WASHINGTON – Congressional opponents of the war in Afghanistan forced a debate Wednesday on the floor of the House of Representatives on a resolution to bring U.S. forces home and end the eight-year-old war.
The measure ended up losing, 356-65, a margin that had been expected. Nonetheless, anti-war representatives welcomed the debate as a chance to express pent-up frustration with the continued troop buildup in Afghanistan, and to express their view that the original mission of U.S. forces, defeating al-Qaida, had been lost.
The debate took place as the Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, on a visit to Afghanistan, suggested a drawdown of U.S. forces could begin before July 2011, the date the Obama administration said a U.S. troop surge would peak and forces would begin to withdraw.
While acknowledging the withdrawal could come sooner, Gates emphasized any reduction “would have to be conditions-based.”
Defense officials played down Gates’ remarks, saying he was not announcing a new goal but emphasizing the administration’s intention to hand over control to Afghan security forces as soon as they are ready.
During the House debate, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., emphasized that Obama’s strategy includes a “promised drawdown” and noted Gates’ comments that the withdrawal could come earlier than July 2011.
“I want the U.S. military out of Afghanistan at the earliest reasonable date. But accelerating the Obama administration’s carefully calibrated time table could take grievous risks with our national security,” Harman said.
The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, a former presidential candidate, and would force Obama to withdraw U.S. forces within 30 days of passage of the measure by the House and Senate.
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said she supported the resolution because the U.S. was no longer fighting al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
“This Congress has an obligation to send a strong message to the White House that the war must come to an end,” she said. “Who are we fighting. Over the course of this time this war and its mission and its goals have morphed and morphed and morphed.
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., wearing a tie festooned with peace symbols, called the Afghanistan war a “foreign occupation” that was unconstitutional, and would leave thousands of more young people with brain damage.
“We won and now we could go home a long time. in fact we could have gone home a long time ago,” Grayson said. “We simply can’t afford these wars any more in price of money or the price of blood.”
Five Republicans joined 60 Democrats in supporting the measure to force a troop withdrawal. Opposing the resolution were 189 Democrats and 167 Republicans. Democrat Rep. Jim McDermott was the only Washington state representative to vote in favor of the measure. Both of Idaho’s representatives voted no.
“The country is totally bankrupt and we are spending trillions of dollars on these useless wars,” said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a libertarian and former presidential candidate. “History shows all empires end because they expand too far and bankrupt the country, just as the Soviet system came down.”
Republican supporters of the war repeatedly questioned why the sponsors of the resolution were forcing a debate before giving the Obama administration a chance to show its new strategy is working.
“Why second guess the commander-in-chief and his commanders so soon after the announcement of a new strategy?” said Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif. “Four months ago the president reminded us why we are in Afghanistan. It was the epicenter of where al-Qaida planned and launched the 9/11 attacks against innocent Americans.”
Some opponents said the resolution, if passed, would endanger soldiers and Marines by forcing a premature retreat.
“There is a clear and present danger in removing our men and women from the field while they are engaged in the first major assault of President Obama’s reaffirmed counter-insurgency strategy,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.