McGovern, Obey Lead House Showdown on Afghanistan War

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McGovern, Obey Lead House Showdown on Afghanistan War

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.

Representative McGovern will be working to bring more than 138 Members with him this time, on a provision that is significantly sharper than last June's amendment, because it requires a "timetable for withdrawal" rather than merely an "exit strategy," as well as trying to lock in the promised drawdown of summer 2011.

Getting the McGovern-Obey amendment past the entire House will be a very tall order if the overwhelming majority of House Republicans continue to vote for open-ended war. Only 7 Republicans voted with McGovern last June. If only 7 Republicans vote with McGovern now, and turnout is similar to June, some 200 Democrats - four-fifths of the Democratic caucus - would have to vote yes to carry the amendment.

But there is some grounds for optimism that McGovern could bring with him a significantly bigger proportion of the Democratic caucus than he did last June.

On May 27 of this year, eighteen Senators voted in favor of Senator Feingold's amendment requiring a timetable for withdrawal. Before May, no-one in the Senate had joined Feingold in publicly advocating for a withdrawal plan; last year, the Senate didn't even consider anything like Representative McGovern's exit strategy amendment. But in May, Feingold's amendment was backed by three of the four members of the Senate Democratic leadership: Senator Durbin, Senator Schumer, and Senator Murray. That was the Senate, traditionally more supportive of foreign military entanglements than the more populist House.

And that was before Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone article and General McChrystal's dismissal called the question of the radical disconnect between the Washington fairy tale of how military escalation is going to lead to "success" and the "ground truth" reality of quagmire in Afghanistan.

The story that was told last fall when General McChrystal demanded 30,000 more troops has not come to pass. The offensive in Marja was a failure. The offensive in Kandahar, the centerpiece of the escalation - which people in Kandahar have overwhelmingly rejected - has been postponed. The Afghan Taliban have not been "defeated" or "degraded." The political settlement that the Afghan government is now seeking - with the ostensible support of the U.S. - will involve the same Taliban leaders that we are fighting today, and the eventual result of these negotiations is not likely to be significantly changed by more killing.

By sending a decisive signal that patience in Congress is wearing out, the House can dramatically shorten the war. Congress can save many American and Afghan lives and tens of billions of dollars if it moves decisively to turn this ship around. You can weigh in by calling your Representative today. The Capitol Switchboard is 202-225-3121.

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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