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After OBL: McGovern/Jones Push for Real Withdrawal Plan

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the floodgates opened in Washington this past week for reconsideration of U.S. plans to continue the open-ended war in Afghanistan.

Now Representatives Jim McGovern and Walter Jones have introduced the “Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act,” bipartisan legislation that would require the President present to Congress a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a clear end date for the war. It would require the President to submit quarterly reports to Congress on the progress of troop withdrawal, as well as the human and financial costs of continuing the war. The President would also have to report how much money U.S. taxpayers would save if the war were brought to an end in six months, instead of five, ten, or twenty years.

Other Members of Congress have spoken out this week against indefinite continuation of the war, including Senators Dick Durbin , Richard Lugar, and Robert Menendez; (jointly) Representatives Lee, Ellison, Grijalva, Woolsey, and Waters; Representative Barney Frank; and Representative Cliff Stearns.

But among all this, the intervention of McGovern and Jones is unique in that it carries with it the prospect of a roll call, in which every Member of the House will have to choose a side: open-ended war in Afghanistan, or a clear plan for military withdrawal?

The FY 2012 defense authorizations bill is expected to come before the House in late May or June. It is expected that Reps. McGovern and Jones will then offer their bill as amendment.

Introducing the bill now gives Americans the opportunity to talk to their Representatives about this legislation, and to ask them to co-sponsor it.

In a sense, when you are asking your Representative to co-sponsor the bill, you are asking them to vote for the amendment. But few people know much in advance exactly when legislation is going to be on the floor; often, many interested people find out that an amendment is going to be voted on less than 24 hours before the actual vote takes place. That’s not much time to have a meaningful interaction with your Representative, given that for most people most of the time, interacting with your Representative means interacting with a staff person, who then talks to the Representative. You want to allow some time for those conversations, and meaningful consideration, to take place. That’s why you want to have a conversation with your Representative’s office now, asking them to co-sponsor the bill, rather than waiting for the amendment. Also, getting co-sponsors on the bill allows you to build momentum; it allows Members of Congress to see what other Members of Congress are doing, something that they take into account when they decide their position. If you can say, this bill has 100 co-sponsors, that’s going to help you move people who are on the fence.

The current high-water mark in the House for requiring a real timetable for withdrawal is the 162 Members who voted on July 1 last year for the McGovern amendment requiring a timetable for withdrawal.

Much has changed since then.

The President put forward 2014 as a date when a “transition to Afghan lead” – not necessarily a withdrawal of U.S. forces – would take place. Public opinion has further soured on the war, including Republican opinion: before Sunday’s news, two-thirds of voters said the war was not worth it, including nearly half of Republicans and the majority of independents, and three-quarters of voters wanted to see a substantial withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer, including the majority of Republicans and independents.

And then came Sunday’s news.

Senator Durbin said this week he voted for the 2001 resolution authorizing the war “to go after” al Qaeda and bin Laden:

“Now here we are, 10 years later,” Durbin said. “If you asked me if I was signing up for the longest war in U.S. history, with no end in sight, even with the killing of Osama bin Laden, that was not the bargain, that is not what I was signing up for.”

Durbin asked:

“If you believe that resolution of this conflict by military means is highly unlikely and not a realistic basis for US policy, how can we send one more American soldier to fight and die in Afghanistan?”

Another significant change is that debate among Republicans about the war is getting more prominent with the start of the Republican presidential primary campaign. Two of the candidates – Gary Johnson and Ron Paul – want to end the war. When the question came up in last night’s Republican debate, the Republican audience cheered when Gary Johnson and Ron Paul said that they wanted to end the war

If you look at that roll call from last July, a fact that immediately jumps out at you is that of those 162 who voted for the McGovern amendment, 153 of them were Democrats and 9 of them were Republicans. Pushing Members now to co-sponsor the McGovern bill is an opportunity to test movement in the House in the last year, especially among Republicans, since public opinion, especially Republican public opinion, soured on the war and since Osama bin Laden – for many Americans, the target of the war – has been removed from the scene.

Pressure for a real withdrawal timetable could help end the war much sooner, because while on the one hand the Administration now says it is “seeking to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to accelerate a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and hasten the end of the Afghanistan war,” on the other hand, the Administration is pressing the government of Afghanistan for a “Permanent Bases Agreement” that would keep U.S. troops and bases in Afghanistan past 2014. The problem with that demand – in addition to the fact that it keeps U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan much longer than they need to be – is that the demand for an indefinite U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is likely to sabotage the peace talks in Afghanistan necessary to end the war.

So, if you don’t want to see the indefinite continuation of war in Afghanistan, you know what to do. You can write to your Representative here. Or you can call your Representative via the Capitol Switchboard, 202-225-3121. Ask your Representative to stand up for a real exit plan that has an end date, to start an irreversible process of bringing our troops home.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Barbara Boxer: Champion In The Senate AgainstThe Afghanistan War

10:34 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

afghanistan

afghanistan by The U.S. Army, on Flickr

If you’ve ever spent quality time trying to move an agenda through Congress, you know that moving an agenda isn’t just about lobbying individual Members. You need a “champion” for your issue. The champion introduces your bill. The champion recruits other offices to sign up. The champion introduces an amendment that carries the same idea as the bill and lobbies other Members to vote for it. The champion circulates letters to other offices. The champion raises the profile of your issue in the media.

When Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election, advocates working to end the war in Afghanistan lost their champion in the Senate. It was Feingold’s office that introduced the bill, introduced the amendment, circulated the letter, led the lobbying of other offices, led the charge in the media.

Now California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced Feingold’s bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan – a timetable with an end date. So far, Senators Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown have signed on as co-sponsors of Senator Boxer’s bill.

The re-introduction of this bill is extremely timely and important, for two reasons.

First, the White House is currently debating how to follow through on the President’s promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July. Will it be a mere token withdrawal, signifying nothing, as the Pentagon has demanded? Or will it be a “significant and sizable reduction” that sends a clear signal to everyone in Afghanistan and the U.S. that U.S. troops are on their way out, as the Democratic Party has demanded?

In this context, it’s very important for Senators to speak up. And signing on to a bill that says that the President has to establish a timetable for U.S. withdrawal that has an end date is an essential way to speak up.

When a Senator signs on to a bill like the Boxer bill, that Senator is basically communicating two things: first, I am unhappy with the status quo and I think that the Administration needs more pressure from people who think the way I do; second, if an amendment is introduced that contains the same basic idea as this bill, I am likely to vote for that amendment.

It’s this second function – stalking horse for an amendment – that is the principal reason that the text of the bill matters. Otherwise, the Senators are basically signing a piece of paper that says, “I am concerned about what the Administration is doing and I think that the Administration needs more pressure from people who think like me.”
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Is David Petraeus a ‘Lying Liar’ About the Drawdown?

9:10 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" was former non-Senator Al Franken’s 2003 examination of the lies and distortions of right-wing pundits and politicians.

Such a book, if it were written today, should certainly include a fair and balanced look at some of the lying liars still running our foreign policy: in particular, at Mr. David Petraeus. (Mr. Franken might not be the best candidate for writing such a book today, given that he voted recently against Senator Feingold’s amendment requiring the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Democratic leaders like Senator Durbin supported Feingold’s amendment.)

Harsh words about Mr. Petraeus? Yes. Justified? Absolutely.

Consider: Mr. Petraeus has been leading a campaign of "domestic information operations" to browbeat Congress and the American people to accept limiting the size of, and possibly even a delay of, the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 that President Obama promised when he acceded to the military’s demand for a "surge" of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan last fall.

In a recent interview with NBC‘s "Meet the Press," Petraeus implied that he might recommend against any withdrawal of US forces next summer, causing the White House to reaffirm its commitment to the July 2012 deadline in response, saying, "The date is not negotiable."

"Certainly, yes," [Petraeus] said when the show’s host, David Gregory, asked him if, depending on how the war was proceeding, he might tell the president that a drawdown should be delayed.

These words make David Petraeus a ‘lying liar.’ Because asking for more time if the "surge" didn’t work within 18 months is exactly what David Petraeus promised not to do when the "surge" was decided.

As Newsweek reported, in an excerpt from Jonathan Alter’s book "The Promise" (all emphasis mine):

Obama was moving … toward conclusions and eventually presidential orders. This would not be a five- to seven-year nation-building commitment, much less an open-ended one. The time frame the military was offering for both getting in and getting out must shrink dramatically, he said. There would be no nationwide counterinsurgency strategy; the Pentagon was to present a "targeted" plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real – not a token – withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

On Sunday, Nov. 29, having made his decision, the president decided to hold a final Oval Office meeting with the Pentagon brass and commanders in the region who would carry out his orders. He wanted to put it directly to the military: Gates, Mullen, Cartwright, Petraeus, and national-security adviser Jim Jones, without any of the others. Obama asked Biden to come back early from Thanksgiving in Nantucket to join him for the meeting.

As they walked along the portico toward the Oval Office, Biden asked if the new policy of beginning a significant withdrawal in 2011 was a direct presidential order that couldn’t be countermanded by the military. Obama said yes.

[...]

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, "David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?"

"Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame," Petraeus replied.

"Good. No problem," the president said. "If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?"

"Yes, sir, in agreement," Petraeus said.

"Yes, sir," Mullen said.

[...]

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. "I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now," he said. No one said anything.

"Tell me now," Obama repeated.

"Fully support, sir," Mullen said.

"Ditto," Petraeus said.

[...]

If conditions didn’t stabilize enough to begin an orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces (or if they deteriorated further), that would undermine the Pentagon’s belief in the effectiveness of more troops. The commanders couldn’t say they didn’t have enough time to make the escalation work because they had specifically said, under explicit questioning, that they did.

As far as I am aware, Mr. Petraeus has never disputed Mr. Alter’s account of these events.

And as far as I am aware, no reporter has asked Mr. Petraeus during his current media tour about the contradiction between his current advocacy for delaying the withdrawal and his "Yes, sir" under explicit questioning that he would not ask for more time. I look forward to being corrected on this point.

No doubt, some will respond cynically to the blatant contradiction between what Petraeus is saying now and what he said in November. "So, Petraeus is a lying politician – what else is news?" But the point is that while Petraeus acts like a lying politician, he is treated by the mainstream media as if he were beyond politics, above criticism, merely a professional military man giving his neutral, unbiased, impartial professional military advice. That lack of scrutiny makes Petraeus a more dangerous liar than a politician.

A friend claims he has a reliable method for getting kicked off a jury. When the judge asks him if he is more likely to believe the testimony of a policeman over that of any other citizen, my friend will say that he is less likely to believe the testimony of a policeman, explaining that policemen, compared to other citizens, are almost never prosecuted for perjury, so they have less disincentive to lie under oath, and a person evaluating a policeman’s testimony compared to other testimony should take that into account.

The same considerations apply to Mr. Petraeus’ treatment by the media. Because they subject him to less scrutiny than they do to ordinary politicians, even when he is making political statements – and the decision to withdraw or not to withdraw troops is fundamentally a political decision, not a military one – Petraeus has less disincentive to lie than other politicians.

This week, the number of U.S. deaths in the Afghanistan war since President Obama took office surpassed the number of deaths under President Bush (download a web counter here; spread the news here.)

This should be the occasion for a fundamental rethink of what we are doing in Afghanistan, including a debate on establishing a timetable to complete a military withdrawal. The last thing we need to be doing now is handing over decision-making to an unelected leader named David Petraeus. If his clear statement in November that he would not ask for more time cannot now be trusted, why should we now trust anything else he has to say about questions that are fundamentally political, especially the drawdown?

Meanwhile, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is appealing to NBC to have a guest on "Meet the Press" to talk about the war besides Mr. Petraeus and his disciples. You can support FAIR’s effort here.

54% Want Afghan Exit, but Petraeus Could Nix Peace Talks with Terror Naming

11:18 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

The majority of Americans want the Obama Administration to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, CBS News reports. 54% think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, with 41% opposed. Among Democrats, 73% think the U.S. should set a timetable, with 21% opposed; among independents, 54% support a withdrawal timetable, with 40% opposed; among Republicans, 32% support a withdrawal timetable, with 66% opposed.

Two weeks ago today, Members of the House of Representatives were polled on a similar proposition, when the House voted on an amendment introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA], Rep. David Obey [D-WI], and Rep. Walter Jones [R-NC] that would have required the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. That amendment failed, with 153 Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, voting yes, and 98 Democrats voting no; while 9 Republicans voted yes and 162 Republicans voted no. So in the McGovern-Obey-Jones "poll," Democrats in the House were 60%-38% in favor of a withdrawal timetable, while House Republicans were 91%-5% against.

If Democratic and Republican voters in the CBS poll had been allowed to stand in for Democrats and Republicans in the House two weeks ago (ignoring independents, also pro-timetable), the McGovern amendment would have passed 243-171, with 186 Democrats and 57 Republicans voting yes, and 54 Democrats and 117 Republicans voting no.

The gap between 162 yes votes and 243 yes votes is a measure of the gap between the House and public opinion – 81 votes. For a majority of the House to demand a timetable for withdrawal would not require eliminating that entire gap, but only about half of it. It is likely that public support for a withdrawal timetable will increase, as the war drags on and more Americans are killed without any noticeable change in the situation on the ground – and as the federal government continues to fail to boost the economy and reduce unemployment. But even compared to the state of public opinion today, it would only require the House to cut its failure to represent public opinion in half in order to muster a majority for a withdrawal timetable. And as the fall Congressional elections approach, it is likely that the House will move in the direction of public opinion.

But some people in the Administration are pushing in the wrong direction, lobbying for steps that would not only undermine establishing a timetable for withdrawal, but would undermine the "serious drawdown" which we were promised would begin in the summer of 2011.

General David Petraeus is pushing to have the Haqqani network, a key component of the Afghan Taliban, designated by the State Department as a terrorist group, "a move that could complicate an eventual Afghan political settlement with the Taliban and aggravate political tensions in the region," the New York Times reports.

This move would directly undermine the policy in support of negotiations with the Afghan Taliban that the Administration has claimed that it is pursuing. Newsweek reported on July 4:

Washington is eager to make [talks with senior Taliban leaders] happen – perhaps more eager than most Americans realize. "There was a major policy shift that went completely unreported in the last three months," a senior administration official tells Newsweek… "We’re going to support Afghan-led reconciliation [with the Taliban]." U.S. officials have quietly dropped the Bush administration’s resistance to talks with senior Taliban and are doing whatever they can to help Karzai open talks with the insurgents, although they still say any Taliban willing to negotiate must renounce violence, reject Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan Constitution. (Some observers predict that those preconditions may eventually be fudged into goals.)

A State Department designation of the Haqqani network as "terrorist" would totally contradict the claim that we are supporting "Afghan-led reconciliation," because if reconciliation is "Afghan-led," then the Afghans get to decide who they will parley with. It’s one thing to say that the U.S. is going to have a say in any eventual agreement – of course it will, a big say. It’s another thing to say that meaningful Afghan government talks with a key component of the Afghan Taliban are off the table, which is the implication that many would draw and try to enforce as a result of a State Department designation of the Haqqani network as a terror group.

Such a designation would be hard to undo politically: look at what a political ordeal it has been to try to remove former Taliban officials from the United Nations blacklist, even people who have clearly reconciled with the Afghan government and are clearly not involved in any kind of terrorism.

Vice-President Biden told Newsweek we could "bet" on "a whole lot" of troops moving out of Afghanistan in July 2011, and Speaker Pelosi has told the Huffington Post she expects "a serious drawdown" to begin in the summer of 2011.

But it’s hard to imagine that by July 2011, there is going to be any kind of stability in Afghanistan or meaningful political framework for resolution without dealing with the Haqqani network, and it’s hard to imagine that efforts to confront the Haqqani network militarily are going to make any significant difference by July 2011. So, a State Department designation of the Haqqani network as "terrorist" would constitute a "backdoor escalation": it would deepen the confrontation, in a way that would make it more difficult politically to carry out a significant drawdown beginning in July 2011. Any State Department move to make such a designation should therefore be preceded by as much debate in Washington as any effort to explicitly throw away the promised July 2011 drawdown would be, because undermining the July 2011 "serious drawdown" is a likely impact of such a move.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Peace Activists Protest DNC Attack on Steele for War Criticism

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

The following letter was sent yesterday to the Democratic National Committee. As I noted yesterday, a key effect of Woodhouse’s attack on Steele is the chilling of Republican dissent on the Afghanistan war – Republican dissent that war critics need in order to end it; and the letter attempts to counteract that effect and to pressure the DNC to not engage in this sort of attack on war critics in the future.

—–

Brad Woodhouse, Communications Director, Democratic National Committee
Tim Kaine, National Chair, Democratic National Committee

cc:
Mike Honda, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
Linda Chavez-Thompson, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
Donna Brazile, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee
Raymond Buckley, Vice Chair, Democratic National Committee

430 South Capitol Street SE
Washington, D.C., 20003

Dear Mr. Woodhouse and Governor Kaine,

As Americans working to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, we write to express our deep disappointment and concern at the recent attack by Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse on Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele in response to Mr. Steele’s criticism of the war in Afghanistan.

We have three concerns.

First, in supporting the war in Afghanistan, and portraying this as a Democratic position, Mr. Woodhouse was not representing the majority of Democrats in the United States, who oppose the war. Two-thirds of Democrats think the war is not worth the cost, the Washington Post reported in June. Shortly before Mr. Woodhouse made his statement attacking Mr. Steele, three-fifths of the Democrats in the House, including Speaker Pelosi, Representative Honda, and Representative Wasserman Schultz, voted for an amendment introduced by Representative Jim McGovern, Representative David Obey, and Representative Walter Jones that would have required President Obama to establish a timetable for U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Second, in his attack on Mr. Steele, Mr. Woodhouse seemed to be encouraging Republicans to enforce "party discipline" on Mr. Steele to support the war in Afghanistan: "The likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be interested to hear that the Republican Party position is that we should walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job." Regardless of Mr. Woodhouse’s intent, his attack has had this effect. Enforcing Republican party discipline on Republicans to support the war in Afghanistan is not in the interest of the majority of Democrats who want to end the war; quite the contrary. If a third, instead of 5%, of the Republicans in the House had supported the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment, reflecting the third of Republicans in the country at large who do not support the war, the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment would have passed. As a private citizen, Mr. Woodhouse is entitled to his views, as the rest of us are. But as a spokesman of the Democratic National Committee, he is not entitled to take actions that run counter to the interests of the overwhelming majority of Democrats, if the DNC wishes to be perceived as institution that represents Democrats and is entitled to their support.

Third, in attacking Mr. Steele as "not supporting our troops" because of his criticism of the war – Mr. Woodhouse said that Mr. Steele was "betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan" – Mr. Woodhouse engaged in a tactic that Democrats have justly and bitterly complained about when Republicans used it against them. Indeed, when he was president of Americans United for Change, which pushed for "a safe and responsible end to the war in Iraq," Mr. Woodhouse was ostensibly on our side of this dispute. By engaging in this sort of attack, Mr. Woodhouse helps to foster a climate in which critics of this war or any other can be marginalized with attacks on their patriotism. This is unacceptable whether done by Republicans or Democrats. As E.J. Dionne wrote in the Washington Post, Mr. Steele "had a right to offer his opinion without being accused of undermining our troops or ‘rooting for failure.’"

To address our concerns, we urge Mr. Woodhouse and the Democratic
National Committee to issue a public statement that would do the following:

1. Acknowledge that accusing Mr. Steele of "betting against our troops and rooting for failure" was unjust, not only towards Mr. Steele, but towards all American critics of the war;

2. Commit that the Democratic National Committee, and anyone speaking on its behalf, will not represent support for the war in Afghanistan as the position of Democrats; and

3. Commit that the Democratic National Committee, and anyone speaking on its behalf, will not attack the patriotism of critics of the war, nor accuse critics of the war of "rooting for failure," nor of "wanting to cut and run," nor of "not supporting our troops," nor engage in any other attack which impugns the motives of critics of the war.

We would appreciate a response from the Democratic National Committee to our concerns and to our proposals for redress.

Respectfully yours,

Robert Naiman, Policy Director, Just Foreign Policy
Paul Kawika Martin, Political Director, Peace Action
Raymond McGovern, Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Gael Murphy, Cofounder, CODEPINK
Robert Greenwald, Director, Brave New Foundation
Michael Eisenscher, National Coordinator, U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW)

Speaker Pelosi, Put Afghan Drawdown On Record w/McGovern-Obey

11:58 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

With the House poised to consider the Pentagon’s request for $33 billion for more death in Afghanistan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told the Huffington Post she expects a "serious drawdown" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. The House Rules Committee has now approved an amendment for consideration on the war supplemental that will allow Speaker Pelosi to "put her money where her mouth is."

Some folks in Washington who want the war and occupation in Afghanistan to continue indefinitely are trying to pretend there has been no commitment made for a significant drawdown, or indeed any drawdown at all, in the summer of 2011. Speaker Pelosi is in a unique position to weigh in on this question, since the House could put the drawdown in writing when it considers the war supplemental, by approving an amendment introduced by Representatives McGovern and Obey to try to lock in the drawdown.

In Jonathan Alter’s book, The Promise, Vice-President Biden told us that we can "bet" on "a whole lot of people moving out" in July 2011. Under pressure, presumably from people in the Pentagon who want a "serious drawdown" in July 2011 to be hostage to "conditions," Biden’s people have tried to walk back this statement by saying it was an "offhand comment" made as Biden was leaving an interview.

But if you actually read Alter’s text, "offhand comment" is hard to swallow. Here’s the paragraph:

At the conclusion of an interview in his West Wing office, Biden was adamant. “In July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it,” Biden said as he wheeled to leave the room, late for lunch with the president. He turned at the door and said once more, “Bet. On. It.”

"Bet on it." Isn’t that what we say to each other in English when we’re very, very sure of something? How about when we Repeat. It. For. Emphasis? When Scarlett O’Hara said, "As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again," was that an "offhand comment," too?

More importantly, in the context of Alter’s account, Biden’s comment isn’t an outlier; it’s the main theme.

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Speaker Pelosi, War Funding Next Week is No “Emergency”

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is committed to passing an emergency war supplemental before the July Fourth recess, Roll Call reports.

Let us be perfectly clear, as President Obama might say. There is no "emergency" requiring the House to throw another $33 billion into our increasingly bloody and pointless occupation of Afghanistan before we all go off to celebrate the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from foreign occupation.

This fact – that there is no emergency requiring an immediate appropriation – is absolutely critical, because the claim that there is some "emergency" requiring an immediate infusion of cash, otherwise there will be some new apocalyptic catastrophe, is the means by which the Pentagon and the White House hope to dodge two sets of questions about the war supplemental urgently being asked by Democratic leaders in the House.

Secretary Gates has complained that if the war money is not approved by July 4, the Pentagon might have to do "stupid things" like furlough civilian Pentagon employees. I am not in favor of furloughs, even of Pentagon employees (can we furlough someone who approves breaking into Afghans’ homes in the middle of the night and killing pregnant women?), but as "stupid" goes, furloughing Pentagon employees doesn’t hold a candle to laying off public school teachers, which is the likely consequence of allowing the Pentagon and the White House dodge their critics in the House.

The war funding proposal has been sitting in the inbox for six months. What kind of "emergency" is that? The $33 billion represents about five percent of the gargantuan Pentagon budget. The Pentagon can live with a little more delay, while we get answers to some urgent questions.

The first set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: now that we’ve dumped McChrystal, what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

Yesterday, thirty Members of the House sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, demanding that the questions about the war raised by Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article be answered before the House votes on the Pentagon’s request for more money.

According to Hastings’ article, "Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further." A senior military official says, "There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer," which is a pants-on-fire contradiction to the promises made when the last increase of forces was announced. Meanwhile, McChrystal’s Chief of Operatons, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, said: "It’s not going to look like a win…This is going to end in an argument." If it’s going to end in an argument anyway – Mayville is surely right – why shed more blood? Don’t we have a right and obligation to demand a straightforward and concrete accounting of what the additional bloodshed is purportedly going to achieve?

Ninety-eight Members of the House – almost a quarter – have now signed on to legislation demanding that President Obama establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Shall the House not debate establishing a timetable for military withdrawal before voting on more money for pointless killing?

The second set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: what the hell is the federal government doing about Main Street’s economic crisis? While it is not the responsibility of the Pentagon to do something about Main Street’s economic crisis, it is the obligation of the Pentagon to defend more Pentagon spending as the best use of public resources, at a time when states and local governments are looking at mass layoffs of public employees, including school teachers.

This is the question that House Appropriations chair David Obey put on the table when he said he would sit on the war appropriation until the White House acted on House Democratic demands to unlock federal money to aid the states in averting a wave of layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

But on money to save teachers’ jobs, the White House is still Absent Without Leave, hiding behind the purported threat of a Senate filibuster, just as it did on the public option for health insurance. If it fought for teachers, the White House could win. But it isn’t fighting, because unlike the war funding, teachers’ jobs are not a White House priority.

If we want this to change, Obey has to be able to make good on his threat. And that means the House has to be willing to call the Pentagon’s bluff.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

On Helping – If Not On Killing – Is America a Quitter?

6:49 am in International Aid and Development by Robert Naiman

When President Obama visited Afghanistan in March, he assured U.S. troops that "the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something."

But according to Sunday’s New York Times, it ain’t necessarily so. When it comes to combating AIDS in the world’s poorest countries, the greatest nation on earth has apparently decided to cry "Uncle."

Clinics in Uganda are turning people away, on orders from the U.S. government. A U.S.-run program in Mozambique has been told to stop opening clinics.

Why? According to lying U.S. officials, we don’t have the money to maintain our commitment. Budgets are tight. We had to bail out Wall Street.

But the numbers on offer don’t make any sense. Michel Sidibe, executive director of Unaids, says there is a global shortfall of about $17 billion for controlling the epidemic. The expected U.S. share of such a shortfall would be about a third, or $5.6 billion.

Meanwhile, Congress is about to be asked to fork over $33 billion in our tax dollars for more war in Afghanistan. This $33 billion would only pay for four months of the war, until the end of the fiscal year, when next year’s appropriation will become available.

So on an annual basis, we’re being asked to spend almost 20 times more on killing in Afghanistan than it is claimed that we don’t have to help stop Africa and Haiti from being decimated by AIDS.

Or, to put it another way: if we could end the war in Afghanistan, then every year we’d save $99 billion compared to the world in which the war continues. We could use $5.6 billion to pay what we owe on controlling the AIDS epidemic, and have $93.4 billion left for domestic job creation, tax cuts, going to the beach, whatever ya want.

But it’s not just about the money. It’s also about focus. The stupid, cruel, brutal, and pointless war in Afghanistan is sucking up political oxygen that could be used for good – like combating poverty and disease.

And we know how to the end the war. The war will start to wind down as soon as the U.S. agrees to the policy of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal and begins serious negotiations with the senior leadership of Afghanistan’s insurgencies.

Members of Congress could easily do something about this. They could pledge to vote no on $33 billion for more war, and they could sign on as co-sponsors to the Feingold-McGovern bill, which would require the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal. Already, nearly half of the House Democratic Caucus is on the bill.

And President Obama could easily do something about this too. When he meets with President Karzai today, he could agree to President Karzai’s request that the U.S. should fully back Afghan government peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, as leaders of the U.S. peace movement are calling on Obama to do.

Meanwhile, AIDS treatment advocates are fighting back against the apparent decision of U.S. officials to "cut and run" from the fight against AIDS in Africa. Tomorrow night, activists will confront President Obama and Speaker Pelosi at a $15,000 per person dinner in New York. Many of these activists are the same folks that forced President Clinton and Vice-President Gore to get off their hands on treatment for global AIDS in the late 1990s. With public support, they will prevail.

Will Obama Say Yes to Afghan Peace Talks?

8:02 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is coming to Washington next week to meet with President Obama. Afghan government officials have said that their top priority for these talks is to get President Obama to agree that the U.S. will fully back efforts of the Afghan government to reconcile with senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban insurgency in order to end the war.

On the merits, saying yes to the Afghan government’s request for US support for peace talks would seem like a no-brainer.

Either Hamid Karzai is the legitimate President of Afghanistan or he is not. If Hamid Karzai is not the legitimate President of Afghanistan, then Western forces must leave the country immediately, because they have no legitimate basis to remain. But if Hamid Karzai is the legitimate President of Afghanistan, then it’s a slam dunk that his government’s policy of national reconciliation ought to take precedence over Pentagon demands for more killing.

Either the opinions of the people of Afghanistan on questions of war and peace in their country matter or they do not. If they do not matter, then everyone in Washington pontificating about "democracy" or "governance" or "legitimacy" or "corruption" in Afghanistan please shut up immediately and remain silent. If the opinions of the Afghan public do matter, then it’s a slam dunk that the Afghan public’s demand for peace talks ought to take precedence over Pentagon demands for more killing.

Every Western press report from Afghanistan that addresses this issue says that the overwhelming consensus of public opinion in Afghanistan supports peace talks to end the war.

Just this week, Jonathan Steele reported in the Guardian that across Afghanistan, talking to the Taliban is seen as "the only credible way" to end the war, "even among Afghanistan’s small but determined group of woman professionals." Steele interviews a range of Afghan professional women to illustrate his point.

Member of Parliament Shukria Barakzai explains why she supports peace talks:

"Everybody has been trying to kill the Taliban but they’re still there, stronger than ever. They are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that. Every war has to end with talks and negotiations. Afghans need peace like oxygen. People want to keep their villages free of violence and suicide bombers."

If "Afghan women now overwhelmingly want talks with the Taliban," Steele writes, "the same is true of many of the country’s male politicians, particularly the Pashtun." The perception of many Pashtun politicians is that the US invasion put the warlords of the predominantly Tajik Northern Alliance in power, marginalizing the country’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. These Pashtun politicians see a national reconciliation process and new political dispensation with the primarily Pashtun Taliban as a way to end this marginalization of the Pashtuns and incorporate them into the government.

U.S. officials who want to continue the killing concede that the endgame is a negotiated political solution with the Afghan Taliban, but insist that the "time is not right" because "the Taliban have no reason to negotiate," and that we have to kill more of them to "force the Taliban to the negotiating table."

Like Iraq WMD, this is a stupid lie repeated endlessly by all the stupid people until all the stupid people believe it.

When the U.S. government decides to attack a problem diplomatically, this is not how U.S. government officials talk about it. Instead, they emphasize common interests and opportunities for agreement, seeking to expand the political space for diplomacy. This is equally true under Democratic and Republican Administrations; it was true under the Bush Adminstration. The fact that the U.S. government is downplaying the prospect of peace shows you that the U.S. government is not trying to achieve peace. So when U.S. government officials claim that the Taliban aren’t ready for peace, they are really just restating what we already know: that the U.S. government isn’t ready for peace.

Note that a component of the Afghan Taliban leadership has already put a peace plan on the table. In March, a delegation from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami presented a formal 15-point peace plan to the Afghan government. A spokesman for the delegation said the Afghan Taliban would be willing to go along with the plan if a date was set for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

This information is not a highly classified state secret. It was reported in the New York Times.

It’s kind of breathtaking that the warmonger Washington punditocracy can continue on its merry Energizer bunny way, insisting that there is no basis for peace talks, completely ignoring that fact that a fraction of the insurgency has put a peace plan on the table and claims that the bulk of the insurgency is ready to support the plan if foreign forces will agree to a timetable for withdrawal. But that’s what happens when your raw material for analysis isn’t what’s actually happening in Afghanistan, but what other stupid people in Washington are saying about what is happening in Afghanistan. If the stupid people in Washington aren’t talking about peace talks, then the prospect of peace talks doesn’t exist.

Of course, from the standpoint of the warmongers, a peace plan that requires a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces is a "non-starter."

But from the point of view of the values and interests of the majority of Americans, the opposite is true: the fact that the insurgents’ peace plan requires a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces is a stunningly attractive feature of the insurgents’ peace plan.

Among Democrats in particular, the idea of a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces is spectacularly popular.

Already, eighty-two Members of Congress have co-sponsored Representative Jim McGovern’s bill requiring a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, including such liberal heavyweights as Barney Frank and Henry Waxman. Among House Democrats from President Obama’s home state of Illinois, it’s now 2-1 in favor of a timetable for withdrawal, with Reps. Costello, Schakowsky, Davis, Gutierrez, Jackson, Quigley, Hare, and Rush co-sponsoring McGovern’s bill, leaving only Reps. Bean, Foster, Halvorson, and Lipinski still on the sidelines.

When we compel the U.S. government to accept the policy of a timetable for military withdrawal, we remove the fundamental U.S. obstacle to peace in Afghanistan.

Until now, there have been just a handful of voices in the U.S. debate openly calling for real U.S. support of Afghan peace talks, such as Ahmed Rashid, writing in the Washington Post; Robert Dreyfuss, writing in the Nation; Tom Hayden, writing in the Los Angeles Times; and Gareth Porter, in his reporting for Inter Press Service.

But now that President Karzai is expressly meeting with President Obama for the purpose of securing US agreement to back Afghan peace talks, it’s time to make American public support for peace talks more visible.

Jim Fine of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and I want to place an ad in the DC press next week when President Karzai visits, calling on President Obama to say yes when President Karzai asks him to support peace talks in Afghanistan. If you agree, show us some love.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

$33 Billion for War, How Could I Spend Thee on Local Jobs?

12:00 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Sometime between now and Memorial Day, the House is expected to consider $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan. This "war supplemental" is largely intended to plug the hole in Afghanistan war spending for the current fiscal year caused by the ongoing addition of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, whose purpose is largely to conduct a military offensive in Kandahar that 94% of the people there say they don’t want, preferring peace negotiations with the Taliban instead.

Of course, by itself the number $33 billion is totally meaningless. To make it meaningful, we need to compare it to something – what else could we do with $33 billion?

A recent missive from the AFL-CIO gives a compelling answer: we could use $33 billion to put America back to work:

If the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812) becomes law, it will create or save more than 675,000 local community jobs and more than 250,000 education jobs, according to the latest estimates from the House Education and Labor Committee.

According to the House Education and Labor Committee, the bill includes $75 billion over two years for local communities to hold off planned cuts or to hire back workers for local services who have been laid-off because of tight budgets. The bill also includes $24 billion, already approved by the House in December, to help states support 250,000 education jobs, put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain, rehire, and hire firefighters.

Let’s therefore put the two year cost of the Local Jobs for America Act at $100 billion, or $50 billion a year.

Now, in order to compare apples and apples, we need to convert the $33 billion for war in Afghanistan to an annual figure – note that the $33 billion just pays for the Afghanistan war through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. There’s some debate about when the Pentagon will actually finish burning through the money it’s already been given; let’s start our count on June 1. In that case, $33 billion pays for four months of war in Afghanistan, for an annualized cost of $99 billion.

In other words, the cost of the Local Jobs for America Act is half of the cost of continuing the war in Afghanistan.

Or we could look at it this way: supposed we decided to pay the two-year cost of the Local Jobs for America Act by shortening the war in Afghanistan. By how much time would we have to shorten the war? We’d have to shorten it by at least a year.

Now, if only there were a bill in Congress that would likely shorten the war in Afghanistan by at least a year.

Fortunately, there is. Last week, Senator Feingold and Representative McGovern introduced companion legislation "to require a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan." This legislation requires the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Since the current deadline for U.S. military withdrawal is nonexistent, I think it’s fair to say that if this bill becomes law, the war is likely to be shortened by at least a year.

If you want your representatives in Congress to support the Local Jobs for America Act, and they say, "that’s a great idea, but we have to pay for it," then encourage them to support the Feingold-McGovern bill.