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The Afghanistan War and the California Senate Race

Kevin DeLeon is asserting that the Afghanistan War is a bad idea today – when there’s virtually no one else talking about it.

“Now we are 17 years straight in Afghanistan and this war has cost us over $1 trillion so far. These types of votes have real consequences on human life as well as our budget." (Photo: Kevin De León)

“Now we are 17 years straight in Afghanistan and this war has cost us over $1 trillion so far. These types of votes have real consequences on human life as well as our budget." (Photo: Kevin De León)

In his February state Democratic Convention speech, California Senate President Kevin DeLeon took U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein to task for her vote in favor of the Iraq War. No surprise there – he hopes to unseat the state’s senior U.S. Senator and candidates have frequently focused on opponents’ pro-Iraq War votes, most notably in the Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders campaigns against Hillary Clinton. But when DeLeon visited the San Francisco Chronicle in April, he took things a step further, telling the newspaper’s editorial board that he would have voted not only against the Iraq War, but the Afghanistan War as well. Although the Chronicle, which covers the city’s right flank, endorsed Feinstein the very next day, DeLeon’s statement deserves some attention in the rest of the city and state – and the rest of the nation, really.

Some may scoff at a candidate claiming he would have recognized the invasion of Afghanistan as a bad idea if he had been a Senator in 2001. But what’s significant here is that DeLeon is asserting that the Afghanistan War is a bad idea today – when there’s virtually no one else talking about it. Let’s remember that even Sanders – who broke new ground in truth telling about American foreign policy during his debates with Clinton – had very little to say about our never-ending war during his run.

Ultimately the only argument about the Afghanistan War that does matter today is whether the U.S. should continue to pursue it tomorrow. The argument against is really a quite simple, but DeLeon deserves immense credit for making it – when so few others will. He told the Nation magazine that “now we are 17 years straight in Afghanistan and this war has cost us over $1 trillion so far. These types of votes have real consequences on human life as well as our budget: money that we could have utilized best in education, in job creation through investments in our infrastructure, our roads, our highways, in clean energy, in investments in precision medicine to find the next cure for Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.”

It shouldn’t be hard for candidates to argue the demerits of this war: Back in 2013, CNN reported that “Support for the war in Afghanistan has dipped below 20%, according to a new national poll, making the country's longest military conflict arguably its most unpopular one as well.” The network went on to say, “The CNN/ORC International survey released Monday also indicates that a majority of Americans would like to see U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan before the December 2014 deadline.” Remember the 2014 deadline that Obama reneged on when the military informed him that it displeased them? Certainly almost no one running for federal office seems to.

And it’s not that the war effort is going well: Just this week, in their quarterly report to Congress, the inspectors-general of the Pentagon, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development said “there was little publicly available evidence that the actions to increase pressure on the Taliban were having a significant impact" and warned of the risk of “further raises ... of civilian casualties, insider attacks, U.S. casualties, and other conflict-related violence" likely to result from a planned increase in American military adviser collaboration closer to front line Afghan troops operating in escalating offensives.

Nor has it proven impossible to muster public opposition to the war when the effort is actually made: Delegates to the above-mentioned California Democratic Convention approved a platform calling for ending air strikes in Afghanistan, withdrawing all U.S. military forces and military contractors, and cutting all appropriations for the war effort, except for funds required for the withdrawal of our troops. Getting this plank in the platform was not actually very complicated – when it was presented to the platform committee there was simply no support there for extending a seventeen-year policy of futility, waste and destruction.

So really, there’s nothing strange about Kevin DeLeon raising the Afghanistan War in a Senate campaign. What’s strange is a political climate so deadened that it’s news when a Senate candidate does mention the elephant in the room – a war that we will presumably fight tomorrow because we fought it yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that ... going all the way back to 2001.

DeLeon did well at the state convention, beating Feinstein 54-37% – short of the 60% required for endorsement, but a sizeable win nonetheless. The June 5 primary will be a bit tougher going. The much better known Feinstein, a Senator since 1992, enjoys a substantial lead in the polls and a much more substantial edge in fundraising – as of March 31, she held a $10.4 million to $672,000 cash-on-hand advantage, including $5 million she loaned to her own campaign. Yet there is hope: if DeLeon can beat all of the largely unknown Republicans in the race, California’s open, top-two primary system will allow the two Democrats to advance to the November final, which could result in a new Senator – if, and only if the electorate looks past the daily clown show in the Trump White House and pays attention to things like ending our forever war.

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Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher is a former Massachusetts State Representative and the author of 'The Primary Route: How the 99% Take On the Military Industrial Complex.' He lives in San Francisco.

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