"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.
There you have it. The reason that the amendment couldn’t be allowed to come to a vote was because it could pass. "If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it," an old anarchist saying goes. But this is certainly not the democracy they told us about when we were little. When Schoolhouse Rock sang, "I’m just a bill, sitting on Capitol Hill," do you remember anything about a measure with majority support being throttled by the House leadership? I don’t.
But wait! It’s not that simple.
One of the Republican sources stressed that there were a combination of factors for not allowing a vote on the timetable proposal, including "a lack of White House engagement." GOP leaders expected a bloc of their own members to support the measure and they couldn’t rely on the White House to lobby Democrats against it.
So, now we have a more nuanced view. It’s not that the GOP leadership was against voting on the amendment per se. It’s that they couldn’t trust the White House to break enough Democratic arms to oppose it, because the GOP leadership couldn’t stop enough House Republicans from defecting. It all makes sense if you start from the premise that the majority of the House, like the majority of the American people, can’t be allowed to have any say, if they insist on disagreeing with the policy that has already been determined by others. Of course, the ideal isn’t that they don’t have any say; the ideal is that they approve the policy that has already been determined. But, if we can’t make them approve the policy that has already been determined, then their say has to be taken away.
But this is not the end of the story.
A frustrated Jones said he would try again to attach the language to the defense spending bill when it comes up. "This is supposed to be the people’s House – that means we listen to the people. How about listening to the 72% of those who say get out of Afghanistan?"
We now know what the Achilles’ heel of the current policy is. Until now the Administration has gotten away with a having a two-faced policy: presented to the American people as a timetable for withdrawal, but understood by the Pentagon and the Republican leadership as allowing tens of thousands of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan forever. Now we know how to kill the Pentagon’s fantasy of keeping tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan forever: nail the Administration’s pseudo-timetable for withdrawal to the wall.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.