U.S. soldiers in Kandahar
(Photograph: ISAF Regional Command-South)
It would have been a shocker if it had passed. But with 26 Republicans joining
all but eight Democrats favoring the Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act
, it's clear that Congress is growing ever more fed-up with U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. The amendment failed on a 204-215 vote.
Sponsored by Democrat Jim McGovern (MA-03) and Republican Walter Jones (NC-03), the amendment would have required the administration to come up with a plan and a time-frame on accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities, the same for negotiations leading to a political solution and reconciliation in Afghanistan and a new National Intelligence Estimate on al Qaeda.
Here's McGovern's speech on the floor. (If you have a slow connection, there is a transcript below the fold):
A tougher measure seeking a withdrawal plan with a deadline was easily defeated in a 123-294 vote. That measure, sponsored by Republican Jason Chaffetz (UT-03) and Democrat Peter Welch (VT-At Large), received 16 Republican votes. But 71 Democrats, two-fifths of the House Democratic caucus, opposed it.
Since President Obama announced the second surge of troops into Afghanistan in December 2009, there has been no change in the administration's plans to begin withdrawing some of the 100,000 American soldiers and Marines this July. But how many? And how quickly?
The Pentagon has proposed a 10 percent pull-out by January. That would fit well with the administration's previous statements that the U.S. would be fully out in 2014. That would provide the opportunity to spend tens more billions and expend the lives of hundreds more American and NATO troops, and thousands more Afghans.
The antiwar movement has been a vocal but insignificant factor in opposition to the Afghan war, in part because liberals have been split over that conflict unlike the case with Iraq when only a scattered few supported that murderous affair. But, pushed by proposals like McGovern-Jones and Chaffetz-Welch, the killing of Osama bin Laden and polls showing a majority of Americans don't think staying is worth it, the White House might choose to withdraw troops faster. It all depends on the internal debate that we get glimpses of going on in the administration
The decade-long U.S. war in Afghanistan now costs $2 billion a week. Nearly 1000 American military personnel have lost their lives since Barack Obama became President. Given the results displayed so far as a result of the bloody price being paid, both the money and the lives could become political liabilities in 2012. That might be the sharpest spur of all to bringing the troops home faster than the Pentagon seems to want. Whether a troop withdrawal, large or small, would include a drawdown or an increase in the 20,000 private contractors Washington now pays in Afghanistan remains a major question that scarcely anyone asks.
"Too many people have died in Afghanistan. Since January, I have attended three funerals in my district alone of young men who have sacrificed their lives there.
"Tens of thousands more have been wounded – and the suicide rate among our veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq is soaring.
"There is no clear mission. The Karzai government is corrupt. We continue to borrow money to pay for this war.
"We need to re-think what we’re doing in Afghanistan.
"It’s time to define the plan to bring our uniformed men and women home to their families and their communities.
"This is the longest war in our nation’s history. It’s no longer about al-Qaeda
"I’ve met with our troops in Afghanistan. I’ve met with them after they’ve come home. They’re incredible.
"Politicians put them into harm’s way. And we now have an obligation to get them safely home.
"President Obama has promised a drawdown of U.S. troops in July. Now we hear that might just be a token drawdown. This amendment – and the vote on this amendment – can send the President a clear signal of support for a meaningful drawdown of troops.
"Help him do what the American people want him to do – Bring our troops home – and invest in America.
"We need to safeguard our national security. But many of our greatest problems aren’t halfway around the world – they’re halfway down the block.
"Rather than nation-building in Afghanistan, we need more nation-building right here at home.
"Mr. Chairman, this is not a partisan issue. It’s about doing what’s right for our troops and for the nation.
"If you’ve ever even once thought that we need to do something different in Afghanistan – that it’s time to re-think our policy – that we need to bring our troops home to their loved ones – then this is the amendment to support.
"I ask all my colleagues to vote for this amendment."