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Not Just Cost Uniting Democrats on Ending Afghanistan War

Freshmen Congress Meet On Capitol Hill

Freshmen Congress Meet On Capitol Hill by TalkMediaNews


Washington was buzzing yesterday about a Washington Post story about the cost of the war in Afghanistan, and how that may be a constraint on continuing the war. First of all, I don’t really believe this. Exactly how many emergency supplementals have passed, in Democratic and Republican Congresses, for us to continue to accept that there’s some fiscal upper bound on war for members of Congress? Yes, this is supposed to be a new day for fiscal probity, but expecting consistency from the Tea Party will make you wait a long time.

Furthermore, I agree with Michael Cohen that the relative success of the strategy should be more important than the cost, though both are factors. And the fact that the strategy has failed is sufficient enough to argue against continuing the war. This has become the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the Democratic caucus:

It’s more angst than outright anger, but House Democrats are showing real unity for the first time in pressuring President Barack Obama on Afghanistan — with influential moderates now expressing their impatience alongside the anti-war left that drove the early Iraq war debate.

This was dramatized last week when all but eight Democrats endorsed demands that Obama come up with plans this summer to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces and pursue a negotiated settlement with “all interested parties” in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

The amendment — offered to the annual defense authorization bill — narrowly failed, 215-204, with 26 Republicans joining in the effort and capturing the most attention. But the far greater dynamic was inside the Democratic caucus, where the lead sponsor, Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern opened the door for his colleagues by taking out any fixed timetable for withdrawal.

“I think people are uncomfortable with micromanaging how we get out,” McGovern told POLITICO. “But having said that, they still want us to get out, and that’s what this vote is about. It’s about, ‘We need to find a way to bring our troops home.’”

Just read some of the quotes, from hawks like Howard Berman and Norm Dicks, in that piece. They’re not talking about wasted funds, they’re talking about a war that has failed. And they’ve consciously shifted toward getting out. Raul Grijalva now speaks for a united House Democratic caucus when he says to end the war. The senior Administration official quoted in the Politico story confidently – arrogantly, perhaps – said the revolt of practically the entire Dem caucus was not a constraint on them. The isolation is setting in.

If members of the President’s own party won’t be listened to, it’s unlikely that Hamid Karzai will. However, the rebellion of Karzai, who warned that NATO airstrikes and home raids must end after another set of civilian casualties, could just increase the pressure that much more, and convince politicians that there’s no partner for this bizarre nation-building project we have engaged in.

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David Dayen

David Dayen