H.Con.Res.248 – Directing the President, pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, to remove the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan.

  1. by no later than 30 days after this resolution is adopted; or
  2. if the President determines that it is not safe to remove them by such date, by no later than December 31, 2010, or such earlier date that the President determines that they can be safely removed.

Read the entire bill at OpenCongress

Watch the debate streamed live on C-SPAN.

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10:23 am – Rep. Quigley (D-IL) briefly talks about HR 248. Says the War Powers were enacted to "reclaim a critical responsibility" of the congress. Rep. Maloney (D-NY) follows him and resumes praising the President’s stimulus package.

10:32 am – Activists seem to have already accepted defeat. Here’s a sample of what supporters are saying:

"But I wouldn’t expect this to come to much except some pretty good soundbites."

"While the resolution language may not be perfect…"

"a vote to end the war in Afghanistan is good (although easy because it won’t pass and would never pass the senate or president anyway)"

It’s a mystery why these bills fail when they apparently have such steadfast support.

10:49 am – News reports are very matter-of-fact that HR 248 is "largely symbolic" and "unlikely to pass." We see just how skewed the war debate is when supporters have so little faith in their own resolution that it’s considered a fact that they’ll fail before they even try.

10:57 am – We’re getting word that the debate will take place on the house floor sometime between 2pm and 7pm EST, presumably closer to 7 than 2. I’ll be monitoring the House all day, though, as some members like Rep. Quigley are still making statements on the floor relevant to the debate.

11:39 am – The House is right now debating appointing additional bankruptcy judges. In the meantime, you still have time to contact your representative and tell them to support this bill. To help you out, Peace Action has posted some helpful call-tips:

Say that you’ve been very concerned about plans to escalate militarily in Afghanistan and that you want the Representative to support Kucinich’s resolution H. Con Res. 248.

Be firm and let the aide know how you would like the Representative to support the resolution. Tell the aide that you would like your Representative to co-sponsor, to speak on the floor in support of the bill, and for yeah votes.

Afterward, you can leave feedback with Peace Action to let them know how it went.

11:45 am – The HR 248 liveblog at ADS brings us word on the procedures of the debate:

The debate on the “rule” governing the debate on the resolution on the war in Afghanistan should begin at about 12:30 pm. This is not the actual debate on the resolution. The debate on the resolution should follow the debate on the “rule” but at this point we don’t know how long the debate on the “rule” will last – the maximum time allowed for debate on the “rule” is 1 hour. The time could be shorter.

12:17 pm – Some of the more partisan out there are balking at the idea of supporting something from Rep. Kucinich and Rep. Paul. I hear ya.  So when you call your representative and tell them to vote for HR 248, you can simply pass along some of the latest news on Afghanistan, and ask them to decide for themselves whether they think the war is going super or maybe should be put to an open debate on the floor.

For instance, Derrick Crowe tells us exactly how our new "civilian-protection" strategy is working out:

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, U.S. and Allied forces have killed and injured more civilians than have the insurgents during Operation Moshtarak. Incredibly, the Pentagon continues to insist that this operation "protects the people."

That certainly sounds like something that should be mentioned in Congress. Especially since ISAF is gearing up to escalate further into Kandahar. It’s much more densely populated than Marja, so there’s no telling how many civilians we’ll "protect" with rocket attacks. And if you don’t think your representative cares about civilian casualties, perhaps they’d be interested in debating how crazy illegal our detainee procedures are. Jim White writes:

McChrystal can "order" that Afghan personnel be present for night raids, but the night raids that cause the most damage are not under his command. Harward can claim no secret prisons exist under his command, but there is a separate command where they are very likely to exist. JTF-714, following the plans McChrystal developed when he ran it, still seems free to operate in its known free-wheeling way, breaking into homes in the dead of night, striking terror into families, and removing citizens who are held secretly and without access to hearings on whether there is sufficient cause to imprison them.

So, I agree with the Netroots out there, don’t make it a partisan issue. Just tell the truth.

12:46 pm – The debate on the rule vote has begun. Rep. McGovern (D-MA) is talking now. Tune in here.

12:47 pm – McGovern begins by describing his great admiration for the troops. He voted for the 2001 authorization for action against Afghanistan.

"The war in Afghanistan has cost the American people well over $200 billion. And none of it paid for."

"We are no longer just going after the bad guys, we’re engaged in massive nation building"

Interestingly, McGovern’s talking points seem to acknowledge that the bill has no chance of passing, and is instead emphasizing the need to have an open debate on the House floor. Smart political tactics, but it still doesn’t explain the anti-war strategy of admittedly useless bills. It’s got the debate going, sure, but proponents of the war will still hold this as a victory.

12:54 pm – Rep. Diaz-Balart (R-FL), an opponent of the bill, claims that violent aggression worked out in Iraq, evidenced by last weekend’s election. He praises Obama’s escalation plan, and segueways into 9/11. He warns of Afghanistan ruled by Islamic extremists, a "nightmarish tyranny" under the Taliban, which could launch attacks against the US.

"Precipitous withdrawal would not only be dangerous to our national security, but would constitute a mortal wound to the Afghan people."

He equates a military withdrawal with abandoning the Afghan people.

1:05 pm – Rep. Dogget (D-TX), after declaring his peace credentials, claims "President Obama can’t have it both ways," a reference to Obama’s "path to peace through war." Dogget then immediately tries to have it both ways by saying he can’t support HR 248 because he rejects the false choice between more troops and immediate withdrawal.

1:10 pm – Rep. Kucinich is speaking now. He’s holding to the original intent of the bill, ending the war in Afghanistan, as as well as the political victory of open debate.

Maybe the only victory to be had here at all is the debate. We won’t even get the "clean up-or-down vote" on the war in Afghanistan because almost nobody is present. The debate isn’t timed to coincide with any other major votes, so any incumbent 2010 candidates couldn’t be forced into taking a position. The debate will go on, but most representatives will still be able to get away with the same double talk of being against the war but not doing anything about it.

1:54 pm – It passes 225 – 195. The debate will happen after another 2 unrelated votes.

2:10 pm – The debate is a major victory, to be sure. We’ll get 3 full hours of our politicians talking about Afghanistan, televised for their constituents. Still, as the supporters of this bill admit, it doesn’t have much chance of passing. We’ll get to talk about Afghanistan, but we’ll also have the House of Representatives essentially voting for the war. True, it’s only a vote against withdrawal, but that’s still a vindication of the President’s policy.

2:13 pm – Kucinich is speaking now. He highlights the recent fall of the Dutch government, and the UK governments popular opposition. Unfortunately he also mentions Afghanistan as a "graveyard of empires," a vaguely orientalist phrase implying that Afghans, or Pashtuns, are somehow pre-disposed to fighting Americans. (As opposed to all the other occupied countries which accept their situation with smiles and candy).

2:20 pm – Proponents of the war, led off by Rep Berman (D-CA), are claiming the President’s strategy has been successful. Just as before, he recalls 9/11 attacks and invasion of Iraq. He begs that we do not conflate the invasion of Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan.

2:26 pm – Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is going all in, hailing not only the war in Afghanistan but also the war in Iraq. Again the message hammered home is 9/11, 9/11, 9/11. Success in Afghanistan, to the pro-war types, means protecting ourselves from al-Qa’eda.

2:29 pm – Rep. Ros-Lehtinen wishes for a world without war. Great.

2:35 pm -  The major flaw in this debate appears to be the messaging. Both sides are agreeing on the basic premise that Afghanistan, which most support, is not the same as Iraq, which nobody supports. And that’s true, in the sense that the countries themselves are wildly different in geography, population, social fabric, etc. But that completely misses the point that our strategy is the same between the two countries. We’re still spending ourselves into a hole, we’re still occupying another country, we’re still killing locals and American soldiers, we’re still engaging in the same nation building exercise that we have failed at, repeatedly.

If you concede the point that Afghanistan is a special situation, different from our aggression against Iraq, then it plays directly into the President’s "necessary war" spin. The debate quickly devolves into what we see now with pro-war politicians grandstanding about how they won’t abandon the troops and talking about how much terrorist ass they want to kick, and the anti-war types are left falling over themselves explaining how they also support the troops and they also don’t like 9/11 but, but, but…

The war is not special. It’s not any different from Iraq in terms of the price we pay and the effects on America.

3:05 pm – Rep. Paul quotes the original authorization for use of force against Afghanistan, pointing out that it only gives the approval to use the military against the people who carried out the 9/11 attacks. It does not give any authorization to engage in nation building, take sides in a civil war, etc.

That’s a good point, but we should make a special note of the nation building complaint, especially where it ties into the proponents’ argument about abandoning the troops and/or Afghans.

Withdrawing the military forces doesn’t actually mean that you can’t do something about Afghan governance, security, human rights, or even counter-terrorism. Many NGO’s and Aid agencies are capable of operating effectively in extremely dangerous places, Rwanda or Sudan for instance, without the use of crushing military power.

3:12 pm – Rep. Kennedy (D-RI) shouts about the lack of press coverage of this debate. "You’re covering Massa 24/7 and no press for this?"

Video (h/t ADS)

3:19 pm – Rep. Duncan (R-TN) declares, "there is nothing conservative about the war in Afghanistan."

"Fiscal conservatives should be the most horrified at the hundreds of billions that have been spent over there."

This point should be important for liberals as well. Any social programs that require new spending are automatically toxic because of the national debt. Those concerned about spending and debt, or those who want to launch new programs, should also be concerned with Afghanistan.

3:27 pm – Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX) makes the point that yes, Afghanistan needs nation building, for corruption and whatnot, but not with military power, not with Americans dying.

3:30 pm – There’s a small faction of war supporters, led by Rep. Berman, who keep trying to take the debate off of Afghanistan and mire it down in procedural issues of whether or not the War Powers Act is applicable, whether the action taken by Kucinich is constitutional, etc.

3:40 pm - Rep Brown-Waite (R-FL) says that "just as our soldiers have always been there for us, we should be just as steadfast in supporting them." She says a vote for HR 248 is a vote against the troops, or rather, her vote against the resolution is to support the troops.

3:46 pm – Rep. Tanner (D-TN) says that Americans are relieved of most of the hardships of the war in Afghanistan, because it’s actually a NATO mission, and thus the debate is "not worthwhile." Got that? It’s OK if tons of Americans and Afghans are dying, because a few NATO troops have also been killed. It’s OK that we’re indebting ourselves to China and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on war, because NATO also spent some money.  Yikes, that’s scary logic.

Rep. Tanner must not have heard that the Dutch government collapsed over its NATO commitment, or that Germany’s highest officer in NATO isn’t even received by the Prime Minister, or that the Czechs, among others, are still refusing to send more troops.

4:05 pm – Representatives are predictably using the debate to make all sorts of anti-war statements and then flatly come out against the resolution. They don’t like the war, but they don’t want to do anything about it. They’ll have lots of juicy footage of them railing against the cost, the civilian casualties, the killed and wounded soldiers, plus lots of high praise for popular President Obama’s strategy.

When it comes time for campaigning, however, they’ll snip out the tiny, last piece of their statement about "opposing this resolution." The resolution, of course, means they could actually make real progress in ending the war, but why take that plunge? They already score the anti-war points.

4:19 pm – Rep. Pence (R-IN) declares unequivocally that the resolution is "not supported by the law, not supported by the facts, and not supportive of the troops." Says the resolution is "out of order."

4:30 pm – Rep. Kirk (R-IL) concern trolls for Obama’s strategy, claiming the debate is "pointless" and undermines our mission. He claims that it will be broadcast on "Taliban radios and Iran[sic] radios," which I believe do not currently receive C-Span. I could be mistaken. Rep. Kirk ends by declaring the debate in which both sides get equal time to be "lop-sided."

4:35 pm – Overheard on the microphone: (to Rep. Berman) "The gentleman needs to go back to Afghanistan."

4:43 pm – Kucinich is holding up a giant map of Cleveland and talking about foreclosures. He fought hard for these three short hours of time to talk about Afghanistan, and he’s listing the salaries of art teachers. That might not be the best use of his time.

This entire debate has suffered from a complete lack of messaging. The pro-war talking points are concise, intuitive, and wrapped in the flag. The anti-war crowd is all over the place, talking about imperial graveyards and building schools in Ohio. Somebody earlier mentioned Martin Luther King. The only reason 248 is worth anything is because it got 3 hours of public debate in Congress. The anti-war movement needs to focus on what exactly it’s trying to say about Afghanistan, and the popular opinion, and congressional votes, will follow. Otherwise "supporting the troops" and "supporting the President’s plan" sound a lot better, especially combined with the endless media cheer leading.

4:55 pm – Rep. Edwards supports  the resolution, but also says that NATO has had "recent" but "limited success." What are you saying? It’s successful, so we should stop? Her heart, and her vote, is in the right place, but a withdrawal doesn’t seem very palatable when the only word you have to describe the war is "successful." What is the message?

5:09 pm – Rep. King (R-IA) claims that this resolution will inspire our enemies. Calls it a "retreat resolution." He was scared in 2004 by Moqtada al-Sadr saying mean things about America on "Al Jazeera TV" and he’s terrified of Mullah Omar saying mean things about America if this resolution passes.

5:22 pm – Both sides have just under 15 minutes remaining.

Kucinich is showing a map of Afghanistan with natural gas pipeline routes drawn out. He points out that it goes directly through Kandahar and Helmand, suggesting that Karzai was appointed to ensure these pipelines were constructed.  He hints that it might be part of a massive US conspiracy to control Central Asia.

Rep. Roe (R-TN) immediately follows up by saying that he won’t surrender to al-Qa’eda and he supports the troops.

Yes, we got a debate. And we lost it.

5:30 pm – Kucinich quickly lists off a few great points, illegal detainee procedures, killing civilians in illegal drone strikes, but he’s cut off when his time expires.

5:36 pm – Kucinich picks up again and immediately rips into ISAF’s Counter-Insurgency strategy. Why couldn’t he have done this sooner?

"Reconstruction aid did not reach most rural Afghans because of the deteriorating security situation."

Kucinich declares, "the strategy for Afghanistan is simple: stop killing them and they’ll stop killing you."

5:53 pm – The debate is over. Kucinich requests a recorded vote.

6:22 pm – Final vote is 65 yays, 356 nays. The resolution fails.

It’s pretty clear that the facts and the law are on our side, that this war should be ended. What’s severely lacking is a unified message. There’s a wide variety of reasons to be against the war, but they have to be communicated more clearly.

Even with the 3 hour debate, we’re still left with the US House of Representatives essentially green-lighting the President’s plan. Campaigning proponents of the war will have a powerful card to play politically, and I’m not entirely sure that the debate was worth that.

Become a fan of the Rethink Afghanistan campaign on Facebook. You’ll find more tools to get involved in ending the war there, plus find other anti-war folks to collaborate with.