Why are House Democrats siding with Liz Cheney to prolong endless war in Afghanistan?

Why are House Democrats siding with Liz Cheney to prolong endless war in Afghanistan?
Liz Cheney image via Screengrab

Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee teamed up with Republicans this week to pass an amendment co-sponsored by Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney—daughter of notorious "war on terror" architect Dick Cheney—that prohibits Congress from spending money to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan without first meeting a series of vague conditions that critics said appear designed to prevent withdrawal.


The amendment (pdf)—co-sponsored by freshman Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.)—states that before the number of U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan can be reduced below 8,000, the Pentagon must certify that the withdrawal "will not increase the risk for the expansion of existing or formation of new terrorist safe havens inside Afghanistan" and "is in the best interest of the United States national security and in furtherance of United States policy toward Afghanistan for achieving an enduring diplomatic solution."

Despite a small bipartisan effort by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to defeat the amendment, the measure easily passed by a vote of 45-11 and was added to the committee's version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The amended $740.5 billion bill then passed out of committee Wednesday by a unanimous vote of 56-0.

Just three Democrats on the Armed Services Committee—Reps. Khanna, Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Anthony Brown (Md.)—voted against the Cheney-Crow amendment, which would also restrict President Donald Trump's attempt to withdraw over 9,000 troops from Germany. The full roll call vote can be viewed in two parts here and here.

"This left-right anti-war coalition is no match for the war machine composed of the establishment wings of both parties and the military and intelligence community," The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald wrote Thursday, referring to the alliance between Khanna and Gaetz as well as outside groups that share their concerns.

"It should come as absolutely no surprise," added Greenwald, "that House Democrats are finding common cause with Liz Cheney and other GOP warmongers to block any efforts to reduce even moderately the footprint of the U.S. military in the world or its decades-long posture of endless war."

Greenwald derided the argument advanced by Cheney, Crow, and other supporters of the amendment that an unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would be dangerously "rapid."

"Only the U.S. could malign a troop withdrawal plan after a 19 year-old war as 'rapid,'" Greenwald wrote.

The House Armed Service's Committee's passage of the Cheney-Crow amendment came just after 16 Senate Democrats joined nearly the entire Republican caucus in voting to kill an amendment that would have withdrawn all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan within a year and repealed the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

In his Too Much Information newsletter Friday, journalist David Sirota—a former speechwriter for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign—wrote that "the first rule for every incoming freshman Democrat in Congress should be that you never work with a Cheney on war policy."

"The second rule for every freshman Democrat," Sirota added, "should be: re-read the first rule and make damn sure to follow it."

Sirota warned that the conditions imposed by the Cheney-Crow amendment "are designed to make the Afghanistan deployment permanent."

"In practice, nobody can predict with 100 percent certainty what will ensue once a 19-year military occupation ends.  What we can know is that it's a bad idea to continue a policy that isn't working—and there's plenty of evidence that it isn't," Sirota wrote, pointing to the "Afghanistan Papers" investigation published last year by the Washington Post.

"House and Senate Democrats could still use their power to strip the Crow-Cheney amendment out of the final NDAA," Sirota noted. "Keep your eye on whether or not they do."

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