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June 15, 2011

27 Senators Want “Sizeable and Sustained Reduction” of Troops in Afghanistan

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Marc Ambinder says that the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan set for next month will be meager at best. Gen. Petraeus doesn’t really want to send any troops home, and there’s no real indication that the President does, either. This is despite the fact that many assessments appear to show the US and NATO forces just running on a treadmill:

Assessing progress is complicated. As National Journal’s Yochi Dreazen reported, 2011 may turn out to be the deadliest year on record for Americans in the war. Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who sees classified and unclassified metrics on the capability of Taliban forces, doesn’t seem to be sanguine in his latest report. While coalition troops have killed record numbers of Taliban fighters, discovered large weapons caches, and meaningfully enhanced both security and civil governance in certain parts of the country, the Taliban and allied forces like the Haqqani network in the Paktika province, remain potent, destabilizing forces. The insurgency has not expanded, in Cordesman’s assessment, but neither has it been seriously degraded.

In April, Petraeus’s staff concluded that the International Security Assistance Force “still does not fully understand the regenerative capacity of the insurgency.”

In two-plus years, all we have to show for the escalation in Afghanistan is a slightly better picture in “parts of Kandahar and Helmand provinces.” The war in eastern Afghanistan has barely even begun. We’ve created a war economy in the country that is completely unsustainable, focused on training forces that have no chance of being paid over the long term. The central government is little more than a kleptocracy. Al Qaeda is not a serious presence in the country and is being used to justify a failing nation-building effort.

That’s why this turn of events is so crucial. The House is the restive bunch, normally, with the Senate being the saucer that cools the cup. So to see 27 members call for “sizeable and sustained reductions” represents the biggest challenge to executive war powers perhaps since the Vietnam era.

A letter to the president, obtained by the Financial Times, had been signed by 24 senators on Tuesday night and was expected to gather more support on Wednesday.

“We urge you to follow through on the pledge you made to the American people to begin the redeployment of US forces from Afghanistan this summer, and to do so in a manner that is sizeable and sustained, and includes combat troops as well as logistical and support forces,” it said.

It had been signed by 21 Democrats, independent Bernie Sanders and Republicans Mike Lee and Rand Paul.

Since press time, three more Senators have signed on, and they are big ones: Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), second in command in the Senate leadership Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and head of the DSCC Patty Murray (D-WA). Dick Durbin’s a co-signee as well. Members of the House leadership are part of this effort.

Support for the war is this close to collapsing. We already saw 204 votes for an accelerated withdrawal in the House. Now there are at least 27 in the Senate. When the announcement of a trivial drawdown is made, there will be a “revolt,” in the words of Rep. John Garamendi.

You can see that in the new aggressiveness by John Boehner on a separate front, using the War Powers Act with respect to Libya.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tells President Barack Obama that he and his administration will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution unless by Sunday he receives authorization from Congress for military operations in Libya — or ends them.

Says Boehner’s office: “With only five days until the 90-day mark for U.S. military operations in Libya, the Speaker is seeking a clear explanation of the legal standing under the War Powers Resolution by which the administration believes it has the authority to continue operations after Sunday, June 19, 2011.”

Just a week or so ago, Boehner said that the War Powers Act was satisfied with respect to Libya. He’s changing his tune, I gather, in reaction to pressure from his base – a base that increasingly wants to end the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches on matters of war. The political dynamic has legitimately changed. The President can react or stand still.

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