WASHINGTON -- It's the rare issue that unites Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), but the call for Gen. David Petraeus to testify before Congress about the war in Afghanistan has done just that.
Conyers, who chairs the Out of Afghanistan Caucus, sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday, requesting that he make the general available to House lawmakers to speak on the administration's recently released strategic review and conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. The letter has the signatures of 30 other Democrats. From the letter:
We believe that this bipartisan call for oversight is warranted by the uncertain progress being made securing the country, minimizing American casualties, combating corruption, expanding governing capacity, promoting political reconciliation, addressing links between the insurgency and Pakistan, limiting the Taliban's ability to project violence, and furthering other important components of our Afghanistan-Pakistan policy. The limited analysis provided in your December Strategy Review, although important, cannot replace in-depth and substantive congressional hearings and oversight.
Many Members are also concerned about the incredible costs associated with the current policy. The War in Afghanistan is costing the American taxpayer $2 billion per week and will total $125 billion this year alone. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted this past August that "the most significant threat to our national security is our debt." We need direct access to our lead commander on the ground in order to fully consider the costs and benefits of a policy that is significantly contributing to our $1.5 trillion deficit and $15 trillion debt.
McKeon, who will chair the House Armed Services Committee in the new Congress, has also called for the administration to allow Petraeus to testify next year.
"In the 112th Congress, I intend to place the Armed Services Committee on a war footing with a renewed focus on winning in Afghanistan," said McKeon in a Dec. 16 statement. "As part of that effort, we intend to hear directly from General Petraeus early next year on the conditions on the ground, where progress is being made, what challenges exist, and where he believes we can begin transitioning security responsibilities from our troops to Afghanistan's security forces. We will also focus on whether our military forces have the tools, support and training they need to win in Afghanistan."
Aides from Conyers's office told The Huffington Post that they had approached the House Armed Service Committee's minority staff about the letter, but had not received a reply. In November, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said there were no plans to have Petraeus testify because "he is most needed right now in Kabul, focusing on the war." The White House did not return a request for comment.
"I assume he will do it eventually, but I assume that the White House and the Pentagon want to make the point they control the narrative, rather than Congress," said National Security Network Executive Director Heather Hurlburt. "This is typical executive-legislative bickering. The one that Conyers and McKeon have in common is a firm belief in legislative prerogative. The same thing that any President and any Pentagon have, regardless of ideology, is a firm conviction in the justice of their own prerogative. So there's a way that this does kind of transcend the partisan issues."
Hurlburt added that at this point, the White House may be more interested in staying on message with regard to the president's lame-duck achievements, than in creating new headlines about Afghanistan.
McKeon and Conyers, while both calling for Petraeus to testify, no doubt have different end goals in mind. McKeon told a gathering of reporters recently that he supported the president's decision last year to send 30,000 more troops into the conflict, although he said the number should have higher. Conyers, by contrast, is pushing for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan altogether.
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