By Congressman Peter DeFazio
Thank you for contacting me about the 2009 Iraq/Afghanistan Defense Supplemental Appropriations bill. This bill provides $96.7 billion, 87% of which would be to cover costs relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the rest of this fiscal year. I voted for these funds because I chose to give President Obama time to implement his Afghanistan strategy and withdraw troops from Iraq. But it was not an easy decision.
Obama Erred on Afghanistan
The war in Afghanistan has entered its eighth year without clearly defined objectives and an exit strategy. With a deteriorating security situation and no comprehensive political outcome yet in sight, some experts view the war in Afghanistan as open-ended. Had the Bush administration not shifted its focus to the unnecessary war in Iraq, we may have already brought Al Qaeda and the Taliban to justice. I believe President Obama made an error by ordering an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan before first completing a detailed review of U.S. Afghanistan polices. Continuing the vaguely defined strategies of the Bush administration is not acceptable.
The President did finally lay out a strategy for Afghanistan in late March of this year. It made some significant improvements to the Afghanistan strategy, but fell short in other areas. For example, I was pleased to see a regional approach, “treating Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries but one challenge,” and a commitment to “devote significantly more resources to the civilian efforts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.” These are significant improvements over the Bush administration’s approach.
Unfortunately, the President’s new Afghan strategy fails to set clear benchmarks for the Afghanistan and Pakistan governments and fails to lay out the consequences of not meeting the benchmarks. It is not surprising that the President has also failed to set benchmarks for the Pentagon and State Department too.
Supplemental Bill is the Fix
Thankfully, the supplemental bill lays out detailed benchmarks for Afghanistan and Pakistan and the President must report back to Congress on the:
- Level of political consensus and unity of purpose across ethnic, tribal, religious and party affiliations to confront the political and security challenges facing the region.
- Level of government corruption and actions taken to eliminate it.
- Performance of the respective security forces in developing a counter-insurgency capability, conducting counter-insurgency operations and establishing population security.
- Performance of the respective intelligence agencies in cooperating with the United States on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations and in purging themselves of policies, programs and personnel that pro vide material support to extremist networks that target U.S. troops or undermine U.S. objectives in the region.
- Ability of the Afghan and Pakistani governments to effectively control the territory within their respective borders.
“Unwinnable” War Now Obama’s
In addition, I am an original co-sponsor of the McGovern bill that simply states, “Not later than December 31, 2009, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress a report outlining the United States exit strategy for United States military forces in Afghanistan participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.” I firmly believe that the Unites States is best served by outlining a clear exit strategy that the American public can support and that the Afghani public can be reassured that we have no long-term desire to occupy their nation.
Unfortunately, President Bush’s disregard for the complexities of Afghanistan and the damage that came from his disregard may make this war unwinnable. We also must not forget that the Soviet military, with over a hundred thousand troops on theground, lost decisively in Afghanistan. Today, our troops are fighting some of the very same warlords who defeated the Soviets with our covert support.
As you may know, Secretary of Defense Bill Gates [sic], removed the commanding general of Afghanistan in a bid to change the on-the-ground strategy in Afghanistan. With a new White House strategy, a new commanding general and 21,000 additional troops, I believe this is now President Obama’s war.
The bill also funds the continued presence of our troops in Iraq. Despite the continued bursts of violence in Iraq, I am thankful the President has committed to a responsible redeployment of troops out of Iraq. This bill recognizes and supports President Obama’s plan to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by August 31, 2010 and all U.S. military forces by December 31, 2011. The bill continues toprohibit the construction of any base for the permanent stationing of U.S. forces in Iraq and U.S. control over any oil resource of Iraq. To ensure accountability, the bill directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress every 90 days that includes:
- How the Government of Iraq is assuming responsibility for reconciliation initiatives;
- How the draw down of military forces complies with the President’s timeline; and
- The roles and responsibilities of remaining contractors in Iraq as the U.S. mission evolves.
Good Things in the Bill
The bill does some very good things besides funding wars for Afghanistan and Iraq. I am very supportive of the $734 million for additional pay for more than 170,000 troops who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since Sept. 11, 2001. These funds allow for payments of $500 per month for every month a soldier was held on active duty under “stop-loss” orders. The average payment should be above $4,000. Stop loss orders were used by the Bush administration to avoid tough decisions on deployment and troop increases, creating a de facto draft for current soldiers. These payments are a good step to honor the sacrifice unfairly asked of these brave men and women.
I also support some of the foreign aid in the bill. The $665 million for bilateral economic, humanitarian, and security assistance for the West Bank and Gaza represents an important commitment to the Middle East peace process. In addition, the bill includes $837 million for United Nations peacekeeping operations, including an expanded mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a new mission in Chad and the Central African Republic. Finally, the bill includes $500 million for international food assistance to alleviate suffering during the global economic crisis.
Unfortunately, the bill has some extraneous provisions I find objectionable. The bill spends $23 billion, a 14% increase over the President’s request, on new weapon systems. For example, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle will receive 45% more than President Obama requested, the C-17 is scheduled to get $2.2 billion of unrequested dollars, and armed Predator drones will get a 56% increase over the President’s request. I am supportive of replacing worn equipment, but I believe these increases are excessive spending not really needed for the troops. I am hopeful the Senate will strip out this extraneous spending. Φ
Congressman Peter DeFazio represents Oregon’s 4th Congressional district. This was written after the first House vote and before DeFazio voted for the final version of the Supplemental Appropriations bill.
Photo courtesy of: upload.wikimedia.org.