Bid to End Afghan War Funding Hits GOP Roadblock

February 22nd, 2011 - by admin

Carolyn Lochhead / San Francisco Chronicle & Robert Dreyfuss / The Nation – 2011-02-22 23:41:24

Bid to End Afghan War Funding Hits GOP Roadblock
Carolyn Lochhead / San Francisco Chronicle

WASHINGTON (February 22, 2011) — Amid a battle in the House over how to cut billions in spending, liberal Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland joined conservative Republicans Ron Paul of Texas and Walter Jones of North Carolina last week on a bill that could save more than $100 billion a year by ending the war in Afghanistan.

But they confront an even stranger coalition that opposes a quick pullout: President Obama and most of the 87 newly elected House Republicans, many of whom are backed by the Tea Party.

A test vote on Jones’ amendment to a House bill to fund the government for the rest of the year would have stripped $400 million from a new fund to build Afghanistan’s infrastructure. It failed, with support from 36 Republicans, including just a handful of freshmen.

At the same time, most Republicans backed amendments to slash a wide array of domestic programs, including U.S. infrastructure such as water, air traffic and rail projects. The war will cost an estimated $116 billion this year, nearly twice what Republicans hope to save through deep cuts in domestic programs.

Most Republicans, including newcomers who joined the successful effort to eliminate $450 million for a second engine for the F-35 fighter plane, voted to support the Afghan infrastructure fund.

“It’s possible — possible — that there are 10 to 20 (new GOP members) who we believe could be with us, with the right individual talking to them, who could possibly join us in bringing troops out,” Jones said. “The older members are locked in with the leadership on the Republican side and want to keep the troops over there, so there’s not much hope there. But we do have some potential with 10 to 20 Tea Party types, and we’ll be working with those people.”

Paul was more pessimistic. “We don’t have any money to do infrastructure in this country,” Paul said. “That vote wasn’t very encouraging. We have a long way to go.”

Public Increasingly Opposed
Since Obama escalated the war in 2009, bringing troop levels to more than 100,000, public opinion has increasingly soured, according to many polls. A recent CBS News poll showed 72 percent of the public favors a faster withdrawal; while a Gallup/USA Today poll this month showed majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans favoring a speedier pullout.

The war in Afghanistan, now in its 10th year, is longer than any war in U.S. history. Obama has promised to start withdrawing troops this summer, but Pentagon officials have warned against moving too fast.

Lee was the only member of the House who voted against the authorization of the use of force in Afghanistan on Sept. 14, 2001 — three days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

“If you had told the American people we would still be in Afghanistan a decade later, perhaps there would have been a more thorough debate of that fateful vote less than a week after 9/11,” Lee said. “It was a very difficult decision, but I voted against it, because I knew it would be a blank check to wage war anytime, anywhere, against any country, organization or individual. It was very open-ended. And my worst fears have really haunted me going back to that day.”

The GOP, once all but united on higher military spending and continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has begun to splinter between its neoconservative wing, which dominated during the George W. Bush administration, and the small-government, libertarian wing that has strong roots in the Tea Party movement.

Several leaders influential with the Tea Party, including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, have urged Republicans to scrutinize military spending and rethink support of the wars.

“There is not a grand consensus yet in the countryside” to withdraw, Paul said. “People are too complacent and too willing to go along to get along and just let this continue.”

‘Interventionist Attitude’
Paul blamed neoconservatives for generating the policy justifications for both conflicts, which he described as “a desire to remake the Middle East” and an “interventionist attitude that we have a moral obligation to promote ourselves and our so-called goodness around the world.”

He said he shared the idea of “American exceptionalism” embraced by many in the Tea Party, but said it should be expressed by “example and persuasion” rather than trying to plant democracy by military force in other countries.

In last week’s marathon House debate, efforts by Democrats to kill the V-22 Osprey aircraft, plagued by cost overruns, was easily defeated despite the vote to kill the F-35’s second engine.

Jones, whose district includes the huge Camp Lejeune Marine base, said troops come back from the front frustrated, and he warned that the conflict “is breaking the military.” He said he has been consulting with a retired high-ranking US general, whom he would not name, who told him that it makes no difference whether the United States stays in Afghanistan four years or 40 years.

“We are trying to take a country that’s never had a national government and make them a democracy,” Jones said. “It just doesn’t work.”

(c) 2011 Hearst Communications Inc.

GOP Fires at the Pentagon
Robert Dreyfuss / The Nation

NEW YORK (January 27, 2011) — In 2001, in a profile of Grover Norquist I wrote for The Nation, the conservative activist and president of Americans for Tax Reform proclaimed that he’d like to shrink the government “down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” It now appears that Norquist — with a growing alliance of libertarians, deficit hawks and traditional old-style conservatives — wants to make sure the Pentagon and its generals end up in that bathtub, too.

For years only a hardy band of liberals in Congress — the Progressive Caucus, the Black Caucus and individuals like Representative Barney Frank — challenged the bloated military budget. The Republicans, ignoring President Eisenhower’s warning fifty years ago about the military-industrial complex, always gave the Pentagon what it wanted and more, gleefully bashing Democrats as weak-kneed on national security.

Since the fall, however, a civil war of sorts has broken out among Republicans over defense, with the dissident faction led by Norquist, the libertarian Cato Institute and a growing group of allies, including some factions of the rambunctious Tea Party movement, backing significant cuts.

According to a well-known conservative activist, in early January House majority leader Eric Cantor quietly circulated to the entire GOP caucus a letter organized by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) that called for the Pentagon’s budget to be put on the chopping block. “We write to urge you to institute principled spending reform that rejects the notion that spending cuts can be avoided in certain parts of the federal budget,” said the letter, written in November to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and incoming House Speaker John Boehner. “Department of Defense spending, in particular, has been provided protected status that has isolated it from serious scrutiny.”

The letter was signed by twenty-three people, a Who’s Who of the conservative movement, including Norquist, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, Cato’s Christopher Preble, Richard Viguerie, Al Regnery of The American Spectator and many others. Also signing were Lisa Miller of Tea Party WDC and Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, the pro–Tea Party organization led by former House majority leader Dick Armey. That Cantor, who has advocated cutting the military budget, sent ATR’s letter around was seen as a shot across the bow of Republicans who consider that budget a “sacred cow,” as ATR called it.

On January 19 more than 150 Congressional staffers and experts packed a Capitol Hill forum sponsored by Cato at which Norquist and Preble laid out the conservative case for slashing military spending. Preble, with Ben Friedman of Cato, outlined a series of cuts that go far beyond what Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Obama administration have proposed, identifying more than $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade — about a fifth of overall Pentagon spending.

“When the Soviet Union disappeared,” said Norquist wryly, “a lot of people on the right failed to notice.” Referring to George W. Bush’s support for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for greater military spending, Norquist said too many Republicans support feeding the Pentagon’s appetite “just because Fearless Leader said it’s a good idea.”

Instead, Norquist called for a debate among Republicans over Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, asking, “What are we doing? Why are we there? How long do we plan to be there?” A week earlier, speaking at a dinner organized by Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, Norquist cited polling data to support his view that, if debated, pro-war neoconservatives and hawks would lose the argument. “I’m confident about where that conversation would go,” he said. “I think the people who are against that conversation know where it would go, too.”

Since the fall, a coalition of hawks calling itself Defending Defense has assembled to challenge the dissidents. It’s represented most vociferously by an ad hoc alliance of think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Foreign Policy Initiative (home to William Kristol of The Weekly Standard), an updated version of the Project for a New American Century.

In a September Washington Post op-ed, AEI’s Danielle Pletka and Thomas Donnelly described the issue as “nothing less than a fight for the soul of conservatism,” blasting “Libertarians and Tea Party darlings” along with GOP Senator Tom Coburn, who championed hefty military cuts.

In February, the budget wars will begin in earnest on Capitol Hill. Liberal Democrats who want to downsize the military may find it tough to persuade mainstream Democrats to challenge Obama and Gates, and they’ll welcome support from deficit-minded Republicans and the incoming class of Tea Party types. Let’s hope they find it.

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