On Afghanistan, Your Voice Was Heard: Exit Strategy Legislation is now on the Table
When President Obama announced his authorization to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in December, many in the peace community felt betrayed and deflated. As an Iraq War veteran who witnessed firsthand the misguided “War on Terror” philosophy of “disrupt, dismantle, and destroy” an ideology, I was taken aback by how someone as intelligent as President Obama could ignore the solid advice from men in the field, such as Matthew Hoh and Ambassador Eikenberry, only to make a foolish strategic mistake.
Our great team, of which I am a part, knew it was time to get to work. The Campaigns and Foreign Policy Advocacy staff put their heads together, devising a strategy to bring the war to an end. We wrote a petition and I began organizing all over the country to collect signatures. Our ask was simple: an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Our goal was modest: 5,000 signatures.
Frankly, there was strong bipartisan support in Congress for President Obama’s strategy. Any attempt to change the fixed July 2011 date for the troop draw-down and policy review would be politically untenable on Capitol Hill. Case and point: in March, Denis Kucinich (OH) introduced H.Con.Res 248 which called for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan no later than December 31, 2010. The resolution was overwhelmingly defeated; the final vote was 356-65.
The Kucinich resolution, which FCNL supported, was not a waste. To the contrary, the vigorous floor debate over Afghanistan made it clear that Congress needs to sort out fact from fiction—reality from ideology. Moreover, the debate brought strong allies, such as David Obey (WI) and George Miller (CA), to light.
Meanwhile, as deliberation raged, FCNL collected more than 6,500 signatures on its petition from February to the beginning of April—1,500 more than our goal. People from all 50 states and in a majority of congressional districts heeded the call to voice their opinion, demanding the United States develops an exit strategy from Afghanistan.
I traveled to the Northeast, Midwest, and South of the country to organize and collect signatures. I recruited dozens of people all over the country to collect signatures on college campuses and in communities. Using the March 19th anniversary of the Iraq War as a marker point, people collected signatures at protests, their places of worship, and in their communities. Everywhere I visited, people acknowledged that we must have an exit strategy for our military in Afghanistan.
April has been an important month for Afghanistan policy. The pending $33 billion spending request for war funding by the Obama administration is expected to reach committee by the end of the month. A vote is expected this summer. Starting in mid-April, I delivered the petition to twenty House offices of key congressional leaders—decision makers and purse string provocateurs alike.
In addition, a measure calling for an exit strategy from Afghanistan and a flexible timetable for withdrawal was introduced during the petition delivery campaign. The bicameral, bipartisan Feingold-McGovern legislation (H.R. 5015, S. 3197) may be attached to the $33 billion supplemental spending request in the markup process at the end of the month. Also attached to the war funding will be $4.5 billion for the State Department, and $2.8 billion for Haiti relief.
Delivery of the petition at a time when exist strategy legislation has been introduced bodes well for the timing of our message. Still, the call for an exit strategy has been met with mixed response; some members sympathize with the intent, while others feel giving the Obama administration’s strategy an unfettered ability to succeed is necessary.
FCNL does not support war funding of any kind. Regrettably, the supplemental funding measure will pass. In all honesty, the best the peace community can hope for is that conditions are attached to the $33 billion funding measure, such as those outlined by the Feingold-McGovern legislation.
In addition to working for this bill, it is also important to be forward thinking. If this attempt to condition war funding fails, it will be necessary to devise a different legislative strategy to end the war beginning in July 2011. We have some ideas here at FCNL—I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, we should work diligently to gain support for Feingold-McGovern exit strategy bill. We’ve worked so hard and a thank you is deserved for everyone who collected signatures, worked to pass the message along, and those who supported this effort. Don’t mire in the impossibilities; rather focus, double down, and together we can end the military engagement in Afghanistan.