Recent press reports suggest that President Obama is likely to try to sugarcoat his announcement next week of a major military escalation in Afghanistan with talk of "exit ramps": opportunities in the future to evaluate and possibly reduce the U.S. military commitment. That's supposed to make opponents of military escalation feel better, the media suggests. The New York Times reports:
The troops will be dispatched in phases, and Mr. Obama is likely to declare that he will review the deployment next year, to evaluate its progress.
"That gives him the flexibility to tell the Democrats that his commitment is limited," the Times says.
But it's hard to see why this should be at all reassuring. After all, we just had such an evaluation, which, despite the widespread view that the present policy has failed, resulted in the policy choice of sending 50% more troops that the President is about to announce. Why should we expect the next evaluation by the same actors to be substantially different from the one that just took place, if the data is the same?
Indeed, just as the President plans to assure us that we don't have an open-ended commitment, so he plans to reassure the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and our European allies that we do, in fact, have an open-ended commitment. Which President Obama should be believed?
Supposedly, we have to tell Pakistan that we are not leaving because if they think that we are leaving, they will hedge their bets and back and protect their ally Mullah Omar, in order to protect their influence and what they perceive to be their national interests in Afghansitan.
If you don't know where your Representative stands, now would be a good time to call and ask. The Congressional switchboard is 202-225-3121. Ask to be connected to your Representative's office, and ask your Representative to co-sponsor McGovern's bill [H.R. 2404] and support McGovern's amendment (which is essentially the same text as the bill) when it comes to the floor.
This will mark the first time in the Obama Administration that there has been a debate and vote in the House specifically on U.S. policy towards Afghanistan. The amendment is quite worthy in its own right: do not the Congress and the American people - not to mention the people of Afghanistan - have the right to be told what the exit strategy for the U.S. military is? But it is also a wedge to open up debate in the United States about what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan and plans to do in the future.
Military commanders have made statements indicating plans to remain in Afghanistan until 2020. If ten more years of war is the Pentagon's "exit strategy," we - and the people of Afghanistan - have a right to know that and debate it.
Since you're calling your Congressional office anyway, let me call three other worthy amendments to your attention.
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.