Congress Should Require an Exit Strategy from Afghanistan

In March, President Obama told
CBS' "60 Minutes" that the United States must have an "exit strategy"
in Afghanistan.

At least eighty-eight Members of Congress agree. They're supporting H.R.
, a bill introduced by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA)
whose text is one sentence long: "Not later than December 31, 2009,
the Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress a report outlining
the United States exit strategy for United States military forces in
Afghanistan participating in Operation Enduring Freedom."

Next week, Rep. McGovern is expected to try to attach this language to
the 2010 military authorization bill. Today peace advocates are asking
Americans to call Congress and urge that this language is enacted into

The Members of Congress are going a bit further than President Obama.
They're saying not only that the U.S. should have an exit strategy,
but that Congress and the American people should be told what it is.

It's Congress - and the American people - who have the power of the
purse. This week, over the protests of progressive Democrats, Congress
approved another war supplemental - paying for military escalation
with no exit strategy - bringing the total spending for the war in
Afghanistan to $223 billion since 2001, according
to the Congressional Research Service

Americans aren't just paying for the war through their tax dollars.
More than 700 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since
2001[]. Some 56,000 U.S. soldiers are in
Afghanistan now, and President Obama has ordered 21,000 more soldiers
to be sent there. Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. commander
in Afghanistan, has acknowledged to Congress that U.S. casualties will
likely rise.

Of course, the price Americans are paying for this endless war pales
in comparison to the price that Afghan civilians are paying. Under the
banner of liberating Afghans, we're killing them with our bombs. Brave
New Films shows here the
consequences of U.S. air strikes for Afghan civilians:

Earlier this year, an
ABC poll
reported that nearly four-fifths of Afghans say U.S. air
strikes are unacceptable, while less than one in five wanted the U.S.
to send more troops.

Critics of the escalating war in Afghanistan fear that we are being
led into a quagmire like Vietnam. A January report
from the Carnegie Foundation
concluded that the presence of
foreign forces in Afghanistan was likely the single most important
factor driving the country's insurgencies. Already the
Administration's announced escalation has had the effect of uniting
different insurgent groups against the U.S.

We're told that we're supporting a democratic government in
Afghanistan, but when that government asks us to stop deeply unpopular
air strikes and Special Forces night raids, these protests are largely
dismissed. When the Afghan government asks us to support meaningful
negotiations with leaders of the country's insurgencies towards a
political settlement of the country's conflicts, we don't even
acknowledge the request. These are among the most important issues
facing the country, and we don't allow the Afghan government to have
effective say. We want the people of Afghanistan to see their
government as legitimate - but when it comes to key issues that we
control, we don't treat the government as legitimate, so it's little
wonder if Afghans follow our lead in not taking their government

When Congress tried to impose a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.
forces from Iraq through legislation, we were told "arbitrary
withdrawal timetables" were unacceptable. But eventually - also under
pressure from the Iraqi government - the Bush Administration agreed to
a withdrawal timetable. President Obama has repeatedly re-affirmed
this timetable, including in his recent speech in Cairo.

In McGovern's bill, eighty-eight Members of Congress aren't demanding
a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They're simply asking to
be told what the plan is for getting to the situation where there is
no U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan. In announcing his new
strategy and in his speech in Cairo, President Obama said that the
U.S. does not want to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. But he
hasn't told us what his plan is for doing something else.

One thing you almost never hear our leaders talk about is: how long
are we going to be in Afghanistan? It's a forbidden topic. But
occasionally something slips through: last year a British commander said
the goal for handing back Kandahar air base was the year 2020.

If our government's exit strategy for Afghanistan includes 11 more
years of war, don't the American people have a right to know that? If
you think we do, urge your Member of Congress to support the McGovern
bill. The Congressional switchboard is 202-225-3121, and you can find
who represents you in Congress here.

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