04/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Sex Appeal of Congressional Oversight Hearings

Where is the public outcry for congressional oversight hearings on the war in Afghanistan? Granted, the words "congressional oversight hearings" aren't particularly sexy--certainly not as alluring as "shock and awe," "insurgency," "counterinsirgency," "airstrikes," and "Hellfire missiles." But one thing that is always sexy is power, and Congress has the power to prevent these airstrikes and missiles from killing thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, thereby removing some of the hostility toward our country and reasons for joining the Taliban's insurgency. As Tom Hayden wrote his week, Congress has the power to bring in experts to examine the overall goals for this war; costs and budgeting; skyrocketing casualty rates; use of private contractors; human rights violations and torture. If that kind of power isn't sexy, I don't know what is, but the fact of the matter is Congress won't call for oversight hearings until we make them.

Now there are some true leaders in Congress who have already shown a willingness to oppose the Obama administration, the Pentagon, and a corporate press that has remained largely uncritical of the administration's plans for military escalation. Senator Bernie Sanders is one of those leaders. Though he doesn't approve of President Obama's decision to send an additional 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, here's how he tactfully voiced his dissent:

The last thing in the world that I want to see is our new President -- who I have a lot of confidence in in many respects -- we don't want to see him bogged down the way LBJ was bogged down in Vietnam. We don't want to see another war in Iraq, which was so disastrous in so many respects.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation's Editor-in-Chief and a Get Afghanistan Right supporter, echoed this admonishment to avoid history repeating in her recent piece on oversight hearings. "President Obama repeatedly said during his campaign," vanden Heuvel wrote, "that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We can't afford to repeat the mistake of blind escalation in Afghanistan as we did in Iraq and Vietnam." Vanden Heuvel mentioned other critical congressional leaders like Senator Russ Feingold, who has been as outspoken as Sanders on the war, if not more so. In addition, Peace Action and 16 organizations got eight members of Congress to sign a letter to the President, claiming escalation will be counterproductive to achieving stability to Afghanistan.

While this is certainly noteworthy considering the dearth of vocal congressional opposition to Obama's call for escalation, we don't need to wait around for the president to read a letter in the hopes of changing his mind. We have the ability to make the Obama administration and military leaders inform us of every single detail of their plans for Afghanistan. We have the ability to tell Congress to exercise their power, hold oversight hearings, compel our policymakers and military leaders to explain exactly what our military is after and what they hope to achieve in a war that is killing thousands and costing upwards of $1 trillion by the end of Obama's first term. That is our power over our elected leaders in Congress, tell me it's not sexy.

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