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Recruit a Republican Against the War in Afghanistan

In an op-ed Tuesday in the Washington Post, prominent conservative columnist George Will called for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

Might George Will's op-ed encourage more Republicans in Congress to speak up in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops - or in opposition to the increase that is now being planned?

When we get our troops out of Afghanistan will depend to a significant degree on what Republican Members of Congress are willing to say and do. Indeed, Republican support will be "vital" for continuing the war and occupation of Afghanistan, the New York Times points out today, noting that Obama's reliance on Republican votes for the war means Republicans could pull the plug at any time.

This summer, the House of Representatives took what was in effect a "no confidence" vote on Afghanistan policy: it voted down, 138-278, Representative Jim McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy.

The majority of House Democrats supported McGovern's amendment. Among Democrats, the vote was 131-114, or 57% to 43%. But Republicans were overwhelmingly opposed. Only seven Republicans voted yes; 164 Republicans voted no; in percentage terms, 4% yes and 96% no.

There's been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth - as there should be - about Democrats not representing their constituents on the war. But the story on the Republican side is worse, and changing U.S. policy will require turning that around as well.

The Washington Post reported on August 20 that "A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country. " Seven in 10 Democrats said the war was not worth fighting, while seven in 10 Republicans said that it was.

These numbers allow us to make a crude comparison between Democratic and Republican voters and Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Suppose that Democrats and Republicans in Congress had voted on the McGovern amendment according to the numbers in the Washington Post poll: seventy percent of Democrats had voted in favor, and seventy percent of Republicans had voted against. Then the McGovern Amendment would have passed, 223-193, or 54%-46%, with 172 Democratic votes and 51 Republican votes. Forty more Democrats would have voted yes, but 44 more Republicans would also have voted yes.

Or, to put it another way: suppose the number of Republicans voting against the war is fixed. How many Democrats have to switch in order for the McGovern amendment to pass? Seventy Democrats would have to change from no to yes; 82% of the Democrats in the House would have to vote no on the war. That is, if the number of Republican votes were fixed, then passing something like the McGovern amendment would require that House Democrats be significantly more opposed to the war than Democrats are in general.

That seems like a pretty tall order. So, we need some more Republicans to vote against the war.

Are you represented by a Republican in Congress, in the House or the Senate? Ordinarily you might not consider that a gift, but today it is a blessing, because you now have an opportunity to take an action to end the war tailored for Republicans: send George Will's op-ed to your Republican representative. If no Republicans represent you, send it anyway - whether we like it or not, Democrats in Congress are influenced by Republican opinion.

And send George Will's piece to your Republican friends. There's no law of the universe that says Republicans have to support war and occupation without end in Afghanistan. Many Republicans opposed the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia in the Clinton Adminstration. Come out, come out, anti-war Republicans. We need you now.

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Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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