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Who Will Rein in the War in Afghanistan?
Posted by ZP Heller on February 21st, 2009

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

“We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which has the power to raise and maintain armies, and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war. We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of Vietnam now.”

Those were the emotional words of a 27-year-old John Kerry, dressed in green fatigues, Silver Star, and Purple Heart ribbons as he shocked the country with his antiwar testimony before a crowded Senate Foreign Relations committee in 1971. Kerry’s fiery thirty-minute condemnation of the war became instantly legendary for questioning the reasons our military was in Vietnam; revealing the fact that the nation had turned its back on veterans; and slamming President Nixon for refusing to pull out.

It was a definitive moment for the antiwar movement made possible because chairman William Fulbright called Kerry to testify. Thirty-eight years later, Senator Kerry now sits in Fulbright’s seat. Along with Rep. Howard Berman, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry has the power to focus the national spotlight on a similar quagmire, the war in Afghanistan. And as the Obama administration just committed an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan at a cost of $775,000 per soldier every year, oversight hearings can’t come soon enough.

Congressional oversight has historically been essential to government accountability in wartime. It dates back to 1792, when the House used hearings to investigate the War Department for a military fiasco in Indian territory that left 600 soldiers dead. During the Civil War, a joint congressional committee forced the resignation of President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War by exposing corruption and mismanagement. In World War II, Senator Truman’s Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program held hundreds of hearings that eventually saved the country $15 billion (roughly $200 billion today). Senator Lyndon Johnson used oversight during the Korean War to question the efficiency and waste of military agencies. And the Fulbright Hearings were followed by decades of vigorous oversight hearings that included the Church committee investigations into CIA covert operations and intelligence gather, the joint committees that placed the Iran-contra affair under the microscope, and the hearings used to review US military operations in Kosovo.

In all of these instances, Congress upheld its responsibility to investigate military spending, expose scandal, hear expert testimony, and challenge policymakers and the implementation of foreign policy. And as The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner noted, “the most effective oversight has been bipartisan, often with the President’s own party challenging his policies.” Of course, our country’s proud history of congressional oversight came crashing down during the majority of President Bush’s time in office. From 2000-2006, the administration largely eluded oversight, as Congress failed to confront the executive branch on the invasion of Afghanistan, the erroneous prewar intelligence that led us into Iraq, and the conduct of both wars, not to mention the torture of detainees and the administration’s reliance on mercenary contractors who have made hundreds of billions from these wars.

But the Bush administration’s years of blatant disregard for our legal system have ended. Though Congress remains deeply polarized, we have a Democratic majority in both houses, and an administration that presumably is more amenable to congressional oversight. It now falls to Congress to restore this system of checks and balances, and they can start by examining the policies and proposed military spending for Afghanistan, enlightening the American public about the true costs of a drawn-out war. As Andrew Bacevich, professor of International Relations and History at Boston University, told me, “The purpose of congressional oversight hearings ought to be an educational one. We’re not playing a game of ‘gotcha’ or trying to embarrass anyone. Congress should inform the public about the reality of policy, soliciting a wide variety of views in order to assemble as complete a picture as possible.”

Bacevich, a vocal critic of the war in Afghanistan, said it appeared President Obama put the cart before the horse, making his decision to send more troops without having completed the policy analysis various institutions have been working on. He remains skeptical that we will see oversight in Afghanistan, considering there has not been any institutionalized or concerted effort to monitor how the global war on terror–what Robert Gates has called the “Long War”–has been conducted and what it aims to achieve. That said, Bacevich agreed that if any one Senator could bring about oversight, it would be John Kerry.

Kerry is in the perfect position to call for hearings, not only because he chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, but also because he has nothing to lose in terms of political standing. Chances are he will not be President, nor will he serve as Secretary of State in the Obama administration. If Kerry wants to leave a lasting mark, it could be through hearings and investigations that rein in the Long War.

Recently, when Kerry compared Vietnam to Afghanistan during Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State confirmation hearings, we saw a glimpse of that passionate 27 year old who once brought President Nixon and the nation to its knees:

“I am deeply concerned that, at least thus far, our policy in Afghanistan has kind of been on automatic.…Our original goal was to go in there and take on Al Qaeda. It was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. It was not to adopt the 51st state of the United States. It was not to try to impose a form of government, no matter how much we believe in it and support it, but that is — that is the mission, at least, as it is being defined today.”

Now, if we could only urge Kerry to act boldly on that rhetoric, and, with his counterpart Berman in the House, let the hearings begin.

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to “Who Will Rein in the War in Afghanistan?”

  1. Denise D'Anne says:

    Have we not learned the lesson of Vietnam? We can not impose democracy at the point of a gun. We cannot invade another country and expect them to welcome us, no more than we would welcome a foreign invader.

  2. [...] called it, “historic.”  Thirty-eight years nearly to the day when a young John Kerry shocked the nation with his fiery anti-Vietnam war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rick [...]

  3. Douglas Dow says:

    I have to agree the last thing we need now is more wars.

  4. Dorothy Stein says:

    If Obama won the Democratic nomination and later the election on the base (rather than basis) of his opposition to the Iraq invasion, let him now fulfill the 'hope' he inspired and end both invasions, not when victorious (whatever that is pronounced to be), and not 'asap', but at once.

  5. DAVE KNOX says:

    Reyes…..not an American. He wouldn't be here if his parents wouldn't have illegally migrated to this country.

    This is an insult & A kick in the butt for us all~~~~

    And this on top of the stimulus bill too.

    This is an insult and a kick in the butt to all of us…
    Get mad and pass it on – I don't know how, but maybe some good will come of this travesty.
    If the immigrant is over 65, they can apply for SSI and Medicaid and get more than a woman on Social Security, who worked from 1944
    until 2004. She is only getting $791 per month because she was born in 1924 and there's a 'catch 22'.

    It is interesting that the federal government provides a single refugee with a monthly allowance of $1,890. Each can also obtain an
    additional $580 in social assistance, for a total of $2,470 a month. This compares to a single pensioner, who after contributing to
    the growth and development of America for 40 to 50 years, can only receive a monthly maximum of $1,012 in old age pension and
    Guaranteed Income Supplement.

    Maybe our pensioners should apply as refugees!
    Consider sending this to all your American friends, so we can all be ticked off and maybe get the refugees cut back to $1,012 and the
    pensioners up to $2,470. (Better yet, don't give the illegal immigrants anything except a one way ticket to their homeland.Then we can enjoy some of the money we were forced to submit to the Government over the last 40 or 50 or 60 years .

    Please forward to every American to expose what our elected politicians have been doing over the past 11 years to the over-taxed American.

    SEND THIS TO EVERY AMERICAN TAXPAYER YOU KNOW

  6. Linda Wenrick says:

    So pleased Senator John Kerry has commenced hearings before his Senate Foregin Relations Committee on our Afghanistan adventure, whether to surge troops and funding.
    This Iraq and Afghanistan vet speaks from first-hand experience, now as an honorable 'Winter Soldier' as was Kerry decades ago. Hearing his legendary testimony years ago before same committee — via Democracy Now! — is apt and moving.
    Bravissimo for both brave patriots.

  7. Mickey Shell says:

    President Obama is the victim of his own choice for advisors. Even his choice for Secretary of State is basically bellicose: Witness her vote to give Bush unlimited power to wage war (“because I didn't want to LOOK unpatriotic” for god's sake: career over the lives of hundreds of thousands), threatening to “obliterate” the Iranian nation, announcing that the Somali pirates are criminals (plain and simple, we are to understand) despite the West's having decimated Somali coastal populations with their illegal dumping of radioactive and toxic substances, which also served to destroy the livelihoods of Somali fishermen. These people are hard core, and what is needed is good sense and reason. Bombing people with drones only recruits new millions against us and, at least indirectly, the Taliban. We need a regional plan but are alienating everyone in the region.

  8. Barakzoy says:

    The War in Afghanistan can not be won if the current approach to governance if Afghanistan continues. History shows that Afghans will fight in the face of injustice or perceived injustice. On the other hand they have responded to heavy handed implementation of justice. It is time for the U.S to change course, and help establish a true democratically elected government that protect its citizen within Afghan cultural confines. Corruption, and nepotism needs to be eradicated and a few bad apples need to be made examples of. Too many people with innocent blood in their hand continue to be in power and part of the current Afghan government.
    More infrastructure projects need to be implemented and the Idea of a Martial Plan where the lives of ordinary Afghans can be changed for the better.
    As Americans we need to realize that this is a battle for hearts and minds Afghan people and NWFP in Pakistan. A decisive defeat to Al Qaida and fundamentalist Taliban will change the tide of war for ever against terrorism and militant Islam.

  9. Barakzoy says:

    The War in Afghanistan can not be won if the current approach to governance if Afghanistan continues. History shows that Afghans will fight in the face of injustice or perceived injustice. On the other hand they have responded to heavy handed implementation of justice. It is time for the U.S to change course, and help establish a true democratically elected government that protect its citizen within Afghan cultural confines. Corruption, and nepotism needs to be eradicated and a few bad apples need to be made examples of. Too many people with innocent blood in their hand continue to be in power and part of the current Afghan government.
    More infrastructure projects need to be implemented and the Idea of a Martial Plan where the lives of ordinary Afghans can be changed for the better.
    As Americans we need to realize that this is a battle for hearts and minds Afghan people and NWFP in Pakistan. A decisive defeat to Al Qaida and fundamentalist Taliban will change the tide of war for ever against terrorism and militant Islam.

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