Glass Half Full: House Democratic Caucus Backs McGovern Afghanistan Exit Amendment

For those concerned the U.S. is becoming mired in a military quagmire
in Afghanistan there was good news and bad news on the House floor Thursday

The good news is that a majority of House Democrats just voted
(131-114) to support the McGovern amendment to the House Defense
Authorization bill that requires the Pentagon to develop a military
exit strategy from Afghanistan.

The bad news is that the overwhelming majority of House Republicans voted against the amendment (164-7), leading to its defeat.

For opponents of endless war in Afghanistan, it is a question of the glass being half empty or half full.

One the one hand, the glass is half full: this was a strong first vote
on what will likely become a prolonged struggle. The early
Congressional votes on the Vietnam and Iraq wars were lopsided affairs
as Members took the bait that a vote against administration policy is a
vote against our troops. With this vote, it's clear that a majority of
Congressional Democrats understand that establishing a clear mission
that includes a strategy for getting our troops home is necessary to
support and protect the men and women we're sending into harm's way.
Endless war is not.

On the other hand, the glass is half empty: Congressman McGovern's
proposal was very modest. It did not proscribe what the exit strategy
should be or on what time-line it should be accomplished. It simply
required the administration to come up with one. As Congressman
McGovern argued on the floor today: "This should not be controversial."
How does something that does what the president himself told a national
television audience last month was needed in Afghanistan go down to
defeat in the House? How does one oppose such a reasonable and modest

Simple. You find yourself under pressure from your party leadership-be
it Democratic or Republican-and the administration. Leaders on both
sides of the aisle pulled out all the stops to defeat this measure. The
Democratic and Republican leaders of both the Armed Services and
Foreign Affairs Committees lobbied hard. They circulated a letter from
all four leaders of the committees imploring a no vote while the debate
was underway on the House floor. The administration enlisted the direct
engagement of Secretary of State Clinton and Ambassador Holbrooke to
convince Members to say no. The president may believe in the necessity
of an exit strategy for US forces in Afghanistan but his administration
is loathe to actually come up with one.

The McGovern amendment may have come up short Thursday, but nevertheless
count me in the glass-half-full camp. Winning the House Democratic
Caucus on an issue opposed by Democratic leadership and the White House
is no small feat. Indeed, it is hard to vote against the position of a
president who you so desperately want to succeed. But this is precisely
why many did just that. They do not want to see this administration-and
all of the hope and promise that it brings-mired in an endless war that
ends in a disaster for all. The very real prospect that the escalation
of our forces in Afghanistan will make things much worse and not better
is why 80% of Afghans oppose it.

Our congratulations and thanks go to Congressman McGovern (D-MA),
Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Ca), and
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), the lead sponsors of this
amendment. They deserve our thanks not only for taking a principled
stand on an important and controversial issue, but for going to work to
make this a significant vote - one that will stand as a marker for the
struggle ahead. Come to think of it, with friends like these in
Congress, our glasses are more than half full.

Now, back to work.

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