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.
With the House poised to consider the Pentagon's request for $33 billion for more death in Afghanistan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told the Huffington Post she expects a "serious drawdown" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. The House Rules Committee has now approved an amendment for consideration on the war supplemental that will allow Speaker Pelosi to "put her money where her mouth is."
Some folks in Washington who want the war and occupation in Afghanistan to continue indefinitely are trying to pretend there has been no commitment made for a significant drawdown, or indeed any drawdown at all, in the summer of 2011. Speaker Pelosi is in a unique position to weigh in on this question, since the House could put the drawdown in writing when it considers the war supplemental, by approving an amendment introduced by Representatives McGovern and Obey to try to lock in the drawdown.
In Jonathan Alter's book, The Promise, Vice-President Biden told us that we can "bet" on "a whole lot of people moving out" in July 2011. Under pressure, presumably from people in the Pentagon who want a "serious drawdown" in July 2011 to be hostage to "conditions," Biden's people have tried to walk back this statement by saying it was an "offhand comment" made as Biden was leaving an interview.
But if you actually read Alter's text, "offhand comment" is hard to swallow. Here's the paragraph:
One of the many destructive legacies of the Reagan Era was the effective Washington consensus that wars and other military spending exist on their own fiscal planet. Reagan got a Dixiecrat Congress to double military spending at a time when the U.S. was not at war (unless you were a poor person in Central America.) Meanwhile, Reagan got the Dixiecrat Congress to cut domestic spending - we just couldn't afford those costly social programs. Reagan pretended the two things were totally unrelated, and the Dixiecrat Congress went along.
Ever since, the Democratic leadership and the big Democratic constituency groups have largely collaborated in maintaining the destructive fiction that we can shovel tax dollars to war and to corporate welfare called "defense spending" without having any impact on our ability to provide quality education, health care, effective enforcement of environmental, civil rights, and worker safety laws, and other basic services to our citizens that are taken for granted by the citizens of every other industrialized country.
But maybe - maybe - that destructive connivance is coming to an end.
This week, House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey told the White House that he was going to sit on the Administration's request for $33 billion more for pointless killing in Afghanistan until the White House acted on House Democratic demands to unlock federal money to aid the states in averting a wave of layoffs of teachers and other public employees.
Obey didn't just link the two issues rhetorically; he linked them with the threat of effective action.
At last, at long last.
But why is David Obey standing alone?
Perhaps, behind the scenes, the big Democratic constituency groups are pulling for Obey.
Today eighteen Senators voted for Senator Feingold's amendment to the war supplemental requiring the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. This could be a turning point in U.S. policy on the war in Afghanistan.
With this vote, the number of Senators on the record in support of the policy of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal just increased from two to eighteen: on Tuesday, Senator Boxer added her name to S.3197, Senator Feingold's bill that would have the same effect.
The other sixteen Senators who voted yes were Baucus [D-MT]; Brown [D-OH]; Cantwell [D-WA]; Dorgan [D-ND]; Durbin [D-IL]; Gillibrand [D-NY]; Harkin [D-IA]; Leahy [D-VT]; Merkley [D-OR]; Murray [D-WA]; Sanders [I-VT]; Schumer [D-NY]; Specter [D-PA]; Tester [D-MT]; Udall [D-NM]; and Wyden [D-OR]. (Noteworthy votes against included Senator Franken and Senator Feinstein. Last September, Feinstein called for a specific date for the withdrawal of American forces.)
This "surge" in Senate support for a timetable for withdrawal should make it easier to build support in the House for a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the war supplemental, as it is expected to do after the Memorial Day recess.
Already, 92 Members of the House have co-sponsored H.R. 5015, Representative McGovern's companion legislation requiring a timetable for withdrawal, including members of the House Democratic leadership, like Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. George Miller; if you add in Members who earlier this year supported Representative Kucinich's withdrawal resolution, more than 100 Members of the House are already on the record in favor of a timetable for military withdrawal.
When President Obama visited Afghanistan in March, he assured U.S. troops that "the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something."
But according to Sunday's New York Times, it ain't necessarily so. When it comes to combating AIDS in the world's poorest countries, the greatest nation on earth has apparently decided to cry "Uncle."
Clinics in Uganda are turning people away, on orders from the U.S. government. A U.S.-run program in Mozambique has been told to stop opening clinics.
Why? According to lying U.S. officials, we don't have the money to maintain our commitment. Budgets are tight. We had to bail out Wall Street.
But the numbers on offer don't make any sense. Michel Sidibe, executive director of Unaids, says there is a global shortfall of about $17 billion for controlling the epidemic. The expected U.S. share of such a shortfall would be about a third, or $5.6 billion. Meanwhile, Congress is about to be asked to fork over $33 billion in our tax dollars for more war in Afghanistan. This $33 billion would only pay for four months of the war, until the end of the fiscal year, when next year's appropriation will become available.
So on an annual basis, we're being asked to spend almost 20 times more on killing in Afghanistan than it is claimed that we don't have to help stop Africa and Haiti from being decimated by AIDS.
Or, to put it another way: if we could end the war in Afghanistan, then every year we'd save $99 billion compared to the world in which the war continues. We could use $5.6 billion to pay what we owe on controlling the AIDS epidemic, and have $93.4 billion left for domestic job creation, tax cuts, going to the beach, whatever ya want.
Sometime between now and Memorial Day, the House is expected to consider $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan. This "war supplemental" is largely intended to plug the hole in Afghanistan war spending for the current fiscal year caused by the ongoing addition of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, whose purpose is largely to conduct a military offensive in Kandahar that 94% of the people there say they don't want, preferring peace negotiations with the Taliban instead.
Of course, by itself the number $33 billion is totally meaningless. To make it meaningful, we need to compare it to something - what else could we do with $33 billion?
If the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812) becomes law, it will create or save more than 675,000 local community jobs and more than 250,000 education jobs, according to the latest estimates from the House Education and Labor Committee.
According to the House Education and Labor Committee, the bill includes $75 billion over two years for local communities to hold off planned cuts or to hire back workers for local services who have been laid-off because of tight budgets. The bill also includes $24 billion, already approved by the House in December, to help states support 250,000 education jobs, put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain, rehire, and hire firefighters.
On Tuesday, Rep. Michael Honda signed his name to legislation put forward by Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Jim McGovern and Rep. Walter Jones that would require the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
This is potentially a bellwether event, because Rep. Honda - together with Rep. Grijalva, who also signed his name to the McGovern bill on Tuesday - has been a leader on Afghanistan in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including chairing the CPC Afghanistan task force. Rep. Honda has been very critical of the war, but he has not been an automatic supporter of anti-war legislative initiatives.
If the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" in Washington gets onto the McGovern bill in the next few weeks, the political space to be a "liberal" in Washington who supports an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan will have largely evaporated when the House considers $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan between now and Memorial Day. Progressives in the House may be able to extract from the leadership a vote on a timetable for withdrawal when the House considers the war supplemental.
Yesterday, Senator Russ Feingold, Representative Jim McGovern, and Representative Walter Jones announced the introduction of legislation that - if it attracts enough support - could end the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, and bring the troops home.
The key idea of the bill is straightforward. By January 1 - or within 3 months of the enactment of the bill, if that is earlier - the President is required to submit to Congress a plan for the redeployment of the U.S. military from Afghanistan, with a timetable for doing so. After submitting the plan, the President has to update Congress every 90 days on how the implementation of the plan is going.
The bill allows Members of Congress to sign their names in favor of the all-important policy of having a timetable for military withdrawal, without everyone having to agree on a specific proposal for what the end date should be. Instead, it instructs President Obama to tell us what he thinks the plan should be.
The importance of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal cannot be overstated.
If you want to figure out how we are going to get the hell out of Afghanistan, the most obvious precedent to look at is: how are we getting the hell out of Iraq? And the answer is: with a timetable for military withdrawal, which is now the basis of a signed agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
U.S. officials have repeatedly conceded that the endgame in Afghanistan includes a negotiated political settlement between the Afghan government and the main insurgent groups in Afghanistan. Such a settlement will only be possible if it is supported by the United States, and the key chip that only the United States can bring to the negotiating table is willingness to agree to a timetable for military withdrawal. So long as the United States refuses to agree to a timetable for withdrawal of U.S.
Senator Feingold, Representative McGovern and Representative Walter Jones have announced the introduction of legislation that would require the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
In the Senate, S. 3197; in the House, H.R. 5015.
Feingold's announcement is here.
The bill can be read here.
You can ask your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor it here.
Who knew Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President's military escalation in Afghanistan?
But so it is. In an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter not only challenges the "surge"; he also challenges fundamental premises of the war. Specter writes:
I'm opposed to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?
What can one Senator do? Well, one Senator can introduce legislation, for starters. At this writing, there isn't a single piece of legislation before the Senate that expresses opposition to continuing the war indefinitely. This is in marked contrast to the House, where Representative McGovern's bill requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan has more than 100 co-sponsors. That's like having 23 Senators.
But Arlen Specter is in a unique position to do much more than introduce legislation. He could turn his Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary into a referendum on the Afghanistan war, because his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation: