Specter vs. Sestak: Who's the Real Democrat on Afghanistan?

Yesterday, an organization that lobbies on peace issues asked me to contribute money in the upcoming Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary between Senator Arlen Specter and his challenger, Representative Joe Sestak. I'm ready to donate. But first I need a key piece of information: which candidate will act to end the war in Afghanistan?

Both candidates are currently serving in Congress, so we can compare their records. Last year, Senator Specter strongly opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan, while Representative Sestak strongly supported sending more troops.

But now the troops are on their way, and the key question facing Members of Congress right now on the Afghanistan war is this: who supports establishing a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Whichever one comes out first saying that they support a timetable for withdrawal, that candidate will get my donation. Perhaps the candidates will address this in tomorrow's debate.

But even if the issue is not addressed during tomorrow's debate, there is a straightforward means to test which is the Afghanistan peace candidate: who will be the first to co-sponsor the Feingold-McGovern bill, which would require the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan?

The support of either one would give this effort a major boost.

McGovern's House bill, H.R. 5015, currently has 63 co-sponsors, but not a single one of them is from the great state of Pennsylvania. Yet there are 6 co-sponsors from neighboring New York, three co-sponsors from New Jersey, one from Maryland, and two from Ohio. Representative Sestak would be a great addition to this list.

Senator Feingold's companion bill, S. 3197, does not yet have a single co-sponsor: if Senator Specter would add his name today, the Senate caucus for a withdrawal timetable would double.

We need Members of Congress to go on the record now in support of a timetable for military withdrawal. In the next several weeks, Congress will likely be asked to approve $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan. This request gives us a "policy window" in which to try to change the direction of what the U.S. is doing.

In addition, in mid-May Afghan President Karzai is coming to Washington with the express purpose, Afghan officials say, of winning U.S. support for Afghan political negotiations to end the war. According to press reports, the Administration is split on the issue: everyone concedes that the endgame is a negotiated political settlement with insurgent leaders that ends the war, but one faction of the Administration wants to continue the war for another year or so before going to talks. Continuing the war for another year would kill and maim many more American soldiers and Afghan civilians, and not one single soul inside the Administration or out has explained what they expect the difference to be between the negotiated settlement they could get from going to talks after 12-18 more months of war and the negotiated settlement they could get by going to talks now.

The simplest way for Members of Congress to help the faction of the Administration that wants to go to talks now is to poke the Administration and point to the clock.

And if the Feingold-McGovern bill shortens the war by a year, that would save the American taxpayer enough money to pay the two year cost of the Local Jobs for America Act, which the House Education and Labor Committee says will create and save a million jobs.

Even if you're not in Pennsylvania and don't plan to donate, you can still participate: you can urge your representatives to co-sponsor the Feingold-McGovern bill, and you can help inform Americans about the importance of a timetable for military withdrawal.