unveiled on Tuesday, set to fund the government for the next six months, includes $1.3 billion in unconditional military assistance for Egypt. The lack of any new measures for oversight of military aid bound for Egypt is alarming, particularly in the wake of testimonies from female detainees subjected to coerced "virginity tests" by the military and of the Egyptian army’s brutal crackdown which reportedly killed two protesters and wounded dozens on April 9th.
This lack of oversight stands in stark contrast to the Senate’s earlier version of the budget bill, which would have required that "prior to the disbursement of funds" for the Foreign Military Financing program that designates military aid to Egypt, "the Secretary of State should report to the Committees on Appropriations" that the Egyptian government enacted a number of specified reforms. H.R. 1473, which is scheduled for a vote on Thursday, does require Secretary Clinton to submit a report on those same reforms, but it does not in any way condition military aid to the Egyptian government's success at meeting these basic human rights and democratization standards.
Here is a question I would like pollsters to ask American voters about the Libya War:
Is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for?
I haven't seen any pollster ask this question. Indeed, the fact that sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a de facto military goal of the United States in Libya isn't even being clearly acknowledged yet in the U.S. media.
However, we can make an educated guess what he response might be, because a Quinnipiac University poll recently asked some questions that are closely related. Voters say 61 - 30 percent that removing Qaddafi from power is not worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for, the poll reports. They say 48 - 41 percent that the U.S. should not use military force to remove Qaddafi from power. Furthermore, 74 percent of voters are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" that the U.S. will get embroiled in a long-term military conflict in Libya.
This strongly suggests that if American voters were asked, is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for, more than 61% would say no and fewer than 30 percent would say yes. Because sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a military objective that includes removing Qaddafi and more.
Yet, with a super-majority of Americans opposed and without Congressional authorization, that is what we are doing: fighting a war to remove Qaddafi from power and send him to the Hague.
It's very likely that you wouldn't know this if your only source of information were the U.S. press, which hasn't been reporting on the divisions among US allies on what an acceptable agreement to end the war would be. But the British press is reporting it.
Here is some unsolicited advice for the Obama Administration: you essentially have four days to put US involvement in the Libya war on a path that doesn't look like open-ended quagmire.
Otherwise, when the House comes back next week, you're going to get in trouble.
Many people have difficulty imagining the possibility that Congress could give the Obama Administration difficulty over the Libya war. Since 2001, many people think, Congress has rolled over for both the Bush and Obama Administrations on questions of war and peace. Why should now be any different?
The view that Congress has only rolled over misses important history. For example, the legislative fight over a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq was a significant contributor to the fact that we have such a timetable for withdrawal today, even though such a timetable was never enacted legislatively. Congress lost the issue legislatively, but eventually won the issue politically.
But the more important point here that many people aren't thinking about yet is that the political dynamics of the coming debate over the Libya war could be very different from the debates over Iraq and Afghanistan. If the Libya war is going full-bore next week with heavy US involvement, there could be significant opposition in Congress, especially in the House, from both Democrats and Republicans.
The U.S. is now at war in a third Muslim country, according to the "official tally" (that is, counting Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya but not Pakistan or Yemen, for example.) But Congress has never authorized or debated the U.S. military intervention in Libya. (A sharply disputed claim holds that the Pakistan and Yemen actions are covered by the 2001 authorization of military force, but no-one has dared to argue that the 2001 AUMF covers Libya.)
Some will no doubt claim that the President is acting in Libya within his authority as Commander-in-Chief. But this is an extremely dangerous claim.
To put it crudely: as a matter of logic, if President Obama can bomb Libya without Congressional authorization, then President Palin can bomb Iran without Congressional authorization. If, God forbid, we ever get to that fork in the road, you can bet your bottom dollar that the advocates of bombing Iran will invoke Congressional silence now as justification for their claims of unilateral Presidential authority to bomb anywhere, anytime.
Some Members of Congress have strongly objected to President Obama's bombing of Libya without Congressional approval.
On the Democratic side, John Larson, chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, called for President Obama to seek congressional approval. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Donna Edwards, Mike Capuano, Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, Rob Andrews, Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee and Eleanor Holmes Norton "all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president's actions" during a Saturday call organized by Larson, the Politico reports.
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.
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.
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.