House Afghanistan Debate: What Kucinich Accomplished

Yesterday, at long last, there was a vigorous debate about the war in
Afghanistan on the floor of the United States House of
Representatives. The legislative vehicle was a resolution introduced
by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich calling for U.S. troops to be
withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year. But House critics
of the war have long been agitating for a real debate.

This is the debate that should have been held - at least - last fall
when the Administration was considering sending more U.S. troops to
Afghanistan, or - at least - when the Administration announced its
plans to send more troops. If the House had held this debate while the
Administration was mulling its decision, the Congressional airing of
arguments against military escalation and in favor of political and
diplomatic solutions would have attracted a lot more attention, and
could have affected the decision. No doubt, the possibility that a
Congressional debate then might have affected the policy was a key
motivation for some in the House leadership not to allow this debate
to occur then.

But it is much better for the House to debate now than not to debate
at all, or to fail to debate the policy until the question of money is
on the floor, a point emphasized by Rep. Howard Berman, chair of the
House Foreign Affairs Committee, who vigorously opposed the resolution
but vigorously supported the debate. Pro-war views are hardly lacking
venues for making their case, meeting in church basements, passing out
flyers on the sidewalk. Pro-war views dominate the mainstream media.
It's dissent against the war that has to fight to be heard. Yesterday,
dissent was heard.

Of course, the House debate on Afghanistan didn't get the media play
yesterday that the Eric Massa soap opera did, as Representative
Kennedy passionately noted
(ironically, arguably garnering more press attention for the
Afghanistan debate with his jeremiad than any other intervention on
the House floor.)

But compare the press coverage of the Afghanistan debate to almost any
other day of press coverage on Afghanistan, and the thing that stands
out is that there was any coverage of dissent at all. Rep. Kennedy was
absolutely right to call attention to the media's choices in the
exercise of their agenda-setting power, but it's always important to
keep in mind that the causality also always runs the other way: the
media take cues about "what is an issue" from politicians, and the
increase in the reporting yesterday of dissent on the war was a
reflection of that. There was some press coverage of Congressional
dissent, in part because there was a newsworthy Congressional dissent
event to report on.

Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Timesgot
the story exactly right
:

The measure ended up losing, 356 to 65 [roll call here], a margin
that had been expected. Nonetheless, antiwar lawmakers welcomed the
debate as a chance to express pent-up frustration with the continued
troop buildup in Afghanistan, and to express their view that the
original mission of U.S. forces, defeating Al Qaeda, had been
lost.

Barnes specifically noted the dissents of Donna Edwards[MD-4], Alan
Grayson[FL-8], and Ron Paul[TX-14].

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said she supported the
resolution because the U.S. was no longer fighting Al Qaeda in
Afghanistan. "This Congress has an obligation to send a strong message
to the White House that the war must come to an end," she said. "Who
are we fighting. Over the course of this time this war and its mission
and its goals have morphed and morphed and morphed.

Here's what people watching C-Span saw when Donna Edwards spoke:

Rep. Alan Grayson (D- Florida)/(D- Orlando), wearing a tie
festooned with peace symbols, called the Afghanistan war a "foreign
occupation" that was unconstitutional, and would leave thousands of
more young people with brain damage. "We won and now we could go home
a long time. in fact we could have gone home a long time ago," Grayson
said. "We simply can't afford these wars any more in price of money or
the price of blood."

Here's what people watching C-Span saw when Alan Grayson spoke:

"The country is totally bankrupt and we are spending
trillions of dollars on these useless wars," said Rep. Ron Paul
(R-Texas), a libertarian and also a former presidential candidate.
"History shows all empires end because they expand too far and
bankrupt the country, just as the Soviet system came
down."

Here's what people watching C-Span saw when Ron Paul spoke:

The New York Timesnoted
the dissent of Rep. Chellie Pingree
[ME-1]:

"Is the cost of this war worth it?" asked Representative
Chellie Pingree, Democrat of Maine. "Can we afford to turn our backs
on the challenges we face at home and continue to pursue failed
policies abroad?"

Here's what people watching C-Span saw when Chellie Pingree spoke:

And National Public Radionoted
the dissent of the gentleman from Ohio
.

Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, one of the more
liberal members of Congress, brought up a resolution Wednesday to pull
U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year at the latest.
Although the measure failed after a 65-356 vote, lawmakers on all
sides agree on one thing: Wednesday's debate itself was important for
the Congress to have.

Kucinich said he wrote this bill because he wants Congress to take
responsibility for the war in Afghanistan. He said it should "claim
responsibility for the troop casualties, which are now close to 1,000;
to claim responsibility for the cost, which is approaching $250
billion and, together with the Iraq war, close to $1 trillion."
Kucinich said Congress must also take responsibility for the great
cost at home: the money spent on the war that hasn't gone to job
creation, housing and public works projects.

As the sponsor of the resolution, the gentleman from Ohio was not
limited to one short intervention, and anyone watching the debate for
any length of time would have had the opportunity to see Rep. Kucinich
present one aspect of his case against the war. Here he presented his
argument for introducing the resolution, prior to the debate:

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