The U.S. Congress never declared war on Afghanistan, a country where more than 1,000 U.S. troops — and thousands of Afghan civilians –have died since President Bush ordered the invasion and occupation of that country in 2001.
The vague authorization that Bush received to pursue the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, which was treated by Democrats and Republicans alike as justification for the incursion into Afghanistan is now more than eight years old — and during that time all of the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and most of the facts internationally have changed.
Yet, the occupation continues. Indeed, the U.S. troop presence is escalating toward 100,000, even as other countries–including, most recently, the Netherlands–prepare to exit Afghanistan.
By any reasonable reading of the Constitution — which rests the warmaking power with the Congress, along with the sole power to appropriate money to that use so long as expenditure does not last "for a longer term than two years"–it is high time for members of the House and Senate to debate whether this undeclared, yet seemingly endless, war should continue.
After all, the founders established a system of separated powers with the precise purpose of empowering the House and Senate to check and balance adventurous executives.
Unfortunately, only a brave minority of House members take the Constitution seriously.
Their numbers were counted on Wednesday, when Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich forced a House debate on a resolution that would have required President President to withdraw U.S. armed forces from Afghanistan by December 31, 2010.
In 2001, I joined the House in voting for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. In nearly nine years it has become clear that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force is being misinterpreted as carte blanche to circumvent Congress’ role as a coequal branch of government.
Both the Bush and the Obama administrations have cited the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force as the justification for the military escalation in Afghanistan, for holding prisoners indefinitely at Guantánamo and Bagram Air Force Base, and even for mass domestic spying of U.S. citizens in violation of our most basic constitutional principles…
As U.S. armed forces and their allies begin the first in a series of large military operations in Afghanistan, this House must be heard from. We must reclaim our Constitutional responsibility and our responsibility to the American people.
Kucinich’s view drew bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, progressives and libertarians.
But it did not draw sufficient support from a House where most members refuse, especially in matters of war and peace, to abide by the oath they swore "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic."
The House voted 356-65 to stay the course Bush set in Afghanistan.
Of the 356 members who voted to maintain the occupation, 189 were Democrats and 167 were Republicans.
Sixty-five members, including Kucinich, voted for the withdrawal resolution "directing the president pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, to remove the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan."
Sixty of the votes came from Democrats, including Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisconsin; Educations and Labor Committee chair George Miller, D-California; and Veterans Affairs Committee chair Bob Filner. (Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, a longtime critic of the Afghan occupation, was absent Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, did not vote on the measure, as is House custom.)
Five votes came from Republicans, including stalwart anti-war members such as Tennessee’s John Duncan Jr., North Carolina’s Walter Jones Jr. and Texan Ron Paul. They were joined by Tim Johnson of Illinois and John Campbell of California. On the floor, Paul demanded to know: "(Are) we going to do this for 10 more years? How long are we going to stay?"
Equally impassioned was retiring Congressman Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island, who declared: "There isn’t a soldier in this country whose laid down their lives for our nation that isn’t a hero. And no one in here disagrees with that. What is shameful is our policy that puts them in harm’s way when they don’t need to be."
Significantly, and appropriately, Kennedy also tossed a barb at the media.
Noting that press gallery was virtually empty, Kennedy observed: "we’re talking about war and peace, $3 billion, 1,000 lives and no press? No press!"
"(The) press of the United States is not covering the most significant issue of national importance and that’s the laying of lives down in (Afghanistan) for the service of our country," Kennedy roared. "It’s despicable, the national press corps right now."