Michael Honda Backs Afghanistan Military Withdrawal Timetable

On Tuesday, Rep. Michael Honda signed his name to legislation put forward by Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Jim McGovern and Rep. Walter Jones that would require the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

This is potentially a bellwether event, because Rep. Honda – together with Rep. Grijalva, who also signed his name to the McGovern bill on Tuesday – has been a leader on Afghanistan in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including chairing the CPC Afghanistan task force. Rep. Honda has been very critical of the war, but he has not been an automatic supporter of anti-war legislative initiatives.

If the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” in Washington gets onto the McGovern bill in the next few weeks, the political space to be a “liberal” in Washington who supports an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan will have largely evaporated when the House considers $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan between now and Memorial Day. Progressives in the House may be able to extract from the leadership a vote on a timetable for withdrawal when the House considers the war supplemental.

Winning such a vote will be a heavy lift if the overwhelming majority of House Republicans continue to remain lockstep supporters of an open-ended military commitment. One hopes that a fraction of the Tea Partiers will decide that taxation and government debt are not in fact made holy by being used to kill people, and that some House Republicans will follow suit. But even if the overwhelming majority of House Republicans stay put, 150 votes on the House floor in favor of a timetable for withdrawal is a feasible goal – the universe of Members of the House who have done something significant in the last year in opposition to an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan is around 138.

And this sequence of events – should it come to pass – will help legitimize the idea of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in international political discourse, at a moment at which such a development could prove decisive.

Yesterday, APreported that Afghan President Karzai is trying to get the U.S. to fully support the upcoming Afghan peace conference, trying to win a commitment that the U.S. and NATO will agree to respect whatever agreements are reached during talks with the Taliban. That almost certainly would mean accepting a timetable for U.S. military withdrawal. When “timetable for military withdrawal” becomes a going Washington political proposition, that’s going to strengthen the hand of Afghans pursuing peace efforts that have been obstructed by Washington – just as, in 2007-8, Democratic advocacy of a withdrawal timetable strengthened the hand of the Iraqi government in demanding such a timetable from the Bush Administration.

The Administration has long conceded that the endgame in Afghanistan is a negotiated political solution that includes the Afghan Taliban. But the current U.S. position is “Kill now, talk later.” That’s a position will increasingly leave the U.S. politically isolated, in Afghanistan and internationally.

Ninety-four percent of people in Kandahar want peace talks with the Taliban rather than the coming NATO offensive, Gareth Porter notes, writing for Inter Press Service.

Meanwhile, Britain has been pushing for “talks now.” And the British push for “talks now” could get a boost from the coming British election, if the Liberal Democrats participate in the next government, as now seems quite plausible. Here’s what the LibDem platform says about Afghanistan:

We should be encouraging a regional peace process working towards a ceasefire and ultimately a political and constitutional settlement within Afghanistan. A strategy of political reconciliation is now necessary.

Twenty-nine Members have co-sponsored McGovern’s timetable bill since it was introduced last week.

Taken together with the 65 Members who voted for Representative Kucinich’s resolution on March 10 – who presumably have no reason not now to sign on to McGovern’s more “moderate” bill simply requiring the President to establish a timetable, rather than telling the President specifically what the timetable must be – 76 Members of the House have gone on the record since March 10 in favor of the idea that there should be a timetable for U.S. military withdrawal.

If you would like your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor the Feingold-McGovern-Jones bill, you can ask them to do that here.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy