By Andy Bromage at NH
With the bodies stacking up and the national treasury being sucked dry, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy took a powerful stand against the war on terror in 2007.
The freshman congressman from northwestern Connecticut joined 70 of his colleagues in a letter to President Bush pledging to vote against any war funding bill that didn’t include a strategy and timetable for pulling American troops out of Iraq. He was the only Connecticut representative to do so.
Many Murphy supporters back home assumed he would apply the same standards to funding the war in Afghanistan.
They assumed wrong.
Last week, Murphy and the other members of the state’s all-Democrat congressional delegation all but rubber-stamped President Obama’s request for $80 billion more to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The money for Iraq comes with strict benchmarks for progress and follows Obama’s timeline for withdrawing all troops by the end of 2011. The money for Afghanistan amounts to a blank check, anti-war activists say, just the kind Murphy and his Democratic colleagues opposed when George W. Bush was commander-in-chief.
MyLeftNutmeg, the state’s online home for progressive thought, blasted the state’s D.C. delegation, with the headline “CT Congressional Dems: What are they good for?” Their conclusion: “As Edwin Starr would sing, Absolutely nothing!”
Murphy takes exception with his critics. Congress is holding Obama to his campaign promise to pull troops out of Iraq by a certain date, he says, “Something President Bush was never willing or able to do.”
On Afghanistan, Murphy says he voted for the bill because “It supports President Obama’s troop withdrawal plan and his counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan.
“Though my support for President Obama’s plan in Afghanistan comes with a short leash — if Afghanistan and Pakistan become more destabilized, we will need to reconsider the costs of our involvement,” Murphy says in a statement.
Murphy returned from a recent trip to Afghanistan where he was told about dramatic upticks in suicide bombings, something previously unheard of in the war-torn nation. Murphy also returned convinced the American military must stay involved.
“I believe we need to refocus our efforts in Afghanistan to stifle the drug trade, work with tribal leaders to suppress the insurgency and help bolster the country’s flagging economy,” Murphy writes on his congressional Web site.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, whose district includes most of eastern Connecticut, similarly defends his vote to fund the wars. Courtney spokesman Brian Farber says the bill was about more than money: It compensates troops caught in the Bush administration’s stop-loss policy, essentially a back-door draft that kept troops stuck in years-long deployments, and requires Obama to report to Congress on military progress in Afghanistan.
“The [Obama] administration’s approach to Afghanistan is different, including working closely with local communities, tribal leaders and providing the Afghanistan government the tools they need to defend their borders from Taliban and al-Qaeda,” Farber says.
Obama’s war funding request is a definite improvement over what Congress let Bush ram through, but anti-war critics say the Democrats fell down on the most important caveat of all: a timeline for getting out of Afghanistan. Many fear that it’s Iraq all over again.
Robert Greenwald, whose California-based Brave New Studios has documented the civilian death toll in Afghanistan in heartbreaking detail, predicts Murphy and his Democratic colleagues will come to regret their votes.
Greenwald helped organize a nationwide movement among liberal bloggers to pressure Democrats to oppose the war funding. Greenwald praised Murphy in a video message posted to MyLeftNutmeg two days before the vote for taking a “consistent and principled” stand against the wars by signing onto the funding pledge. In a phone interview after the vote, Greenwald was less enthusiastic.
“The war in Afghanistan is morally wrong, strategically wrong and tactically wrong,” Greenwald says.
Greenwald’s been to Afghanistan too, and captured the grisly toll that American airstrikes have taken on innocent civilians in a series of films: maimed children in hospital beds, bodies and bones mashed together, destroyed homes and villages.
“People learned painfully that not asking questions about the Iraq war was disastrous,” Greenwald says. “How much will it cost? How will we fund it? When will it end?”
Connecticut’s congressional members aren’t dodging the anti-war crowd on Afghanistan. They just disagree about how to fix it.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the New Haven Democrat and powerful right hand to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, met with the Greater New Haven Peace Council for more than an hour this spring on the topic of Afghanistan. Peace council member Henry Lowendorf says DeLauro heard the group out but was not persuaded.
“She is sincere,” Lowerndorf says. “She really believes. She wants to support Obama. I just see Obama digging us deeper.”
Lowendorf and company aren’t letting DeLauro off the hook, doing what small things they can to keep the pressure on. Last Friday, with Washington consumed in a national health care debate, demonstrators held a protest outside DeLauro’s New Haven office with the theme “Health Care Not Warfare.”
The Obama administration may be pursuing a new strategy to win the peace in Afghanistan, but Lowendorf and his ilk foresee disaster.
“This is not change,” Lowendorf says. “This is more of the same.”