With eighteen Democratic senators voting for Russ Feingold’s legislative call for withdrawal from Afghanistan, is a long and bloody end to the Afghanistan quagmire in sight? Feingold says he was "encouraged" by the May 27 vote in spite of its rejection, particularly because of support from most of the Senate’s Democratic leadership—senators Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer and Patty Murray.
Feingold noted that his amendment was only the first Senate attempt to vote on withdrawal in the decade-long war. Only thirteen senators voted for his first attempt to require a similar timetable for Iraq, "and today, a timetable is exactly what is in place in Iraq." After that first vote in 2007, the combined Senate support for either Feingold’s deadline or softer legislation by Senator Carl Levin calling for gradual withdrawal to begin, rose to majority support in 2008, under the pressure of the antiwar movement and presidential primary politics.
It is possible, therefore, to envision gradual pressure causing President Obama to accept peace talks and a withdrawal timetable as substantive additions to his current pledge to "begin" US troop withdrawals by July 2011. Currently, however, Obama is committed to a military surge in Kandahar, increasing drone and Special Operations attacks and blocking efforts by Afghan president Hamid Karzai and his national peace convention to launch talks with the Taliban.
An identical measure to Feingold’s, HR 5015 by Representative Jim McGovern, is likely to be taken up in the House in the next two weeks. McGovern’s measure has at least ninety-two co-sponsors, less than half the 218 needed for passage, but a larger peace bloc than in the Senate.
The exact language of the Feingold-McGovern measures calls for a "plan with [a] timetable" to be delivered to Congress by the president in ninety days, for "the safe, orderly and expeditious redeployment" of US armed forces from Afghanistan, including military and "security-related" contractors. The legislation allows a loophole for "information regarding variables that could alter that timetable."
The reporting requirement would be repeated every ninety days.
The contractor language requires reports and recommendations for greater oversight and "reducing" reliance on contractors and subcontractors "responsible for the deaths of Afghan civilians."
There is nothing in the legislation about Pakistan, growing drone attacks or controls on the expansion of secret warfare by American Special Operations units.
Since neither measure will pass the Democrat-controlled Congress, the stage is set for a growing battle over withdrawal through 2012, a presidential election year. There will be two more opportunities for votes over war funding during that period.
Bill Zimmerman is a longtime peace activist and political consultant based in Santa Monica with ties to several Obama campaign operatives. Zimmerman says, "Let’s hope Obama’s able to learn fast enough to do the right thing. He isn’t going to have the luxury of coasting through this period. There will be continuing crises that will provoke ongoing policy re-evaluation, so we need to keep the pressure on for withdrawal until one of those crises changes the balance of forces."