This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. McGovern (D-MA) to the bill providing funding for the 2010 fiscal year for the Defense Department. The amendment would have required the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress, by December 31, 2009, describing an exit strategy for military forces in Afghanistan. Rep. McGovern began his statement in support of the amendment by noting that its language “does not demand a timeline for withdrawal or a halt to the deployment of the 21,000 additional troops called for by the President. It simply asks the administration to present its plan for (the) beginning, middle, and end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.”
McGovern said he supported the congressional commitment “to provide the necessary resources to help the Afghan people take charge of their own future. But as Congress authorizes and appropriates billions and billions of dollars for a new strategy in Afghanistan, is it too much to ask how we will know when our troops can finally come home to their families? Certainly, we need to hold the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan accountable for governing their own nations. But it is incumbent upon us in Congress to hold ourselves accountable--and before we can even do that, the administration must clearly articulate and outline how it envisions completing its military operations in Afghanistan. Eleven months into (President Obama’s) term is not too soon for that outline to be provided. We are asking the Congress be a proper check and balance. We are asking for Congress to do its job.”
Rep. Lee (D-CA), who co-sponsored the amendment, argued that “there is no military solution to the quagmire in Afghanistan. I remain convinced that the United States must develop an exit strategy in Afghanistan before further committing the United States' limited resources and military personnel deeper into Afghanistan in pursuit of an objective that may be unattainable, unrealistic, or too costly.” She noted that she originally opposed using force in Afghanistan because she feared “that given a blank check to wage war. . . this would be for an unspecified period of time, really for an unspecified mission. This blank check continues today.”
Rep. Jones (R-NC), who also co-sponsored the amendment, said: “(I)n my years in Congress, I have had many opportunities to speak to military leaders. Time after time, I heard this: To have a successful war strategy, you must have an end point. An end point is an understanding of what has to be achieved. General Petraeus, (the head of the U.S. Central Command, which includes Afghanistan) recently said, Afghanistan has been known over the years as the graveyard of empires. We cannot take that history lightly.”
Rep. Berman (D-CA), the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, opposed the amendment. He argued that “we don't have a choice but to keep the troops on the ground in Afghanistan for some period of time. The only way we can succeed in Afghanistan is to create an environment conducive to development and good governance. Our U.S. military is an essential component of that. Requiring President Obama to develop an ‘exit strategy’--only a few months after he increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and launched a new strategy--would raise questions about our commitment to the Afghan people and complicate our efforts to help them create a stable and secure nation in a way that would supersede whatever benefits we could get from the passage of this amendment.”
Rep. McKeon (R-CA), the Ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who said he was speaking for Armed Services Committee Chairman Skelton (D-MO) as well, also opposed the amendment. McKeon said it “sends the wrong signal at the wrong time for the government and people of Afghanistan, our military men and women deployed and deploying to Afghanistan, our NATO and non-NATO allies, and the enemy.”
McKeon noted that the Defense Department was opposed to the amendment. He also cited General Petraeus, and argued that Petraeus had “consistently stated it will take sustained, substantial resources to implement our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan and give our troops and the government of Afghanistan the opportunity to succeed.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 138-278. One hundred and thirty-one Democrats, including an overwhelming majority of the most progressive Members, and seven Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and sixty-four Republicans and one hundred and fourteen Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, language was not added to H.R. 2647 requiring the Defense Secretary to submit an Afghanistan exit strategy report.