A commonly proffered argument against negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan has been: "why should the Afghan Taliban negotiate, when they think they are winning?" For many months, this argument was offered by Administration officials to explain why they would not yet pursue serious negotiations with senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban.
More recently, Administration officials are saying that they have moved significantly.
Washington is eager to make [peace negotiations with high-ranking insurgents] happen - perhaps more eager than most Americans realize. "There was a major policy shift that went completely unreported in the last three months," a senior administration official tells Newsweek..."We're going to support Afghan-led reconciliation [with the Taliban]." U.S. officials have quietly dropped the Bush administration's resistance to talks with senior Taliban and are doing whatever they can to help Karzai open talks with the insurgents, although they still say any Taliban willing to negotiate must renounce violence, reject Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan Constitution. (Some observers predict that those preconditions may eventually be fudged into goals.)
The Administration's shift - if real - is tremendously good news for ending the war. But even if this accurately reflects the intentions of the Administration, the arguments made earlier against serious negotiations are still politically powerful, in part because the Administration made them, and will likely be thrown back in the Administration's face by some of its Republican critics if efforts at a negotiated settlement begin to bear fruit. Therefore, these arguments still need to be countered, even if the Administration is no longer making them.
The following letter was sent to the Democratic National Committee this afternoon:
Brad Woodhouse, Communications Director, Democratic National Committee
Tim Kaine, National Chair, Democratic National Committee
Mike Honda, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
Linda Chavez-Thompson, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
Donna Brazile, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
Raymond Buckley, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
430 South Capitol Street SE
Washington, D.C., 20003
Dear Mr. Woodhouse and Governor Kaine,
As Americans working to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, we write to express our deep disappointment and concern at the recent attack by Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse on Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele in response to Mr. Steele's criticism of the war in Afghanistan.
We have three concerns.
First, in supporting the war in Afghanistan, and portraying this as a Democratic position, Mr. Woodhouse was not representing the majority of Democrats in the United States, who oppose the war. Two-thirds of Democrats think the war is not worth the cost, the Washington Post reported in June.  Shortly before Mr. Woodhouse made his statement attacking Mr. Steele, three-fifths of the Democrats in the House, including Speaker Pelosi, Representative Honda, and Representative Wasserman Schultz, voted for an amendment introduced by Representative Jim McGovern, Representative David Obey, and Representative Walter Jones that would have required President Obama to establish a timetable for U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. 
"Obsession" isn't just "a fragrance for men." According to our Commander-in-Chief, "obsession" now also characterizes the widespread interest in the timeline for bringing home 100,000 American boys and girls safely from Afghanistan so they can grow old with their sweethearts and lead economically productive lives, rather than becoming Pentagon statistics or lifelong burdens on their family members and the public purse.
President Obama said there's "a lot of obsession" about the withdrawal date for U.S. troops from Afghanistan, AP reported Sunday.
This "obsession" has so afflicted the body politic that Thursday night, three-fifths of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for an amendment on the war supplemental that not only tried to lock in the July 2011 timetable for the beginning of the drawdown that President Obama promised last year, but also would have required the President to establish a timetable for the completion of the drawdown.
Are some of us "obsessed" with a withdrawal timetable for U.S. forces from Afghanistan? Damn straight we are. Advocacy of a withdrawal timetable is the principal means by which Americans outside of the military can act politically to protect the lives of our fellow citizens who are being deployed. Every day by which we can shorten the war is a day on which our fellow citizens won't have the opportunity to be blown up in Afghanistan.
And as for the people of Afghanistan, the withdrawal timetable is our ticket to freedom from having the same relationship with Pashtun residents of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan as the Israeli army has with Palestinian residents of Hebron in the southern West Bank.
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.
Until quite recently, it seemed that Turkey had a clearly defined role in the Middle East, from the standpoint of U.S. policy. They were the "good Muslims," who were part of NATO, who contributed troops to U.S. wars, and who had good relations with Israel.
In the past few weeks, therefore, some Americans may have been startled to see the government of Turkey seemingly playing a very different role. First, together with Brazil, Turkey negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran to defuse the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and forestall a controversial U.S./Israeli push for new sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Although the deal was very similar to one proposed by the Obama Administration - and Brazil and Turkey had a letter from Obama encouraging them to press forward with the deal - Obama Administration officials dismissed the deal, and far from being grateful to Turkey and Brazil, made a show of being angry. But instead of being chastened, Turkey and Brazil insisted their deal was good - invoking their letter from Obama to demonstrate their case - and insisted that the U.S. should pursue it.
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.
Today the Senate votes on Senator Feingold's amendment to the war supplemental, that would direct the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan: Senate Amendment #4204 to H.R. 4899.
Feingold's amendment was co-sponsored by Senator Durbin, Senator Boxer, Senator Merkley, Senator Sherrod Brown, and Senator Sanders.
Eighteen Senators voted yes. Baucus, Boxer, Brown (OH), Cantwell, Dorgan, Durbin, Feingold, Gilibrand, Harkin, Leahy, Merkley, Murray, Sanders, Schumer, Specter, Tester, Udall (NM), and Wyden.
Among others, Franken, Feinstein, and Burris voted no.
The text of the amendment is here:
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.