House to vote on Afghan troop withdrawal
The House is expected to vote Thursday on a resolution demanding the speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a crucial first test of conservative support for the war among the new Republican majority.
The measure, put forward by liberal Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), is designed to appeal to the fiscal conservatism that has dominated the Republican agenda since the start of the year.
In a letter to colleagues, Kucinich highlighted the $113 billion President Obama has requested in his 2012 budget for the war, which is in its 10th year with mixed progress.
“Congress will have the opportunity to consider whether all of this ‘progress’ has been worth the money,” Kucinich wrote, noting that $454.7 billion has already been spent “and borrowed” for the war.
“It is time for Congress to exercise fiscal responsibility,” he said.
But the deficit hawks that arrived in the Congress this year are not expected to vote much differently than their predecessors, observers said. Kucinich introduced a similar resolution last year, winning won 65 votes, including that of five Republicans.
Republican leaders did not expect a large number of defections Thursday, and have spent time briefing their members, including the sometimes unpredictable freshman class, about the war issue, as is typically done on policies coming to the floor.
“I don’t think that they think you legislate the war from here,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the House majority whip.
The vote comes during a week in which Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, appeared before lawmakers to detail what he said were “fragile and reversible” gains in recent months. Obama plans to begin withdrawing troops in July, but Petraeus said he has not decided on the size of the reduction.
New polling shows a steep decline in support for what is now the nation’s longest war. Nearly two-thirds of Americans no longer believe the war is worth fighting, according to a poll this week.
Petraeus responded to criticism that the United States has sought to undertake an ambitious “nation building” agenda in Afghanistan.
“We are not, of course, trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland in a decade or less,” he said. “We are after what is, in a sense, good enough for Afghanistan.”
The Afghanistan war rarely has received as much congressional attention as Iraq. Public opposition to the Iraq war was credited with helping Democrats win control of Congress in 2006.
Now, however, public attitudes are beginning to shift against continued U.S. operations in Afghanistan and, with them, congressional sentiment, said Scott Payne, a senior national security policy advisor at Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank.
After Kucinich’s troop pullout resolution failed last March, another measure in July that would have set a withdrawal date won more support, but with 162 votes still short of a majority.
Yet even among Democrats, ending the war has not topped jobs and economy as a concern. Global security issues, such as the Middle East turmoil and the Japanese earthquake, also have dominated.
“Afghanistan is just not getting a whole lot of attention,” Payne said.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a leading fiscal hawk, said many of those who are against war spending see the resolution from Kucinich as too blunt an instrument for changing national security policy.
Kucinich has fought an often lonely campaign against the Afghanistan war, launched in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Co-sponsors of Kucinich’s resolution include two longtime antiwar allies, Republican Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Ron Paul of Texas, as well as several leading liberal lawmakers.
“This is why … one has to be extremely careful about starting a war,” Kucinich said Wednesday. “If you start it, you better know when you’re going to end it.”
Ken Dilanian in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.