Congressional Progressives Offer an Alternative to War

06/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After six weeks of forums on Afghanistan-Pakistan, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is weighing a series of recommendations to de-escalate the war, offered by CPC co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva and Rep. Mike Honda.

The good news for the peace movement is that the recommendations, taken together, present a plausible alternative to the Obama blueprint for escalation. The key proposals are to reverse the present ratio of military to development spending, leaving the Pentagon with twenty percent of the proposed budget, while eighty percent would be allocated to education, health, infrastructure, women's rights and development. Remaining US military operations would be folded under a United Nations security umbrella. Aerial attacks by US Predator drones would be immediately ended due to their adverse effect on civilian populations.

On the $84 billion for Afghanistan and Pakistan requested in the administration's proposed Supplemental Appropriations bill, Grijalva and Honda conclude that the measure would only "exacerbate the trends" they identify as counter-productive; they question whether the bill is worth funding at all.

Many in the anti-war community will be dissatisfied with the recommendations' failure to include an exit strategy with a withdrawal deadline. But the CPC recommendations represent a fundamental shift of priorities from the Obama policy. A more glaring omission is the lack of any reference to the human rights crisis at Afghanistan's Bagram prison, where Obama faces another Guantanamo.

The great value of these CPC recommendations, based on extensive hearings limited as they were to testimony by security experts and diplomats, is offset by the realities of a Democratic Congress presently unwilling to engage in open disagreements with the new President. The Grijalva-Honda recommendations are only advisory, not even reflective of an overall Progressive Caucus stance. At this point, none of the recommendations will be offered as amendments to the supplemental for up-or-down votes, so there will be no roll-call votes recorded.

The only proposals introduced thus far are a call for the Secretary of Defense to report on an exit strategy by this December [Rep. Jim McGovern] and a proposal approving the phased withdrawal pact signed by the Bush administration with Iraq [Rep. Sam Farr].

The CPC recommendations therefore constitute a constructive work product, but only an initial step in the future arguments within the Democratic Party and between Congress and the Obama administration. The increasing question from now on, spurred by the Grijalva-Honda report, will be whether to escalate or de-escalate from the quagmire.