How You Can Demand an Afghanistan Exit Strategy
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Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, Republican Congressman Walter Jones, and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold have introduced legislation demanding an exit strategy and timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. The bill reads, "Military operations in Afghanistan have cost American taxpayers more than $200,000,000,000 in deficit spending since 2001." Over 1,000 American soldiers have been killed and more than 5,600 wounded. In 2009 alone, 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed according to the UN, and tens of thousands have lost their lives since the war began.
The Senate and House bills -- S. 3197 and HR 5015, respectively -- would require President Obama to provide a plan and a timetable for withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military contractors, and identify any contingencies that might require changes to that timetable. It would demand an exit strategy -- long overdue -- from a war that has already cost us too much in treasure and lives, and isn't in the interest of U.S. national security.
"Basically, what the bill is is a rejection of an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan," said Rep. McGovern, on a conference call with NGOs, activists, and media organized by Peace Action last week. "This bill is a signal to the President that we want him to come up with an exit strategy, and we want the details."
Last year, McGovern introduced a similar amendment to an Afghanistan war-funding bill that also called for an exit strategy. It garnered more than 100 cosponsors and received 138 votes. He hopes the current legislation will be attached to an upcoming Afghanistan supplemental -- within as soon as two weeks -- and that it will hopefully receive even greater support. The House bill already has 36 cosponsors, including Republican Congressmen Jones, John Duncan of Tennessee, and Tim Johnson of Illinois; also Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner.
"This is an incredibly important time," said McGovern. "The more cosponsors we can get in the next couple of weeks -- the more we're going to be able to exert some pressure when the supplemental comes up, [and] the more we're going to send a signal to the Administration that they need to pay attention to those of us who are saying that we need to rethink Afghanistan. What we want to make clear is that the concern about our involvement in Afghanistan is increasing, that it is deep, that a lot of people and members of Congress from all the over country -- have a concern about this. So, it's important that all of us work to try to get members of Congress as cosponsors."
While McGovern notes that Obama has said he will begin redeploying troops in July of next year -- a statement which immediately received some pushback from Defense Secretary Gates -- that's insufficient.
"It's not only important to know when the first soldier is to be redeployed or brought home," he said, "it's important to know when the last soldier is as well."
McGovern -- who served as a staffer to Congressman Joe Moakley for 14 years prior to his election to Congress in 1997 -- said that phone calls, emails, and letters are all important to members.
"I have to tell you as a former staffer and as a member of Congress -- pressure works, grassroots pressure works. It really makes a difference here," he said. "And when many people do it it's a movement. And what we need to create here in a very short period of time is a movement to try to change course on Afghanistan."