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Rep. Mike Honda

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War Power Lessons From the 93rd Congress and Why Libya and Afghan Wars Must Be Unwaged

Posted: 06/16/11 11:31 AM ET

Next month, two major foreign policy decisions will be decidedly clearer.

On Afghanistan, the Pentagon's July withdrawal plans will either be "sizeable and significant," as the Democratic National Committee resolution, which I helped push as vice-chair, called for earlier this year, or it will be minimal and meaningless. On Libya, the 60-day limit stipulated by the War Powers Resolution will have long expired and we will either be drawing down our presence -- as a growing majority of my House colleagues are demanding -- or ramping up a regime change effort that started as a mere responsibility to protect. On this, my hope is that we pursue the former.

First, on Afghanistan, the opportunity for "sizeable and significant" is ours to seize. Everyone seems tired of this war -- from Republicans and Democrats in Washington, to Afghans in Kabul, to Americans in Kansas. Administration officials acknowledged that due to America's mounting debt and deficits, war costs -- at $113 billion annually for Afghanistan alone -- are no longer sustainable. Republicans gave similar ground with Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers and Defense Subcommittee member Jack Kingston expressing concern about the costs, the mission and the lack of progress -- bolstering Republican Senator Dick Lugar's call for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nearly half the House weighed in during the recent Defense authorization debate with a call for an accelerated plan to drawdown troops and transition to Afghan control.

Moving beyond what Washington wants, consider the Afghans, who are at the receiving end of all of this. After a series of serious civilian casualties resulting from multiple indiscriminate NATO bombings, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has declared opposition to any and all air strikes on Afghan homes. This adds to Karzai's insistence that foreign forces end night raids, stop unilateral operations, and stay off roads and out of Afghan villages.

The Afghan people are no more pleased than Karzai with America's continued presence, hardly a surprise given that General Petraeus has increased bombing throughout the country by 80 percent in the last year alone. According to a recent poll, nearly six out of 10 Afghans said Western troops should leave on or before the original July 2011 withdrawal date. Only 17 percent say the deployment should be maintained longer. After spending hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars, security and day-to-day life in many regions of Afghanistan aren't improving. Crime, economic opportunity and freedom of movement are getting worse, not better. Availability of electricity, food, medical care and schools has shown little or no improvement in recent years. Afghans are witnessing more violence, not less; their support for the war is diminishing.

Nor are Americans pleased. Two-thirds are tired of this war and want the troops home, thinking, rightly, that the death of Osama bin Laden gave America the opportunity to close the book on a war without end. For those who remain concerned about the Taliban, they can support the effective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts already underway. For those focused on al Qaeda, they should do what the RAND Corporation already reported as most effective -- pursue policing, intelligence and negotiation tactics. However, for both the Taliban and al Qaeda, a heavy air and troop force gets us nowhere.

Second, on Libya, it is time Washington engages in a serious discussion about the War Powers Resolution. There is growing bipartisan consensus in Congress that the Libyan invasion was not legislated properly. I agree. This month's vote in the House of Representatives on a Libya resolution authored by Speaker John Boehner, which passed the House, is not a serious discussion; it's solely a political shot. Boehner has never before cared about transparency and accountability of US interventions. Now that it's politically convenient, Boehner's resolution scolds the Obama administration and demands random report requirements, including non-germane information about religious parties. A reaffirmation of the War Powers Resolution this is not.

Before political opportunism becomes more pervasive, we must back up and revisit an important piece of legislation from the 1970s that keeps any administration and any Congress regardless of political party accountable, in theory at least.

The War Powers Resolution of 1973 cites that unless it is an act of war declared by the president, a piece of legislation by Congress or an attack on U.S. entities, any commitment of U.S. forces must have, within 60 days, Congressional approval. If not, then the president must terminate the use of armed forces. For Libya, that 60-day mark came in mid-May, with no Congressional approval. Now, according to the Act, the administration must draw down forces. Various bipartisan amendments offered by House Representatives this month during Homeland Security appropriations debates called for such a withdrawal.

Given the confusion in Washington and lack commitment to the War Powers Resolution, and before we attack another country in the name of our "responsibility to protect" (as there have been ample options recently, from Yemen to Sudan to Congo to Myanmar), it is worth recommitting ourselves to the foresight of both houses of the 93rd U.S. Congress who overrode a veto by President Nixon. In the shadow of the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Senate and the House recognized well the need for appropriate checks and balances before another war was waged.

How insightful of them -- and how insightful we should be. As we continue to debate Libya's legality and draw down from Afghanistan, we should not so easily forget reason and rationality. On Afghanistan, there is no longer a case for a continued and costly war. On Libya, the case has yet to be made in Congress. As July undoubtedly brings an unbearable heat to Washington, cooler heads must prevail in determining the next steps in America's foreign policy priorities.

Rep Honda is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's Peace and Security Taskforce. Follow Rep Honda on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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