A resolution introduced in the House Wednesday, aimed at bringing a swift end to the war in Afghanistan, was overwhelmingly defeated following a passionate, three-hour debate on war policy.
But it was a measure that had Republican support, which has eluded Democrats during their efforts to pass a health care bill.
Since the US invaded the country nearly nine years ago, lawmakers have not had a formal opportunity to debate the war. The measure, H. Con Res 248, was introduced by prominent antiwar Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has been harshly critical of the Obama administration's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan.
"The military escalation cements the path of the United States down the road of previous occupiers that earned Afghanistan its nickname as the 'graveyard of empires,'" Kucinich said on the House floor.
Democratic leaders agreed to allow the debate and vote on the resolution to give lawmakers who are opposed to the war an opportunity to verbalize their frustration about the war, which has cost taxpayers nearly $260 billion, has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 US soldiers, wounded thousands more and has also led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Afghan civilians. Next month, Congress is expected to approve the White House's $33 billion emergency supplemental request to fund Obama's Afghanistan troop surge.
"There are many members in the caucus who are eager to have a vote soon on Afghanistan," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said last month, after Kucinich proposed the measure. "This may satisfy that need."
As expected, the resolution was defeated by a vote of 356 to 65. Only 60 Democrats along with five Republicans supported it [Here is a link to the full roll call vote.] It called upon Obama to end the war within 30 days or by the end of the year if the former proved to be unsafe.
The resolution invoked the War Powers Act of 1973, specifically Section 5 (c), which says, "at any time that United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States, its possessions and territories without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution."
The War Powers Act was passed by Congress as a way of protesting the escalation of the Vietnam War by several presidents who did not first seek authorization from Congress. The Act says Congressional approval must be obtained if a president sends soldiers to the battlefield for more than 90 days. Lawmakers passed a resolution after 9/11 authorizing George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan, the legality of which has been called into question by many activists and even some lawmakers.
"This war is an illegal war, this war is an immoral war, this war is an unconstitutional war, there is no real purpose to this: the Taliban did not attack us on 9-11," Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said on the House floor. "Immediately the concerns were shifted on remaking the middle east. The majority of Americans still believe that Sadddam Hussein had something to do with 9-11 ... We need to defend our country and not pretend to be the policeman of the world."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee, said it's "simply not justifiable to sacrifice more lives and more money on this war."
"Today, our presence in Afghanistan has become counterproductive, fueling the rising insurgency and emboldening those who oppose foreign intervention or occupation of any kind," Nadler added. "We are bogged down amidst a longstanding civil war between feuding Afghans of differing tribes, classes and regions, whose goals have little to do with our own.
"Rebuilding Afghanistan is beyond both our capability, and our mandate to prevent terrorists from attacking the United States," Nadler added. "I believe that a short and definitive timetable for withdrawing our troops is the only way to minimize further loss of life and to refocus our efforts more directly at the terrorists themselves."
But Rep. Howard Berman (D-California) countered Nadler's argument, asserting that if the US withdrew its soldiers from Afghanistan it would amount to a "national security disaster."
Although Berman conceded that if the the US remains "in Afghanistan there is no guarantee we will prevail in our fight," he said the Afghanistan war is decidedly different than the war being waged in Iraq, now approaching its seventh anniversary, because it was launched in direct response to "those who attacked us" on 9/11.
"I was here during the frenzied debate when Congress authorized the use of force against those responsible for the horrors of the day, and I was here for the vote a year later to authorize military force against Iraq. Please don't conflate the two ... I do believe this strategy of the President deserves support."
That's the same flawed rationale President Obama used last December when he announced his highly anticipated revised Afghanistan war strategy at the US Military Academy at West Point. Obama repeatedly invoked 9/11 as a way of justifying his plan to escalate the war.
"We did not ask for this fight," Obama said. "On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.
"As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda - a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents ..."
Obama's revised strategy called for the rapid deployment of 30,000 additional US troops to the region by the summer, bringing the total number of soldiers in Afghanistan to 100,000. Each newly deployed soldier will cost taxpayers $1 million. Obama waited months before announcing his decision to deploy more troops and did so despite dire warnings from US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who, in two separate, top-secret cables he sent to administration officials last November, said sending additional troops would be a grave mistake.
Eikenberry also said corruption in the government of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was rampant and showed no signs of dissipating.
Last month, the Washington Post reported that a "blizzard of bank notes" has been "flying out of Afghanistan - often in full view of customs officers at the Kabul airport - as part of a cash exodus that is confounding U.S. officials and raising concerns about the money's origin."
"At a time when the United States and its allies are spending billions of dollars to prop up the fragile government of President Hamid Karzai, the volume of the outflow has stirred concerns that funds have been diverted from aid," the Post reported. "The US Drug Enforcement Administration, for its part, is trying to figure out whether some of the money comes from Afghanistan's thriving opium trade. And officials in neighboring Pakistan think that at least some of the cash leaving Kabul has been smuggled overland from Pakistan."
Kucinich said this was just one example of why the US needs to withdraw troops.
"Nearly 1000 U.S. soldiers have died. And for what? Hundreds of billions spent. And for what? To make Afghanistan safe for crooks, drug dealers and crony capitalism?" Kucinich said.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-California), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan does not mean "ending American support."
"It would be completely irresponsible of us to wash our hands of Afghanistan," she said. "There is too much humanitarian work to be done there, we need a humanitarian surge . . . let's bring the troops home, let's replace them with more development workers, democracy promotion specialists."
Rep. Bob Filner (D-California) pointed out what lawmakers in both parties have refused to discuss each time they agree on a new round of spending to keep the war raging: the enormous mental toll the war has had on soldiers, many of who are on their third and fourth deployment, and are afflicted with combat related wounds such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also led to a skyrocketing number of suicides among veterans of the conflicts, which the Department of Veterans Affairs have been notoriously slow to respond to.
Last November, a disturbing study released by the Army Mental Health Advisory Team found that an increasing number of soldiers serving in Afghanistan suffering from some type of mental health related injury and "significantly lower morale" compared with previous years due to an uptick in violence and multiple deployments.
The Mental Health Advisory Team surveyed 638 Soldiers from 27 maneuver platoons and 744 Soldiers from 25 support or sustainment platoons.
"About 14 percent of the Soldiers surveyed met screening criteria for psychological problems, which is similar to the findings of the 2007 assessment in Afghanistan," the study concluded. "Soldiers with three or more deployments had higher rates of psychological problems and marital problems. The team also found barriers to behavioral-health care were higher than in previous years."
Remarkably, there are only 40 mental health care professionals in Afghanistan and about 68,000 US soldiers currently deployed there, thousands of whom are on their second, third and, in some cases, fourth deployment.
The advisory team recommended "increasing the number of behavioral-health personnel in [Afghanistan] and maintaining a low ratio as troop numbers surge, and appointing a senior theater-wide behavioral-health consultant and noncommissioned officer."
The Army wants to have at least one mental health care professional in place for every 700 soldiers.
"These are our children, they come home with these unseen wounds, these silent wounds," Filner said. "They may kill themselves from the demons that they got from this war, a third of those who have been diagnosed with PTSD committed felonies in this nation. These kids did not come home to kill their spouses or their children, they were so wounded but they were not taken care of by our people who sent them there ... It is time to take care of them, it is time to bring them home, let's support the resolution on the floor.
"War is hard, but I've got news for you," Filner added, "Peace is harder"