WASHINGTON -- As the Obama administration readies plans for U.S. offices in Afghanistan, it's not just national office-holders who are demanding an expedited drawdown.
On Friday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors will introduce a resolution calling for a quicker end to the war and a speedier withdrawal of troops. If it passes -- a vote will come on Monday -- it will be the first time the body has formally called for an end to an military engagement since Vietnam.
The mayors' formal address of the conflict -- which is still being debated, politically, at the federal level -- illustrates how widespread skepticism about Afghanistan has become.
Just this week, several top candidates in the Republican presidential field raised serious concerns over the sustainability of current troop levels. On Wednesday, 27 senators signed a letter to the president pressing him for a new strategy and a major troop drawdown.
Unlike senators, mayors have no power of the purse. Nor do any of them currently aspire to serve in the role of commander-in-chief. But the resolution that they are set to consider still serves as a reflection of the current mood with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq.
For starters, opponents of the war remain largely Democratic. The signatories of the pending resolution include more than a dozen Democratic mayors of mid-to-large cities -- Dave Norris of Charlottesville, Va.; David Coss of Santa Fe, N.M.; R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis, Minn.; and Carolyn Peterson of Ithaca, N.Y.
The basis of the mayors' objections is not strictly the morality or strategic basis of the war, but the price tag. The resolution's first clause references the "severity of the ongoing economic crisis" and "budget shortfalls at all levels of government" as reasons to "re-examine our national spending priorities." The second clause notes that Iraq and Afghanistan are costing the country approximately $126 billion dollars per year. It is not until the third clause that the authors point to the wars' casualties. They conclude with a plea for Congress to "bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs."
"As mayors, we recognize there is an absurdly false choice being put to Americans that we somehow have to pick between all the priorities we care deeply about but can't touch massive spending on the military," said Rybak. "There is this rationale that defense spending trickles down to domestic priorities. That is true. I'm happy that the space program developed Tang but that does not mean that's the end result we should be going for."
There is only a limited sense about the resolution's prospects for success. But its supporters suggest that many members will be influenced by the overt national trends.
"I've been active in politics for many years in a number of different roles," Joseph C. O'Brien, the Mayor of Worcester and a co-sponsor of the resolution, told The Huffington Post. "Nationally, the tide is turning on support for interventions abroad, whether Afghanistan or Iraq. ... We are spending a billion a month after Osama bin Laden has been killed. And while I appreciate the effort to rebuild nations around the world, we have tremendous needs in communities like mine."
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In order to pass, the resolution would have to go through the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Metro Economies Policy Committee first before heading to the full body for a vote.
That process is similar to what happened in front of the conference 40 years ago. Then meeting in Philadelphia, a group of mayors urged colleagues to go on record as supporting the federal amendment calling for President Nixon to withdraw all American forces from Vietnam in a matter of months. New York City mayor John Lindsay requested that the group invite a veteran of the war, one John Kerry, to speak before the plenary session. Nixon insisted that Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace's John O'Neill be invited to argue the other side. The debate and subsequent passage of the resolution earned a photo on the first page of The New York Times the following day.
It would be a Christmas-come-early gift for war protesters to get that type of press this go-around. Popular dissatisfaction with Afghanistan hasn't registered as it did with Vietnam. And while there are a determined number of mayors who feel committed to seeing the resolution through, even they aren't certain about its chances for success.
"I couldn't tell you whether it will pass or not," said Rybak. "Sometimes issues that start small in our group make a great deal of difference globally."
READ THE FULL RESOLUTION:
1. WHEREAS, the severity of the ongoing economic crisis has created budget shortfalls at all levels of government and requires us to re-examine our national spending priorities; and
2. WHEREAS, the people of the United States are collectively paying approximately $126 billion dollars per year to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan; and
3. WHEREAS, 6,024 members of the US armed forces have died in these wars; and at least 120,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the coalition attacks began.
4. NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors supports efforts to speed up the ending of these wars; and
5. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. Congress to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy.