By John Nichols at The Nation
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has joined Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold is declaring that the United States needs to start thinking about how to extract its military from Afghanistan.
While almost 100 members of the House (including many conservative Republicans) have signed on to Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern’s call for the development of an Afghanistan exit strategy, Feingold has been a relatively lonely Senate advocate for a rethink of the eight-year-old occupation.
At the annual “Fighting Bob Fest” gathering in Baraboo, Wisconsin, however, Sanders drew loud and sustained applause from the crowd of 8,000 when he said, “We need to take a very, very hard look at our war in Afghanistan. We need to be clear in our goals and we need a real discussion about an exit strategy to bring our troops home.”
Sanders made his statement at the largest annual gathering of grassroots activists in the Midwest, where there was no question of the crowd’s enthusiasm for the “Health Care Not Warfare” message that was promoted at the festival by activists with Progressive Democrats of America.
Prior to coming to Wisconsin for the event, Sanders explained his views on the need to rethink Afghanistan in a video produced as part of the Brave New Films “Senator Sanders Unfiltered” project. Responding to a question from British singer Billy Bragg, Sanders said:
My major concern about the war in Afghanistan, and why I voted against the recent defense authorization bill is tat we seem to be getting sucked into a quagmire without the kind of debate, without the kind of discussion that this country desperately needs and that the people of our country are entitled. What we know now is that the number of troops that the general are requesting is going up and up. We know that we… have already poured several hundred billion dollars into Afghanistan; that number is going to go up. But we don’t know what the goals of our efforts in Afghanistan are or what kind of exit strategy we have.I worry that Afghanistan will be another Vietnam. I worry that Afghanistan will be another Iraq. We’ve been there eight years already, and how many more years are we supposed to be there? How many more American troops are supposed to die? How many more American troops are supposed to die? How many more tens and tens of billions of dollars are we supposed to be spending at a time when we have a record-breaking deficit? I find it amusing that some of my more conservative friends are saying, ‘Well, we can’t afford to spend more money on health care in this country. We can’t afford to spend more money on education or environmental protection. But, yes, we can afford to pump tens and tens of billions more into the war in Afghanistan.
Sanders says: “We need a real national discussion of an exit strategy, a real national discussion about what our goals are. We haven’t had that and the American people should be demanding it.”
Sanders is doing his part to open the discussion. And the muscular reaction to his statements made it clear that the American people are making the demand.