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18 Senate Dems Tell Obama It's Time for Afghan Exit Plan | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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18 Senate Dems Tell Obama It's Time for Afghan Exit Plan

The occupation of Afghanistan, now well into its ninth year, got another big boost from the Senate before the congressional recess, in the form of strong vote in favor of a $58.8 billion supplemental war spending bill.

Roughly half the money, $30 billion, will be spent to dramatically expand and extend the Afghanistan mission.

The measure, which passed on a 67-28 vote will now be sent to a conference committee for reconciliation with the House's "emergency bill."

Once that reconciliation is complete, President Obama's plan to surge tens of thousands of additional US troops and tens of billions of additional U.S. tax dollars in Afghanistan will be complete—at least for the time being—and the pieces will be in place to turn a failed mission into a full-blown quagmire.

The circumstance is a disappointing one on almost every level.

If there is any encouragement at all to be taken from the process, it was in the fact that the almost one fifth of the Senate—including Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber—backed a proposal "to require a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan."

The amendment by Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold was defeated 80-18 on Thursday.

But Feingold was right to see a measure of progress in the increase in the amount of open support for an exit strategy. But just a measure.

"While I am disappointed it did not pass, I am encouraged by the support my Afghanistan timetable amendment received, particularly by most of the Senate Democratic leadership," said Feingold. "This amendment is the first attempt in the Senate to get an idea of when this nine-year war in Afghanistan will end. Only 13 senators supported my original attempt to require a timetable for Iraq, and today, a timetable is exactly what is in place in Iraq. I am confident that, over time, more and more members will listen to their constituents and support my efforts to require a flexible timeline for ending the Afghan war."

The 18 "yes" votes for the Feingold amendment came from the Wisconsin Democrat and Illinoisan Durbin, as well as Montana's Max Baucus, California's Barbara Boxer, Ohio's Sherrod Brown, Washington's Maria Cantwell, North Dakota's Byron Dorgan, New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, Iowa's Tom Harkin, Vermont's Patrick Leahy, Oregon's Jeff Merkley, Washington's Patty Murray, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, Montana's Jon Tester, New Mexico's Tom Udall and Oregon's Ron Wyden.

It is good to be able to run down a relatively long list of war critics—and to note that they come from the Senate caucus of the president's own party.

But as Feingold noted, not good enough.

"This amendment would have given the American people the information they deserve on when our massive, open-ended military operation in Afghanistan will end. Now, however, this supplemental will add some $30 billion more to the nearly $300 billion we’ve already spent in Afghanistan, with no end in sight," said the senator, who joined Republicans in opposing the final pork-laden supplemental legislation. "This cannot go on and is yet another reason why a flexible timetable for drawing down our troops in Afghanistan is necessary and appropriate."

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