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War Supplemental Narrowly Passes

Posted by Katrina vanden Heuvel on June 17th, 2009

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Yesterday, the Obama Administration’s $106 billion war supplemental passed on the House floor by a vote of 226-202. Congressional Democrats who oppose military escalation were in a tough position. They were whipped aggressively by both Speaker Pelosi and the White House. And they support President Obama.

Which is exactly why they did the right thing in voting no.

President Obama himself has said, “There’s got to be an exit strategy.” Yet we are sliding into a military escalation and commitments without a full and necessary national debate about the ends, means, or exit strategy for this war.

Progressive legislators are taking a principled stand in saying “No”, as are millions of citizens across the nation who oppose the war in Afghanistan. The cynical fear mongering of the right — arguing against the supplemental based on the possible transfer of detainees to US supermax prisons — made this vote even more difficult. But unlike the Limbaughs and Cheneys, we want Obama to succeed.

The “Af-Pak” policy not only threatens to endanger Obama’s domestic agenda — bleeding vital resources needed for economic recovery — but it also poses a threat to his eloquently stated desire to reengage the international community, including the Arab world. As Tom Andrews of Win Without War writes today, “The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan unites our opponents within the country and region and makes cooperation by key regional players like Iran, Russia and China far less likely with the prospect of tens of thousands of US troops on their border. As for those with the most at stake – Afghan people – over 80% oppose an escalation of American troops in their country.”

This supplemental also continues a troubling pattern of allocating resources in a manner that contradicts the Administration’s own stated counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. Nearly $80 billion of this bill goes towards military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Only $10.4 billion is allotted to the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). But COIN strategy calls for 80 percent of resources to be used for non-military purposes like economic development, and just 20 percent for the military.

It’s going to take time to reframe this debate, and shift the focus to a smart, effective, and responsible withdrawal plan from Afghanistan — one linked to regional diplomacy, economic development, and a human security approach that would end air strikes and provide protection through multinational peacekeeping forces not special ops.

Those who voted against the supplemental are beginning to create the space for the debate we need and the still missing exit strategy (as are progressives like Robert Greenwald and Jane Hamsher). We need to continue to engage the Administration in a respectful but critical discussion about the dangers of military escalation. Progressives outside the Beltway can do their part by stepping up and supporting these courageous legislators as they continue to fight for alternative policies.

(Also on The Nation)

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