When progressive House Democrats were blocked from a floor vote on their proposal requiring an exit strategy for our Afghanistan military mission, and several in turn voted against funding for the mission, McClatchy Newspapers concluded, “the anti-war crowd remains as impotent as it was during the Bush years.”
That’s not quite right.
This isn’t an “anti-war” proposition. Nearly all of the Democratic congresspeople voted to send troops to Afghanistan in the first place. And no one has renounced that vote.
Afghanistan is not Iraq. With Iraq, progressive Democrats fundamentally opposed the premise, initially arguing the case for war had not been made with weapons inspectors pulled out prematurely. The concern was borne out when no WMD were discovered and pre-war intelligence was found to have been politically manipulated.
Attempts to ban funding for permanent military bases spoke to a deep skepticism that the Bush administration’s primary objective was a morally and practically flawed desire for permanent occupation. Progressive Democrats flatly did not support the war and wanted it to end as soon as reasonably possible.
Afghanistan is different, especially now with Barack Obama serving as Commander-in-Chief, who recently clarified the objectives of the mission: “Disrupting terrorist networks,” “effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people” and “Involving the international community.” These objectives are widely shared, and there is no concern that the Obama administration holds hidden desires of long-term occupation.
Rep. Jim McGovern, who drafted the exit strategy bill, said he is not trying to abruptly end the mission: “I’m not advocating for an immediate withdrawal of our military forces from Afghanistan. All I’m asking for is a plan … My bill doesn’t withdraw our forces. It doesn’t set a definite timeline. It simply asks the Secretary of Defense to outline what our exit strategy is.”
That’s not an anti-war position. It’s not a statement of fundamental opposition to the President’s objectives. It’s a disagreement about the value of an exit strategy. Or more precisely, a stated exit strategy.
This disagreement may not end up being all that deep. We have not seen enough of President Obama’s new strategy — let alone any course changes he might make as things proceed — to make an informed judgment if the strategy will lead to a physically and financially draining quagmire. We only know what hasn’t worked to date, and these House progressives are showing understandable concern that not enough will change.
These progressive Democrats not fundamentally opposed to the war’s mission. They are opposed or very skeptical, about the strategy to succeed in the mission.
And they are trying to play a constructive role in developing that strategy. The Congressional Progressive Caucus recently produced a report with recommended strategic changes based on expert testimony, the linchpin of which would be a flip in the ratio of political-to-military funding so only 20% (but not zero) would go to military efforts.
Does Obama need the help? Maybe not. I presume he is getting a wide range of perspectives before he makes his decisions, knows the history and the facts, and is not being led by the nose.
For example, that 80-20 political-to-military spending ratio is a counterinsurgency standard articulated by Obama’s top military commander Gen. David Petraeus. No, that standard is not in the current budget. But it’s not news to Obama’s team that 80-20 is desired, so it may well be the case they are going to gradually move in that direction.
But it’s not safe to simply sit back and place all faith in the President, any President.
The people have a role to play in any foreign policy carried out in their name with their tax dollars. It may not make sense for President Obama to lead town hall discussions on military strategy, but that’s what we have a Congress for, to have public debate so the public can make informed decisions.
Further, any President risks getting trapped in the White House bubble, despite all intentions to the contrary. Maintaining a thoughtful discussion regarding alternate strategies is essential to make sure the President does not fall into the muck of “mission creep.”
In two weeks at the America’s Future Now! conference, we will play our part. Our “Rethink Afghanistan” panel led by Brave New Film’s Robert Greenwald, is scheduled to feature the courageous and trailblazing female Afghan member of parliament Dr. Roshanak Wardak. She will give us the ground-level truth of how the military effort so far as impacted Afghan society and harmed American security. It is the kind of perspective we need to best understand how to change course.
We are currently trying to raise $3,000 to bring Dr. Wardak to the conference so she can share her story. A little contribution can make a big difference in our efforts to correct our path in Afghanistan.
And if we don’t get on the right path soon, we will sadly pay a far steeper price.