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The Missing Exit Strategy for Afghanistan

President Obama said it best when he talked about U.S. policy in Afghanistan on the CBS news program 60 Minutes last month: "There's got to be an exit strategy".

Well, there isn't one. There is an escalation of 21,000 US forces and there is a wartime spending bill requesting $94.2 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan. But, as of today, there isn't even a hint of what the President believes we need-an exit strategy. The Appropriations Committee is expected to dutifully vote out their bill Thursday and send it to the floor of the House for a vote next week.

I realize how hard it would be for Congressional Democrats to require the Obama administration to develop an exit strategy as a condition for continued war funding. After all, this is our guy, right? The last thing our guy needs is a Democratic Congress second guessing, making demands, and putting conditions on the war funding.

But this is exactly what we and the administration need precisely because he is our guy.

Unlike Mr. Limbaugh, we want and need President Obama to succeed. The very real prospect of the United States embedded in an endless war in Afghanistan would undermine everything this administration is trying to do while imperiling the very Congressional Democrats President Obama needs to move his agenda. This is exactly the right time to engage the administration in a respectful but critical discussion about where this military escalation is leading us.

Sending tens of thousands of more U.S. troops into Afghanistan-without a plan to get them out-is a bad idea for many reasons.

First off, the ink on the President's plan to send an additional 21,000 troops into Afghanistan wasn't even dry before the Pentagon acknowledged that it already has a request in to the administration for an additional 10,000 troops. What's worse, there are indications the Pentagon has even more requests waiting in the wings.

The fact is, there are simply not enough U.S. soldiers to secure Afghanistan. Estimates as to what would be required range for 200,000 to 600,000 troops. And, don't look to our NATO allies to be of any help. The leader of Canada's Liberal Party told me last week that the only way Canada citizens would support sending any troops was if there was a clear exit strategy with a date certain for their withdrawal. As a result, all Canadian soldiers will be on their way home by 2011.


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Those of us who live on this side of the border should be demanding the same from our political leaders.

The lack of an exit strategy is already making things worse in Afghanistan. Failing to say when and how we will remove our forces is playing into the hands of Taliban leaders who are using the presence of our troops on Afghanistan soil-and the announced escalation-as their most powerful recruitment tool. The New York Times reports that the escalation has mended fences between the otherwise fractious leadership of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban who announced that they are joining forces to fight the new troops as they arrive.

A BBC/ABC public opinion poll of Afghans reveals that fully 80% of the population is opposed to an escalation of American troops. Many of those who are shooting at our soldiers are not jihadists; they are proud Afghans who are famously sensitive to the presence of foreign forces on their soil.

The lack of an exit strategy also works against President Obama's regional strategy-outreach to the neighboring nations who have zero interest in a Taliban dominated Afghanistan because it would threaten their national security as much, if not more, than our own. How likely will China, Russia and particularly Iran be to join the U.S. if the outcome might be tens of thousands of U.S. troops on their border?

We need Congress to step up now and help prevent what has now become "Obama's War" from turning into a quagmire that undermines, if not destroys, the critically important agenda the President is fighting to pass here at home.

We need to step up too. We can start by contacting Members of Congress and urging them not to succumb to a vote-now, ask questions later approach to war funding even if it is our guy who is asking for it. We need a critical check-and-balance before it is too late to stop an endless war in Afghanistan.

The war spending bill is on the floor of the House of Representatives next week.

Tom Andrews

Tom Andrews

Tom Andrews, a former Member of Congress from the first Congressional District of Maine, is senior adviser to the human rights group, Fortify Rights. Andrews is the former President of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Tom also served as National Director of Win Without War, a coalition of forty-two national membership organizations including the National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the National Organization of Women, the Sierra Club, and MoveOn.  He is also a co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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