A Defining Vote on Afghanistan
By Katrina vanden Heuvel
The Nation, July 1, 2010
More than six months after the implementation of the Obama/McChrystal strategy, and with one year to go before the beginning withdrawal of US forces, it's clear that the strategy in Afghanistan is failing on nearly all fronts. 
It’s critical that we now turn to a more fundamental exit debate: How do we change course and craft a responsible strategy to end the war?
Tonight the House will have an opportunity to do just that with two votes--on the $33 billion Afghanistan war supplemental and an amendment introduced by Congressman Jim McGovern that would require, at long last, an exit strategy including a timetable for the completion of the redeployment of US troops.
Although Obama has said he will begin to drawdown troops in July 2011, McGovern observed earlier this year , “It’s not only important to know when the first soldier is to be redeployed or brought home, it’s important to know when the last soldier is as well.”
On a conference call with reporters yesterday--organized by Tom Andrews of Win Without War--McGovern and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree outlined the case for an exit strategy and a vote against the supplemental as well as the political significance of this moment.
Last year, McGovern’s exit strategy amendment garnered 138 votes, including 131 Democrats--the majority of the Democratic Caucus.
“My hope is that we’ll get a good vote on the vote to strike the military aid,” said McGovern. “And we are hoping to get a good vote on the exit strategy and that will be a signal to the White House to rethink it’s policy.”
Pingree said she hoped for a “lively debate” and said that the war is “increasingly unpopular.” She cited the death toll of US troops climbing over 1000.
“Every time we get a call as I did this week about another soldier lost in Afghanistan,” said Pingree, “just the very thought of making the call to that family is really unthinkable when it seems like we don’t have a winning strategy and we’re asking our young people to do something--some of them redeployed over and over again--for a failed strategy.”
She also spoke to the war’s cost--$7 billion per month.
“There is no question in this economy we can’t afford it,” she said. “We spend a lot of our time today arguing about whether or not we can pass aid to the states, or unemployment insurance. It’s just unthinkable to me that when we spend money on this war, we don’t require ourselves to pay for it, and every other thing that comes through hear we have these big arguments about whether it’s paid for. So, I think the politics is there, the American people are really done  with us doing this. It’s our job as Members of Congress to increase the debate and let the White House know this isn’t the thing that we should be doing.”
Other progressive legislators are also urging conservatives to vote against the continued funding of the war based on its cost. In a statement circulated by Representatives John Conyers, Raúl Grijalva, Michael Honda, and Alan Grayson, the legislators call Obama on his broken promise to “stop funding the wars with emergency supplemental appropriation bills that avoid budgetary restriction. They describe the supplementals as “gimmicks to hide the cost of war.”
The statement continues, “Our challenge: if you oppose deficit spending, debt dependency on China, cuts to Social Security, and are concerned about a debt-threat to our national security, then oppose this supplemental war funding request.”
The four Congressmen will be joined by House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Filner and bipartisan members of the Out of Afghanistan Caucus at a press conference  this morning to urge a vote against the supplemental and call for an exit strategy.
In his post  yesterday, Nation editorial board member Tom Hayden notes that--depending on this vote--the Obama Administration faces the grim prospect of the Afghanistan war being “supported primarily by Republicans and opposed by Democrats in Congress as well as Democrats and independents” in the opinion polls.
That’s a message that needs to be made loud and clear. Now is the time to burn the phone lines with calls to your representatives . Tell them to vote for the McGovern exit strategy amendment and oppose the $33 billion “emergency” war supplemental--it does nothing but dig us deeper into a failed strategy and makes our own national emergency worse.