Judging from press reports, when Congress returns from its August recess in early September, the United States military will have been bombing "Islamic State" fighters in Iraq for a month, with a broader set of missions than originally advertised, and with plans to continue bombing for months.
In mid-November, the Christian Science Monitor reports, a loya jirga in Afghanistan - a national meeting of tribal leaders and other notable Afghans - will vote on whether to meet the Obama administration's terms for keeping U.S. troops in the country beyond the end of 2014.
If you care about democracy in Afghanistan, you should be happy for the Afghans. Whether or not - and if so, under what conditions - they want to have thousands of U.S. troops in their country after 2014 is obviously a very big deal for them. Why shouldn't they have full deliberation and debate?
But if you also care about democracy in the United States, you should be a bit troubled. Because Congress has never approved keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.
The closest Congress has come to considering this question is in language passed by the House in June, 2013. Offered by Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, this language - which passed the House 305-121, with a majority of both Democrats and Republicans voting yes- said [my emphasis]:
There's a conventional wisdom in Washington that there's nothing we can do politically to stop the U.S. government from killing innocent civilians with drone strikes.
But it ain't necessarily so.
Speaking only for myself, I'm willing to stipulate that killing "high value terrorists" who are known to be actively preparing to kill Americans is wildly popular, regardless of whether it is constitutional and legal.
Here's what's not wildly popular: killing innocent civilians.
This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. This is an American issue. Go to the reddest of Red America. Stand outside a megachurch or military base in the Deep South. Find me twelve Christian Republicans who are willing to sign their names that they want the U.S. government to kill innocent civilians. I bet you can't do it. Killing innocent civilians is un-American.
Consider: after what widely reported news event did even Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say maybe we ought to get our troops out of Afghanistan? After it was reported that a U.S. soldier massacred Afghan civilians.
The historian Howard Zinn suggested that it's a backhanded compliment to the American people that our government lies to us about what it's doing in other people's countries. Because it suggests that if the American people knew, they would never stand for it.
Thanks to a New York Times report this week, we now know. In an echo of the Colombian military's "false positives" scandal, our government is killing people with drone strikes and then decreeing that "military age men" killed by U.S. drone strikes are automatically "combatants." Born a chicken, raised a chicken, now you're a fish.
"I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party." That was President Obama, describing his Afghan war policy, according to Bob Woodward's 2010 book. But until this moment the Administration is still letting it be a war without end, and the Afghan war policy has lost not only the whole Democratic Party, but a substantial part of the Republican Party as well: the majority of Republican voters, for example.
One thing the Afghan war policy hasn't lost: the GOP leadership. That was demonstrated Wednesday night when the GOP leadership blocked consideration in the House of a bipartisan amendment offered by Democrat Jim McGovern and Republican Walter Jones that would have nailed to the wall the current slippery "timetable" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
House Republicans pulled the plug on a vote Thursday on a bipartisan amendment to a defense bill that would force the Obama administration to stick firmly to its timetable for getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.
Republicans were concerned the amendment could pass, according to two GOP congressional sources.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the House is expected to take up consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act. Amendments will be offered to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan, to oppose war with Iran, to cut the military budget, and to stop "signature" drone strikes that target people without knowing who will be killed.
According to the way the House operates, the authorization bill is the most open opportunity to challenge current policy. When the House considers the appropriations bill, amendments can be offered to cut money for specific programs. But it is difficult to otherwise alter policy when the appropriation is considered, according to the rules of the House. On the authorization bill, there is much more scope to try to direct policy.
Every American who cares about war and peace ought to be calling Congress. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has established a toll-free number that connects you to the Capitol Switchboard: 1-877-429-0678. Then you can ask to be transferred to your Representative's office. [If you can't call, you can write here.]
What should you tell your Representative's office? Whatever else you do, you should tell them that you are a constituent and give them your address to document that fact.
Then you have some choices to make about what to emphasize. Many amendments have been offered. At this writing, we don't know which amendments will be allowed on the floor by the Rules Committee. Once the Rules Committee has decided which amendments it will allow, there might not be much time before voting begins. So it's better to call when you can and emphasize broad themes.
Voting on amendments on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives took action to hasten the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Libya.
By a 204-215 vote [roll call] - six switchers would have passed the amendment - the House narrowly failed to adopt a bipartisan amendment from Reps. Jim McGovern [D-MA] and Justin Amash [R-MI] that would have required the Department of Defense to develop a plan for an "accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities."
It may seem counter-intuitive to count narrowly failing to adopt an amendment as "taking an action," but in terms of consequences, it is taking action. Getting more than 200 votes sends a signal to the White House: if you don't move - for example, by announcing a significant drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer - you could lose the next vote in the House. And if the Administration lost a vote in the House on the Afghanistan war, you can bet that would be front-page news in Europe, weakening the Administration's case to the Europeans for continuing the status quo. It seems likely that the Administration will want to stay one step ahead of the House, rather than face a public defeat. That points toward an accelerated drawdown this year.
If 204 Members were willing to vote yes, it seems extremely likely that 6 House Members who voted no gave a yes vote serious consideration. Indeed, The Hill reports:
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.
Everybody knows that the recent election was all about the economy, right?
Nobody would claim that American voters just gave Republicans a mandate for more war, would they?
Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday in the wake of big Republican victories in Congress that he hopes President Barack Obama will take a fresh look at U.S. war policy in Afghanistan. McCain won re-election to his Arizona Senate seat by a large margin, ensuring he will retain have a strong voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee as its ranking Republican member.
In an interview, McCain told Reuters he was looking forward to a December review the Obama administration is preparing to give an update on the U.S. troop increase Obama ordered a year ago to try to repulse a strengthened Taliban.
McCain, who is expected to visit Afghanistan soon, said he would like to see a change in Obama's decision to begin withdrawing some U.S. troops from Afghanistan next August.
The world would be a better place if one could just ignore things like this. But as Reuters points out, McCain is ranking member on Senate Armed Services, in addition to being the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Two axioms of politics in America are: 1) you can't ignore a dangerous political claim, just because it's nonsensical, and 2) you can't wait for a nonsensical and dangerous political claim to gain momentum before moving to quash it, because it's like a highly infectious disease: you have to stamp it out immediately before it takes root in the population.
Campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, Senator Barack Obama said: "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."
But as Andrew Bacevich notes in his new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War," as President, Barack Obama has done the opposite: he has promoted and acted on behalf of the mindset that leads to war.
Most prominently, President Obama has so far missed every major exit ramp for starting to get out of Afghanistan, instead escalating militarily and "doubling down" on "counterinsurgency" in Afghanistan - Vietnam 2.0 - even as the war has become increasingly unpopular in the United States - as it has been in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world. The majority of Americans, three-quarters of Democrats, and three-fifths of House Democrats want President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. But the White House so far refuses to even publicly discuss such a move, even as it claims to support "Afghan-led reconciliation" with leaders of the Afghan Taliban, which, if real, almost certainly would require a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a key demand of Afghan insurgents.
This is all the more striking as the Administration celebrates the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, because the centerpiece of the present relationship between the U.S. government and the Iraqi government is an agreement stipulating the total withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country by the end of 2011. That which is now the centerpiece of U.S. relations with Iraq is still mostly taboo for discussion among the "national security elite" regarding Afghanistan: a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.
The majority of Americans want the Obama Administration to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, CBS News reports. 54% think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, with 41% opposed. Among Democrats, 73% think the U.S. should set a timetable, with 21% opposed; among independents, 54% support a withdrawal timetable, with 40% opposed; among Republicans, 32% support a withdrawal timetable, with 66% opposed.
Two weeks ago today, Members of the House of Representatives were polled on a similar proposition, when the House voted on an amendment introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA], Rep. David Obey [D-WI], and Rep. Walter Jones [R-NC] that would have required the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. That amendment failed, with 153 Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, voting yes, and 98 Democrats voting no; while 9 Republicans voted yes and 162 Republicans voted no. So in the McGovern-Obey-Jones "poll," Democrats in the House were 60%-38% in favor of a withdrawal timetable, while House Republicans were 91%-5% against.
If Democratic and Republican voters in the CBS poll had been allowed to stand in for Democrats and Republicans in the House two weeks ago (ignoring independents, also pro-timetable), the McGovern amendment would have passed 243-171, with 186 Democrats and 57 Republicans voting yes, and 54 Democrats and 117 Republicans voting no.