Yesterday, news broke that the “substantial” withdrawal in July 2011 in Afghanistan consisted of maybe 5,000 troops now and another 5,000 by the end of the year. That’s about 10% of the active US military force in Afghanistan, not including thousands of contractors and 30,000 coalition troops from other countries and like. The word “maybe” is crucial here; NBC News quotes senior Administration officials saying that the next month will determine the extent of the withdrawal, and others saying it would be foolhardy to draw down in the middle of “fighting season” in Afghanistan (is there any other kind). So even this clearly inadequate force removal won’t happen, if the military leadership in the Pentagon has anything to say about it.
A more hopeful reading of the situation is that, while the military leadership doesn’t want to leave the battlefield because… they never want to leave the battlefield, there’s a big rethink of overall strategy inside Washington. However, that rethink doesn’t seem to include withdrawal, which John Kerry and Richard Lugar outright rejected yesterday, and does include a reimagining of the Authority to Use Military Force that sustains the so-called war on terror:
The House Armed Services Committee is expected to take up a defense authorization bill on Wednesday that includes a new authorization for the government to use military force in the war on terrorism. The provision has set off an argument over whether it is a mere update — or a sweeping, open-ended expansion — of the power Congress granted to the executive branch in 2001.
The new authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda was unveiled by the committee chairman, Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California. The committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on amendments to the bill.
The provision states that Congress “affirms” that “the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces,” and that the president is authorized to use military force — including detention without trial — of members and substantial supporters of those forces […]
Critics of Mr. McKeon’s provision have reacted with alarm to what they see as an effort to entrench in a federal statute unambiguous authority for the executive branch to wage war against terrorists who are deemed associates of Al Qaeda but who lack a clear tie to the Sept. 11 attacks.
In a joint letter to Congress, about two dozen groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights — contended that the proposal amounted to an open-ended grant of authority to the executive branch, legitimizing an unending war from Yemen to Somalia and beyond.
You could read this as a safety valve for whatever political exigencies force a drawdown in Afghanistan, expanding the map to basically authorize an endless war against any perceived enemy of the United States. To be clear, we’re already at this stage, if you add covert operations. But this adds a legal patina to that reality that is extremely unadvisable. Buck McKeon, House Armed Services Committee chair, said that “this bill does not expand the war effort,” and he’s actually right. Which is why it’s important to defeat such a bill and finally end this war on a tactic.