: The Politics and Policy of Future American Involvement in Afghanistan
“How do we get out of this war?” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) asked at a June 23 event at the Center for American Progress. He added, “What we are looking for is clarity.” Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) accompanied Rep. McGovern for a candid discussion facilitated by Rudy deLeon, the Senior Vice President for National Security at American Progress.
The event took place the morning following President Barack Obama’s June 22 announcement of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and both congressmen expressed concern that the direction outlined by the president still lacked clarity. Rep. McGovern said, “I think his announcement of 10,000 by the end of this year, and 23,000 by summer 2012, I think that is insufficient. I think that is a continuation of the policy we already have.”
Rep. McGovern pointed out, and Jones agreed, that proposed troop levels did not indicate a shift from a war policy to a counterterrorism policy. Rep. McGovern said, “If you are going to do counterterrorism, you don’t need 100,000 troops on the ground. You don’t need 70,000 troops on the ground.”
The two congressmen expressed frustration that the U.S. military is still in Afghanistan 10 years after the war began with little to gain. “I can’t see how we can look at ourselves and say we are going to bring security to Afghanistan,” Rep. Jones said. Rep. McGovern noted that it is difficult to explain why the military is still in Afghanistan to soldiers’ families: “I’ve been to a number of funerals in my district alone. What do I tell the parents?”
Both congressmen also noted their increasing distaste for spending money on the war and granting financial assistance to the Afghan government at a time when the U.S. government is in the process of cutting spending for domestic programs.
The conversation focused on the need for a successful transition plan for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Without such a plan, “2014 becomes 2015, 2015 becomes 2016, and we still have thousands of troops in Afghanistan,” Rep. Jones cautioned. In May the two congressmen co-sponsored an amendment to the House Defense Authorization bill, calling for an accelerated withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan based on a fixed timetable for turning responsibilities over to the Afghan government. The bill narrowly failed to pass debate in the House but attracted bipartisan support.
deLeon agreed, stating, “2014 is the endpoint, but to get to 2014 you need benchmarks.” CAP’s statement on the president’s transition plan also underscored the need for strict benchmarks and a detailed plan for an accelerated withdrawal.
Reps. Jones and McGovern argued the military should withdraw more rapidly than the pace proposed by the president to turn control over to the Afghan government. Rep. Jones said, “Four more years is just more dead soldiers, more broken bodies, more families breaking up because of the pressure.”
Rep. McGovern argued that as this withdrawal process takes place, the administration needs to refocus its efforts on facilitating a political solution involving the Afghan government, the insurgency, and regional neighbors with a stake in the resolution of the Afghan conflict. “Everyone seems to agree there is no military solution in Afghanistan, only a political solution,” he said. “How do we accelerate that process?”
“It’s not going to be pretty, it’s going to be messy,” Rep. McGovern acknowledged. “But we need to do what is in the best interest of the Afghan people, and that is through a political solution.”