The Senate and the Afghanistan War

The Senate just voted against the Afghanistan war.  Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted by voice vote to pass an amendment that concludes thus:

“Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that—

1) the President of the United States should expedite the transition of the responsibility for military and security operations to the Government of Afghanistan;

2) the President shall devise a plan based on inputs from military commanders, the diplomatic missions in the region, and appropriate members of the cabinet, along with the consultation of Congress, for expediting the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan and accelerating the transfer of security authority to Afghan authorities prior to December 2014; and

3) and not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Resolution, the President shall transmit to Congress a plan with a timetable and completion date for the accelerated transition of all military and security operations in Afghanistan to the Government of Afghanistan.”

This would be an extremely weak demand from a peace group, but coming from that seat of militaristic corruption, the U.S. Senate, it stands a good chance of actually being acted on by President Obama, and acted on in a meaningful way, such as withdrawing in 2012 rather than by November 2014 instead of December 2014.  It is also vague enough that it can be built on with something stronger in the coming months without any contradiction.

This amendment came from Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, where Portland has seen a strong Occupy movement.  Of course, the whole country has seen a burst of activism.  The amendment had bipartisan support.  And its rhetorical value, which is most of its value, cannot be undone by a conference committee or a veto.

The Bad

Three more years of a campaign of mass murder is not an acceptable policy.  The Senate has merely asked for something better than the current plan.  And the emphasis is on “merely asked.”  The Senate is funding the war in the same bill in which it is asking its executive to do its job.  The constitutional role of Congress is to make decisions and enforce them with the power of the purse.  Here the Senate is asking the President to decide what to do, but to decide something not quite as bad as his current plan.  There is no indication that if the President refuses, funding for a longer war will be cut off.  Congress recently stated its opposition to a war in Libya while funding it.  Individual senators and House members swore they opposed the War on Iraq while funding it for several years.  The President himself did that when he was a senator.  There is also no indication of whether a new president, should we have one, would be bound by the current president’s plan.  Also missing is any requirement that all U.S. forces depart, as opposed to, say, remaining as “trainers”.

What would help would be a pivot from this bill to a better one in the House.  The Senate has now opposed endless war in Afghanistan.  In the House there is a bill with 64 co-sponsors that would end the war by ceasing to fund it.  That bill, HR 780, would be a serious step forward.  And it need only pass the House if those who vote for it follow through by voting against all war funding.

The Ugly

The Merkley amendment is not helped by the assorted whereas clauses that precede the concluding resolution:

“Whereas, after al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, the United States rightly sought to bring to justice those who attacked us, to eliminate al Qaeda’s safe havens and training camps in Afghanistan, and to remove the terrorist-allied Taliban government;”

Really?  This is your antiwar statement?  The majority of people in the United States tell pollsters they disagree with this, and they have good reason.  “Bringing justice” by bombing people is not just.  Overturning foreign governments by force, even horrible ones, is not benefitting the world.

“Whereas, the Afghanistan War is now the longest in American history;

“Whereas, United States’ troops, intelligence personnel and diplomatic corps have skillfully achieved these objectives, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden;”

Really?  Skillfully?  Ten years to extrajudicially murder one man, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, many thousands of innocent lives, a further devastated nation, and increased hostility toward our own?  I’d hate to have seen that done less skillfully.

“Whereas, national security experts, including Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, have noted that al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has been greatly diminished;

“Whereas, over the past ten years the United States’ mission has evolved to include a prolonged nation-building effort, including the creation of a strong central government, a national police force and army, and effective civic institutions;”

You’re joking, right?

“Whereas, such nation-building efforts in Afghanistan are undermined by corruption, high illiteracy, and a historic aversion to a strong central government;”

Is that a retraction?

“Whereas, members of the United States military have served in Afghanistan valiantly and with honor, and many have sacrificed their lives and health in service to their country;”

Honor?  Invading someone else’s country?  Kicking in doors? Imprisoning? Murdering? Cutting off fingers as trophies?  Where is the honor in this?

“Whereas, the United States is now spending nearly $10 billion a month in Afghanistan at a time when at home there is high unemployment, a flood of foreclosures, a record deficit, and a debt that is over $15 trillion and growing;”

There are the same problems and much worse in Afghanistan.  The question isn’t where you spend the money, but on what you spend the money.

“Whereas, the United States has now accomplished its original objectives in Afghanistan;”

The pipeline is up and running?  The bases are permanent?  The natural resources have been exhausted?  The nuclear weapons are positioned?  The campaign funders have satisfied their need for profits?  The troops have begun moving into Iran?

“Whereas, the continued concentration of American and NATO military forces in one region, when terrorist forces are located in many parts of the world, is not an efficient use of resources;

“Whereas, the battle against terrorism is best served by using our troops and resources in a counter-terrorism strategy against terrorist forces wherever they may locate and train;”

Are you f—ing serious?  The best defense against terrorism isn’t ceasing to kill people and occupy their countries?  The best approach is to use troops to provoke yet more hostility but to do so in multiple places?

“Whereas, the United States will continue to support the development of Afghanistan with a strong diplomatic and counterterrorism presence in the region;”

What about withdrawal and reparations?

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of and campaign coordinator for Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at and War Is a He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook. Read other articles by David.