Demand an Afghanistan Exit Strategy

Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, Republican Congressman Walter
Jones, and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold have introduced legislation
demanding an exit strategy and timetable for withdrawal from
Afghanistan. The bill reads, "Military operations in Afghanistan have
cost American taxpayers more than $200,000,000,000 in deficit spending
since 2001." Over 1000 American soldiers have been killed and more than
5,600 wounded. In 2009 alone, 2400
Afghan civilians were killed

according to the UN, and tens
of thousands
have lost their lives
since the war began.

The Senate and House bills--S.
and HR
, respectively--would require President
Obama to provide a plan and a timetable for withdrawal of all US forces
and military contractors, and identify any contingencies that might
require changes to that timetable. It would demand an exit
strategy--long overdue--from a war that has already cost us too much in
treasure and lives, and isn't in the interest of US national security.

"Basically, what the bill is is a rejection of an open-ended military
commitment in Afghanistan," said Rep. McGovern, on a conference call
with NGOs, activists, and media organized by Peace Action last
week. "This bill is a signal to the President that we want him to come
up with an exit strategy, and we want the details."

Last year, McGovern introduced a similar amendment to an Afghanistan
war-funding bill that also called for an exit strategy. It garnered
more than 100 cosponsors and received 138 votes. He hopes the current
legislation will be attached to an upcoming Afghanistan
supplemental--within as soon as two weeks--and that it will hopefully
receive even greater support. The House bill already has 36 cosponsors,
including Republican Congressmen Jones, John Duncan of Tennessee, and
Tim Johnson of Illinois; also Financial Services Committee Chairman
Barney Frank, and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner.

"This is an incredibly important time," said McGovern. "The more
cosponsors we can get in the next couple of weeks--the more we're going
to be able to exert some pressure when the supplemental comes up, [and]
the more we're going to send a signal to the Administration that they
need to pay attention to those of us who are saying that we need to
rethink Afghanistan. What we want to make clear is that the concern
about our involvement in Afghanistan is increasing, that it is deep,
that a lot of people and members of Congress from all the over
country--have a concern about this. So, it's important that all of us
work to try to get
members of Congress as cosponsors

While McGovern notes that Obama has said he will begin redeploying
troops in July of next year--a statement which immediately received some
pushback from Defense Secretary Gates--that's insufficient.

"It's not only important to know when the first soldier is to be
redeployed or brought home," he said, "it's important to know when the
last soldier is as well."

McGovern--who served as a staffer to Congressman Joe Moakley for 14
years prior to his election to Congress in 1997--said that phone calls,
emails, and letters are all important to members.

"I have to tell you as a former staffer and as a member of Congress--
pressure works, grassroots pressure works. It really makes a difference
here," he said. "And when many people do it it's a movement. And what
we need to create here in a very short period of time is a movement to
try to change course on Afghanistan."

He suggested that people ask their representatives for a written
response to "force them to think about what you discuss with them and
see whether you can influence their position."

For McGovern, the reasons we need to withdraw from Afghanistan are
clear. And it begins with the mission itself.

"This mission--whatever it is--is not clear," he said. "And I don't
think by any measure it is something that we should be investing so much
in terms of human life and American taxpayer dollars."

He noted that the war began as a response to those responsible for 9-11,
but those perpetrators are no longer there. Al Qaeda, too, is
establishing itself in other parts of the world like Yemen, not in Afghanistan
. In fact, focusing so many resources on Afghanistan hinders our
ability to fight Al Qaeda.

"Now we're engaged in this prolonged nation-building--get rid of the
Taliban mission--that is not clearly defined, and quite frankly, is not
working," he said. "If you go to war, you should have a clearly defined
mission--a beginning, middle, transition period, and an end. I don't
know what that is here. I can't tell you what success in Afghanistan
means. I don't think the Administration can either."

McGovern says one of the biggest obstacles advocates for this bill face
is the "fear" legislators have that they will be vulnerable to the
charge that they are "soft" on terrorism. But he argues that this war
isn't making the country safer.

"I believe it's having the opposite effect," he said. "We're draining
our Treasury. We're putting our young men and women in uniform's lives
at risk defending a corrupt leader. With each civilian casualty, more
and more resentment grows towards the American forces and the Allied
Forces that are there."

The Congressman spoke of his August visit to Afghanistan and the
"widespread outrage" among US government representatives on the ground
who were "horrified over the way Karzai conducted the election."

"But that outrage did not translate to our policy makers here in
Washington," he said. "Basically we've given Karzai a pass. Supporting
corrupt, incompetent governments--that's not the way US policy should
proceed. I've seen this movie before--and you have too--it doesn't have
a happy ending."

But McGovern is also quick to point out that he isn't advocating that
the US abandon Afghanistan, "nor should anybody." He said some of most
successful development in Afghanistan has occurred without a significant
military footprint.

"Maybe we should learn from that," he said. "The cost of one American
soldier for one year in Afghanistan is equal to the cost of building
thirty schools in Afghanistan. If you want to win the hearts and minds
I think thirty schools is a pretty big deal. Helping the people of
Afghanistan--in a way that makes a real difference to them--is a
fraction of the cost of what we're doing right now."

And that cost of continuing this war isn't lost on McGovern or other
advocates of this legislation. (In fact, if this legislation shortens
the war in Afghanistan by a year, that would pay the two-year cost of
the Local
Jobs for America Act

"The hundreds of billions of dollars we spend over there on war.... All
that--mostly borrowed money--means that we're not investing at home. It
means our roads and our bridges aren't being fixed. It means our
schools aren't being fixed. It means we're not investing in healthcare,
and a whole range of other things that we need to do to get our economy
back on track," he said. "When we talk about national security, that
definition needs to be enhanced to include jobs, and the quality of
education that we offer our people, and healthcare, and infrastructure,
and roads and bridges, and the purity of our environment. All those
things are a part of our national security."

McGovern also draws from history to inform his thinking--something too
rare among our representatives. Referring to Time of Illusion,
by The Nation's peace and disarmament correspondent Jonathan
Schell, he said: "[Schell] talked about this doctrine of credibility
where policymakers in the 1960s all agreed that this Vietnam War was a
loser, that our policy was wrong, but they were all worried about saving
face. So they continued the war for several years before they ended it,
probably on the same terms they could have ended it in the 1960s. But
it was all about saving face and all about credibility.... I don't want
to here 10 years from now, having this conversation, and having all of
us say 'We could have done this ten years ago.'"

History also serves as a guide when it comes to the challenge we face in
trying to get Congress and this Administration to rethink Afghanistan
and change course.

"Lyndon Johnson had a great line after he left the White House," said
McGovern. "He said, 'It's easy to get into war. It's hard as hell to
get out of war.' Even when you know that war is wrong, or we need to
readjust our policy. This is not an easy thing for this Administration
to do. The only way things are going to change is through grassroots
pressure--people working their members of Congress,
getting him or her on HR 5015
, and making the
case that they take a leadership role in trying to change our policy."

McGovern called the task at hand "politically delicate", but that "at
some point I think doing what's right has to prevail."

This is the time for all of us to do what's right. A vote could come up
in the next two weeks. Contact your
Representative and Senators
--whether Democrat or Republican--and
tell them now is the time for them to cosponsor this bill.

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