With a vote on further war funding coming up in a couple of weeks, Congressman Jim McGovern is sponsoring a resolution to require the president to submit an exit strategy by January of 2011, with plenty of loopholes. This is apparently meant to be a condition, attached as an amendment, to further funding for the war. The problem is, Rep. McGovern made the same request for an exit strategy last year before the war funding vote (gathering 100 co-sponsors,) and never got one.
How many times do we ask for an exit strategy and get ignored, before talk turns to voting for not funding the war?
The closest Obama came to an "exit strategy" last year was a promise to begin troop withdrawal in the summer of 2011 "subject to conditions on the ground." But to insure that no one misunderstood this as a real promise, General David Petraeus quickly stepped in and said we could be in Afghanistan 5, 10, maybe 15 more years. The president said not a word to dispute this direct contradiction of his words to the American people by his highest-ranking military officer.
With 65 congressmen now on-record as voting to get out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, in a Kucinich resolution last February, it seems the time would have arrived to start building toward the number of votes which would cut off war funding. But instead, we are getting "exit strategied."
It is true that previous attempts at stopping wars involved numerous tries with slightly different language. But what stands out is that almost all of these involved cutting-off funding, the only teeth Congress really has in stopping a war. An important note: to cut off the circular logic of saying even though you are against an escalation, once troops are deployed, you have to vote for money to support them, Vietnam-era bills cutting off funding always included funds to be used for orderly withdrawal. No one is talking about letting the troops run out of gas and bullets, and if you hear a congressman tell you this, it means he thinks you are stupid. Let's have a look at the heroic efforts which finally stopped the Vietnam War:
1970 H.R. 17123 ("McGovern -Hatfield")
Prohibited the obligation or expenditures of funds "authorized by this or any other act" to "maintain a troop level of more than 280,000 armed forces" in Vietnam after April 30, 1971. Between April 30 and December 31,l971, limited expenditure of funds to "safe and systematic withdrawal of remaining armed forces"
1970 H.R. 19911 ("Cooper-Church", Enacted)
Prohibited using any funds authorized or appropriated in this or any other act to finance the introduction of ground troops or U.S. advisors in Cambodia.
1971 H.R. 9910 ("Cooper-Church")
Stated that the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution had left the U.S. government without congressional authority for continued participation in the Indochina war. Required that on or after enactment of this act, funds authorized in this or any other Act can be used only to withdraw
U.S. forces from Indochina and may not be used to engage in hostilities in North or South Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos except to protect withdrawing forces.
1971 H.R. 6531 ("Chiles")
Prohibited expenditure of any funds authorized or appropriated under this or any other act after June 1, 1972 to deploy or maintain U.S. armed forces or conduct military operations "in or over Indochina" except to protect U.S. forces during withdrawal, or provide protection for endangered S. Vietnamese, Cambodians, or Laotians.
1971 H.R. 8687 ("Gravel")
Prohibited expenditure of any funds authorized or appropriated under this or any other law to "bomb, rocket, napalm, or otherwise attack by air any target whatsoever" within Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam or Laos unless the President determined it necessary to ensure the safety of U.S. forces withdrawing from Indochina to set another date within that fiscal year.
1973 H.R. 7447 ("Addabbo")
Prohibited the Defense Department from transferring $430 million in H.R. 7447 from other defense programs for U.S. military activity in Southeast Asia, including the cost of bombing raids over Cambodia, and paying for increased costs due to devaluation of the dollar.
1973 H.R. 7645 ("Case-Church")
Prohibited obligation or expenditure of funds "heretofore or hereafter appropriated" to finance the involvement of U.S. military forces in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia or to provide direct or indirect assistance to North Vietnam "unless specifically authorized hereafter by the Congress."
1973 H.J.Res. 636 (Enacted)
Prohibited obligation or expenditure of any funds in this or any previous law on or after August 15, 1973 to directly or indirectly finance "combat in or over or from off the shores of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia."
Singularly missing from any of these attempts is any bill which granted no-strings funding while asking the president to give a timetable for withdrawal of some sort, sometime next year. Subject to many escape clauses. Those bills not intended to cut-off funding went even further, requiring complete withdrawal by a certain deadline. In 1970 Congress tried and nearly succeeded in revoking the Gulf of Tonkin War Powers Resolution.
When Congress cut-off supplemental war appropriations funding, Nixon found money elsewhere. The lesson is the stubbornness and intransigence of an Executive branch bent on war, even against a Congress which opposes it with passion. The conclusion is inescapable: this Congress does not want to stop this war. But they do want to get re-elected. The McGovern bill provides political cover for those who vote to continue to fund it while wishing to appear to be against it. They can go home and say "But I voted for a withdrawal plan! I'm against the war!" Meanwhile, the thing that keeps the wars going, the money, keeps coming.
A better withdrawal strategy would involve support for Afghanistan's National Solidarity Program,
which addresses the economic roots of the insurgency by funding
village-owned infrastructure projects, voted on by elected village
councils, and hiring lots of local labor for doing simple things like
clearing canals and digging irrigation trenches. Providing wage
alternatives to joining the Taliban, which pays $10 per day in a climate of 40% unemployment, would go far toward giving Afghans control of their lives, and decreasing the chance of civil war when we go home.
Since the organized Taliban commands little bedrock loyalty, the result of this will be a weaning away of fighters from the opium economy which finances the insurgency, as they turn upon the Taliban and rebuild tribal structures. As a warrior society, Afghans can deal with the Taliban and Al Qaeda on their own. But this will not happen as long as the Taliban is the only actor distributing cash to feed your family with, when your children are starving.