Afghanistan

Will Congress heed public opposition to 12 more years of war?

Last week, President Obama tried to sell the new US-Afghan Strategic Partnership agreement as the beginning of the end of war in Afghanistan to a war-weary public. Contrary to the president’s rhetoric, the plan does not offer details on troop levels after the rest of the “surge” troops withdraw this summer, bringing troops on the ground to 68,000. (Read more in our op-ed outlining problems with the plan and alternative solutions).

One of the president’s justifications for maintaining a military presence is to preserve gains the US has made against the Taliban. However, a new report by the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees contradicts this assessment, arguing that the Taliban has actually become stronger since 33,000 additional troops were sent to Afghanistan.

Despite the administration’s effort to sell this deal, it seems Americans aren’t buying it.

By a margin of 63 percent disapproval to 33 percent approval, respondents rejected a description of the deal that will include a US troop presence and billions of dollars in monetary support for Afghan forces in the decade after 2014, according to a Monitor/TIPP poll conducted April 27 to May 4.

Unusually for a key issue facing Americans in an election year, the lack of support was bipartisan, showing only small differences across the ideological spectrum.

The idea of war in Afghanistan for another twelve years does not sit well with the public. How will Congress respond?

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee seem poised to ignore both public opinion and clear evidence that the war isn’t working. In their markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), they give lip service to the idea that “combat operations” shouldn’t be indefinite, but push back against significant troop reductions and leave long-term troop numbers open-ended. The bill states that the president should “maintain a force of at least 68,000 troops through December 31, 2014,” contradicting the vague promise President Obama made of steady withdrawals after this summer. It also advises that a “credible force” should be kept beyond 2014, codifying the general commitment in the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement.

Thankfully, there will surely be pushback from members of Congress who understand the need to change strategy. Next week, the NDAA will come to the House floor, and there are likely to be votes on amendments pushing for a speedier end to the war. Last year, 204 representatives voted in favor of requiring a plan for accelerated withdrawal. The war has only become more unpopular since then. Check back later this week for action alerts to make sure your representative sends a clear message to the president that the war must end sooner.

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