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A Shifting Debate on Afghanistan

By Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation

Eight years after the war in Afghanistan began, the issue of how to end it is finally getting some traction in Congress.

No longer is Congressman Jim McGovern’s bill with over 100 cosponsors demanding an exit strategy from the only game in town. Nor are Senators Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders alone among their colleagues in calling for a flexible timetable for withdrawal or a national conversation on Afghanistan strategy.

In these past few weeks–after a rigged election that will likely leave the corrupt Karzai government in power, and polls showing Americans suffering war fatigue during these economic hard times of jobless recovery–more centrist Democrats have started questioning a strategy of escalation in Afghanistan. Among them, Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, came out against an increase in troop levels. Also, Senator Diane Feinstein, Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has called on the administration to provide a specific date for withdrawal.

Even Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin–perhaps the President’s closest friend and ally in Congress–said, “I think, at this point, sending additional troops would not be the right thing to do.”

It’s clear that we are seeing the beginning signs of a significant shift in the debate.

With the Obama administration not expected to take a position on sending more troops for weeks–probably not until after a health care bill is hammered out–now is a critical time to lobby legislators and the administration for an exit strategy, no additional troops and a timetable in Afghanistan. There is a particular need to get a bill moving in the Senate that calls for an exit strategy similar to Rep. McGovern’s legislation in the House–ask your Senator to offer one.

Also, check out The Nation and Brave New Films October 2 screening in New York City of Rethink Afghanistan–a documentary which includes interviews with over 100 experts ranging from former CIA officers, NGO officials, Afghan MPs and Afghan women rights activists. Rep. McGovern will participate in a panel discussion following the movie. More details will be available next week at TheNation.com.

This is a critical time to craft and mobilize around an alternative strategy based on regional diplomacy and development, targeted counterterrorism efforts and intelligence sharing. The war in Afghanistan is draining resources that are vital to President Obama’s goals for an economic recovery and social justice at home, while destabilizing Pakistan and distracting us from other critical international initiatives such as the Middle East Peace process and a regional diplomacy in South Asia.

To borrow a phrase from the President: “Nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.” It’s time to call your legislators and demand change in Afghanistan–an exit strategy, no additional troops and a date for withdrawal.