Today Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced H. Con Res. 248, a privileged resolution with 16 original cosponsors that will require the House of Representatives to debate whether to continue the war in Afghanistan. Debate on the resolution is expected early next week.
Original cosponsors of the Kucinich resolution include John Conyers, Ron Paul, José Serrano, Bob Filner, Lynn Woolsey, Walter Jones, Danny Davis, Barbara Lee, Michael Capuano, Raúl Grijalva, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Johnson, Yvette Clarke, Eric Massa, Alan Grayson, and Chellie Pingree.
The Pentagon doesn't want Congress to debate Afghanistan. The Pentagon wants Congress to fork over $33 billion more to pay for the current military escalation, no questions asked, no restrictions imposed for a withdrawal timetable or an exit strategy.
Ideally, from the point of view of the Pentagon, Congress would fork over that money right away, before the coming Kandahar offensive that the $33 billion is supposed to pay for, because you can expect a lot of bad news out of Afghanistan in the form of deaths of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians once the Kandahar offensive starts, and it would sure be awkward if all that bad news reached Washington while the $33 billion was hanging fire.
Mainstream media are now reporting the shortage of medical supplies in Haiti, a shortage created in part by the US decision to prioritize the inflow of military flights over humanitarian aid.
Doctors without Borders (MSF) said days were lost because the main airport in Port-au-Prince, under U.S. control, had been blocked by military traffic, Reuters reports.
"We lost three days," [Francoise Saulnier, the head of MSF's legal department] told Reuters Television in an interview. "And these three days have created a massive problem with infection, with gangrene, with amputations that are needed now, while we could have really spared this to those people."
"And now everything has been mixed together and the urgent and vital attention to the people has been delayed (for) military logistics, which is useful but not on day three, not on day four, but maybe on day eight. This military logistic has really jammed the airport and led to this mismanagment."
Mark Weisbrot, writing in the Guardian, noted that
On Sunday, Jarry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the UN's World Food Programme, said: "There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti ... But most flights are for the US military."
The New York Times reported Thursday that
Blocking Doctors? Let the Aid to Haiti Go Through
The TV story seems to be that aid from America is pouring in to Haiti. But on the ground the US military is blocking doctors and American aid workers with longstanding relationships in Haiti from bringing in desperately needed aid, and the US is also being slow to expand airdrops of water, water purification tablets, and food. Where is the United States Congress? Because the US military is involved, does that mean no-one can say anything?
Yesterday, Doctors Without Borders reported that
A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there…Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies.
One of their staff members said,
"We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying…. Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations."
Groups ready to deliver aid to Jacmel - the fourth-largest city in Haiti - were told they would receive no clearance to land there from the U.S. military, even though they already had both aid supplies and the means for distributing them. This aid is only now being delivered - thanks to assistance from the Dominican Republic, not the U.S.
Under our constitutional democracy, Congress has the power and the responsibility to establish a policy on President Obama's plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and, if Congress opposes sending more troops, to try to block or alter this policy. The question now is whether Congress will act before the policy is implemented, and whether it will do so in a "clean" vote - an up or down vote solely on the question of sending more troops, unentangled with unrelated issues like flood relief for farmers or extending unemployment benefits.
If Congress does not act quickly, the President's proposal may become an accomplished fact. Already, President Obama has ordered Marine units to be deployed later this month. If Congress waits for months to debate the issue, most of the new troops may already be in place.
Anti-war Representatives are pressing for an early vote on funding for more troops so President Obama's policy will be judged by Congress before thousands of additional troops are sent into combat, the Politico reports. "Let us have this debate before he moves forward," Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA] said. "I'd like it to be before we escalate one single American troop over there."
If there were ever a time when the peace movement should be able to have an impact on U.S. foreign policy, that time should be now. If there were ever a time for extraordinary effort to achieve such an impact, that time is now.
The war in Afghanistan is in its ninth year. McChrystal's proposal could continue it for another ten years, at a likely cost of a trillion dollars, and many more lives of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians. The contradiction between domestic needs and endless war was never more apparent. Congress fights over whether we can "afford" to provide every American with quality health care, but every health care reform proposal on the table will likely cost less than McChrystal's endless war. A recent CNN poll says 6 in 10 Americans oppose sending more troops.
Democratic leaders in Congress are deeply skeptical: as far back as June, Rep. Murtha and Rep. Obey voted for Rep. McGovern's amendment demanding an exit strategy, and that was before the Afghan election fiasco, when international forces failed at their key objective of providing security, and before McChrystal demanded a 60% increase in U.S. forces, on top of the 50% increase approved earlier this year. Our troops are "exhausted," Murtha says.
Top Administration officials share the skepticism. Vice-President Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, and Afghan scholar Barnett Rubin, an advisor to Ambassador Holbrooke, have all been arguing against a troop increase: the political people on the grounds that the American people and Congress won't support it; Biden on the grounds that it would be a diversion from Pakistan; Rubin on the grounds that it would be counterproductive to reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Among Members of the House of Representatives, when there was an opportunity to join with others to go on the record specifically in favor of an "exit strategy" to end our military occupation of Afghanistan, or against sending more U.S. troops, who has signed on, and who voted yes?
The excel spreadsheet at this link gives an answer.
100 Members have co-sponsored Rep. McGovern's bill calling for the Pentagon to provide Congress with an exit strategy.
138 Members voted yes on June 25 when McGovern's amendment - same language as the bill - came up for a vote.
57 Members signed a letter sent to President Obama on September 25 urging him to reject an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan.
23 Members have co-sponsored Rep. Lee's bill barring funding for an increase in troops.
All told, 150 Members of the House have taken at least one of these actions.
UPDATE: At this link, you can see all Members of the House, not just the 150, and their phone numbers. If your Representative has not co-sponsored the McGovern bill, call and ask your Rep. to co-sponsor the McGovern bill. If your Representative has co-sponsored the McGovern bill but not the Lee bill, call and ask your Rep. to co-sponsor the Lee bill. Report your result by commenting on this blog.
Sixteen Members of Congress - fifteen Representatives and a Senator - have written to Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates, urging caution in expanding the U.S. military presence in Colombia. The letter is here.
In an op-ed today in the Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will dissociates himself clearly from Republicans who support escalating the war in Afghanistan.
U.S. forces "should be substantially reduced," Will writes. "America should do only what can be done from offshore." Will's piece carries this clear-cut headline: "Time to Get Out of Afghanistan."
Might George Will's op-ed encourage more Republicans in Congress to speak up in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops?
Whether we get our troops out of Afghanistan anytime in the next five years will depend to a significant degree on what Republican Members of Congress are willing to say and do.
This summer, the House of Representatives took what was in effect a "no confidence" vote on Afghanistan policy: it voted down, 138-278, Representative Jim McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy.
The majority of House Democrats supported McGovern's amendment. Among Democrats, the vote was 131-114, or 57% to 43%. But Republicans were overwhelmingly opposed. Only seven Republicans voted yes; 164 Republicans voted no; in percentage terms, 4% yes and 96% no.
There's been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth - as there should be - about Democrats not representing their constituents on the war. But the story on the Republican side is worse, and changing U.S. policy will require turning that around as well.
The Washington Post reported on August 20 that "A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country. " Seven in 10 Democrats said the war was not worth fighting, while seven in 10 Republicans said that it was.
Last week, the House leadership prevailed on many progressive Democrats to vote for the war supplemental, paying for military escalation in Afghanistan with no exit strategy, giving $108 billion to the International Monetary Fund without requiring modest reforms such as requiring the IMF to publish minutes of its board meetings (as the Federal Reserve does.)
The leadership obtained this consent, in part, by making the vote a loyalty test. Does the loyalty run the other way?
Today the Rules Committee is scheduled to consider amendments to the FY2010 Defense Authorization. The Rules Committee, which largely defers to the House leadership, will determine if progressive amendments will see the light of day.
Amendment #2, offered by Reps. McGovern, Jones, and Pingree,
Would require the Defense Secretary to report to Congress, not later than December 31, 2009, on a U.S. exit strategy for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.
As a freestanding bill, McGovern's amendment has 90 sponsors. President Obama himself said in March that the U.S. must have an exit strategy. McGovern's amendment simply says that the Pentagon has to tell Congress what the exit strategy is. Will the leadership allow McGovern's amendment to come to a vote?
McGovern's amendment is key to getting the honest debate over U.S. policy in Afghanistan that we have been so far denied.
In March, President Obama told CBS' "60 Minutes" that the United States must have an "exit strategy" in Afghanistan.
Ninety Members of Congress agree. They're supporting H.R. 2404, a bill introduced by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) whose text is one sentence long: "Not later than December 31, 2009, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress a report outlining the United States exit strategy for United States military forces in Afghanistan participating in Operation Enduring Freedom."
The Members of Congress are going a bit further than President Obama. They're saying not only that the U.S. should have an exit strategy, but that Congress and the American people should be told what it is.
It's Congress - and the American people - who have the power of the purse. This week, over the protests of progressive Democrats, Congress approved another war supplemental - paying for military escalation with no exit strategy - bringing the total spending for the war in Afghanistan to $223 billion since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Americans aren't just paying for the war through their tax dollars. More than 700 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. Some 56,000 U.S. soldiers are in Afghanistan now, and President Obama has ordered 21,000 more soldiers to be sent there. Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S.