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House Backs Obama's Afghan Surge, Amid Calls for Exit Strategy

John Nichols

 by The Nation

"Sometimes great presidents make mistakes," declared Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern as he announced his intention to vote against $97 billion in "emergency" supplemental funding for the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq and President Obama's dangerously misguided plan to surge 21,000 more U.S. troops and trainers into Afghanistan.

McGovern is a Democrat who supported Barack Obama for president last year.

But McGovern is not willing to write Obama a blank check for endless warmaking.

And he is not alone.

The congressman was one of five dozen House members who voted Thursday against the "emergency" supplemental, which passed the House on a 368-60 vote. Of the 60 "no" votes, 51 came from Democrats, almost all of them members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Nine Republicans, some of them anti-war, some of them budget hawks, voted "no."

The level of Democratic opposition was significant and reflected concerns that were summed up by McGovern.

"The mission has greatly expanded and the policy is vague," the Massachusetts congressman explained Thursday. "The more stuff I'm exposed to the more uneasy I get about what we're doing here. I get this sinking feeling that we're getting sucked into something that we'll never be able to get out of."

Despite the fact that veterans of the Afghanistan fight were lobbying in opposition to the supplemental funding it was always expected that the spending plan would gain House approval Thursday, just as the Senate is all but certain to approve a variation on the plan next week.

These rubber-stamp votes are being taken despite a lack of serious planning by the administration or debate by the Congress.

So McGovern is doing more than just objecting. He is establishing the framework for the discussion that must be had about when and how the U.S. will exit Afghanistan.

On Thursday, McGovern introduced H.R. 2404, a house resolution requesting that President Obama provide an exit strategy for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

The measure has 73 cosponsors, most of them Democrats associated with the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Several powerful committee chairs have signed on, including Michigan Democrat John Conyers (Judiciary) and Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar (Transportation and Infrastructure). Additionally, there are a number of Republican backers, including longtime Iraq War critics such as Walter Jones of North Carolina, John Duncan of Tennessee and Ron Paul of Texas. Some unexpected Republicans have signed on as well, led by California conservative Dana Rohrabacher.

"In a very short-time Peace Action and a large coalition of NGOs worked with Rep. McGovern and the Congressional Progressive Caucus to garner over 70 original cosponsors to H.R. 2404 asking for an exit strategy for the war in Afghanistan," says Peace Action political director Paul Kawika Martin, who has worked closely with McGovern and members of the CPC on this issue. "This represents concerns by constituents with the U.S. policy in Afghanistan."

Martin expressed disappointment that the House Democratic leadership refused to allow the bipartisan bill to be offered as an amendment or adopted into the supplemental.

Peace Action and other anti-war groups called for members of Congress to vote ‘no' on the supplemental measure as part of a broader push to cut funding for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even as Congress rejects that wise counsel, Martin described H.R. 2404 as a vehicle to begin framing a smarter debate about the Afghanistan imbroglio.

"We call for an immediate halt in air and Predator drone strikes that kill, injure and traumatize innocent civilians and drive people to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Instead, the U.S. and international community should increase funding for Afghan-led humanitarian aid, development work, and land mine clean up while supporting regional diplomacy," explained Martin. "McGovern's bill is an opportunity for the congress to begin having these discussions."


© 2017 The Nation

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