Afghanistan

Concern in Congress about Afghanistan war funding

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will try to pass the supplemental war spending bill before the July 4th recess. Last week, thirty House members sent a letter to the Speaker, urging for a delay on the $33 billion vote until questions about the war in Afghanistan would be answered.

“News coverage of the Hastings story has focused almost exclusively on the intemperate and inappropriate remarks of General McChrystal and his aides, which has led to the resignation of General McChrystal. What we find particularly disturbing, however, are the characterizations of the war by key military leaders that contradict what Congress and the American people have been told by the administration.

Until a full and complete explanation of these comments and views are presented to the Congress, we believe that a vote by the House of Representatives on the Administration’s request for a supplemental appropriation for the war in Afghanistan would be inappropriate.

According to the article, “Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up it counterinsurgency campaign even further.” A senior military official stationed in Afghanistan is quoted: “There’ a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. Forces next summer if we see success here.” General McChrystal’s Chief of Operations, Major General Bill Mayville, described the war in Afghanistan as unwinnable: “ It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This is going to end in an argument.”

These comments raise serious questions about the war, those responsible for prosecuting the war, and the prospect that a withdrawal of US forces will begin next July as the president has assured us. We therefore respectfully request that action on the FY 2010 Supplemental Appropriation Act for the war in Afghanistan not be brought before the House of Representatives unless and until these serious questions and concerned are fully addressed.”

A delay would be among the least of things to do before voting on more money to be wasted and more blood to be spilled on a war that cannot be won. Unfortunately, the request has not been granted.

One encouraging sign is Pelosi’s decision to split the bill into two parts. In an effort to force progressive support for the war funding, there was a move to tie important domestic programs — like funding for the oil spill clean up — to the war. Essentially like putting lipstick on the war. We’ve been working to sound the call against that move, and it looks like we may have won that battle because reports now indicate that the House will hold two separate votes—one just on the war money, and the other on the domestic spending. This would allow members of Congress  to vote for or against the war funding based on their support of the war, not on their support for “puppies and sunshine,” as one Hill staffer put it in a meeting with one of our staff people.

It’s ironic that Republicans have also pushed for a separate bill on the war funding for Afghanistan. They’ve done so because they’re against the extra spending that was included in the bill for education, creation of jobs and disaster relief, arguing that it adds to our growing deficits. Yet, doesn’t continuous war funding deepen our vast debt problem? House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, (D-Md) touched on this during his talk on solving the current fiscal crisis:

“Any conversation about the deficit that leaves out defense spending is seriously flawed before it begins. […] “The savings in front of us deserve a careful look and a thorough debate; but I fear that if we can’t decide what we can afford to do without today, we’ll be forced to make much more draconian cuts in the years to come. Of course, we must conduct such a review with the intent of maintaining a strong and sufficient armed force to deter and defeat any enemy that puts our nation and our people at risk. We can do both.”

We can afford to do without perpetual wars. We have problems that have been deferred for too long, and they need to be dealt with now. Yesterday, House Republicans blocked the extension on unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work for long periods of time. “America’s unemployed workers cannot wait any longer for us to do the right thing,” Rep. Jim McDermott, (D-Wa), is quoted saying. That’s right. The House should vote NO on war spending. Ending the war in Afghanistan would save billions of dollars, dollars which could be used here at home, creating more jobs and services, improving the education system, health care and infrastructure.