"Obsession" isn’t just "a fragrance for men." According to our Commander-in-Chief, "obsession" now also characterizes the widespread interest in the timeline for bringing home 100,000 American boys and girls safely from Afghanistan so they can grow old with their sweethearts and lead economically productive lives, rather than becoming Pentagon statistics or lifelong burdens on their family members and the public purse.
President Obama said there’s "a lot of obsession" about the withdrawal date for U.S. troops from Afghanistan, AP reported Sunday.
This "obsession" has so afflicted the body politic that Thursday night, three-fifths of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for an amendment on the war supplemental that not only tried to lock in the July 2011 timetable for the beginning of the drawdown that President Obama promised last year, but also would have required the President to establish a timetable for the completion of the drawdown.
Are some of us "obsessed" with a withdrawal timetable for U.S. forces from Afghanistan? Damn straight we are. Advocacy of a withdrawal timetable is the principal means by which Americans outside of the military can act politically to protect the lives of our fellow citizens who are being deployed. Every day by which we can shorten the war is a day on which our fellow citizens won’t have the opportunity to be blown up in Afghanistan.
And as for the people of Afghanistan, the withdrawal timetable is our ticket to freedom from having the same relationship with Pashtun residents of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan as the Israeli army has with Palestinian residents of Hebron in the southern West Bank. The withdrawal timetable is the little patch of blue that we prisoners call the sky.
The group of Americans afflicted by this "obsession" is surely going to continue to grow in numbers and influence. The 162 who voted for a timetable for withdrawal yesterday represented almost a 20% increase over those who voted for an exit strategy last June. The three-fifths of the Democratic caucus in the House who voted for a timetable for withdrawal yesterday featured many members of the Democratic leadership, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], who usually doesn’t vote on the floor (her statement backing her vote for the amendment is here), David Obey [D-WI], chair of Appropriations, who co-sponsored the amendment; John Larson [D-CT], chair of the Democratic Caucus; Chris Van Hollen [D-MD], assistant to the Speaker; George Miller [D-CA], chair of Education and Labor; Barney Frank [D-MA], chair of Financial Services; and Henry Waxman [D-CA], chair of Energy and Commerce.
And crucially, important Democratic players have begun to violate the Washington consensus that pretended that war spending had nothing to do with unmet domestic needs. David Obey tied funding for teacher’s jobs to the war supplemental, and labor unions, by insisting on money for teachers in the House bill, have helped to jam up Congressional approval of the war money. MoveOn called out House Republican leader John Boehner [R-OH] for suggesting that we should cut Social Security benefits – including raising the normal retirement age to 70 – while saying no limit can be placed on war spending. And Speaker Pelosi told the Huffington Post: "It just can’t be that we have a domestic agenda that is half the size of the defense budget…in terms of the war now in Afghanistan, which is a growing part of it…we have to say how can we carry this and can we carry this on the backs of children’s nutrition."
Once the artificial wall between consideration of war spending and consideration of domestic spending is thoroughly breached, every Republican, Wall Street and corporate Democratic attack on Social Security and on spending to support domestic employment under the guise of "deficit reduction" is likely to provoke a counter-attack from important Democratic players on war spending and the Pentagon budget. That’s going to drive even more Democrats and Independents into the "timetable for withdrawal" camp.
Time is running out on the Obama Administration’s ability to maintain politically a large-scale deployment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Even solely from the point of view of its own narrow self-interest, the Administration should get busy pursuing serious peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, because there’s no reason to expect that the Administration’s leverage in the future will be any greater than its leverage today.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy