A Motley Consensus on the Afghanistan Line Item

New York Times
By JAMES DAO
April 14, 2011, 8:37 PM

It isn’t every day that liberals like Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, appear at Capitol Hill news conferences with conservative stalwarts like Representative Walter B. Jones, a Republican from North Carolina.

But the war in Afghanistan has made for some unusual bedfellows. On Thursday, the two congressmen, along with a mashup of conservative, liberal and even libertarian lawmakers and organizations found common ground in calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan.

They did not all see eye to eye on how or why the United States should get out of Afghanistan. Conservatives like Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, and Mr. Jones said they thought spending tax dollars on nation-building in Afghanistan was a waste of money. Democrats like Representatives Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, both from California, discussed investing military dollars on domestic programs.

And while some called for withdrawing all troops as soon as possible, others supported keeping as many as 20,000 American forces in the country for several years.

But there was broad agreement among the participants that the time had come to sharply reduce spending not just on the war but on the military in general.

“We can’t pay our bills here, yet we’re spending $8 billion a month in Afghanistan,” Mr. Jones said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know what our country is trying to accomplish. History says Afghanistan will never be a nation. It will be a country of tribes. We’re wearing out the troops and spending money we don’t have.”

Mr. Jones, whose district includes Camp Lejeune, the Marines Corps base, has never been a shrinking violet about supporting the military. But for more than a year, he has been outspoken in his opposition to the war in Afghanistan.

On Friday, Mr. Jones said he and Mr. McGovern planned to introduce legislation that would require the president to send Congress a plan with a timetable and completion date for handing over all military operations in Afghanistan to the Afghan government.

The goal, Mr. Jones said, would be a much faster withdrawal of American forces than currently envisioned by the Obama administration, which says it will begin a gradual drawn down of troops starting this summer and ending in 2014.

“It absolutely must be faster than 2014,” Mr. Jones said. “How many more will die or be wounded before 2014?”

Jacob Diliberto, executive director of an antiwar group, Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan, said he thought that the national focus on reducing the deficit would give added momentum to their campaign.

“It is politically savvy to support this,” said Mr. Diliberto, a former Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and who has also been an evangelical minister. “I think if a Republican is going to win in 2012, they have to raise these issues.”

Thursday’s event was organized in large part by Rethink Afghanistan, an antiwar project of the Brave New Foundation, a liberal organization. Timed to tax day on April 18, Rethink Afghanistan has created a website called Afghanistan War Tax Calculator that estimates how much of an individual’s income goes toward financing the war.

It seems unlikely that the Jones-McGovern bill has much chance of passing. But Mr. Jones said he believed that there was growing disenchantment with the war on the right. Most of the freshmen conservatives elected with Tea Party support have called for ending American involvement in the war, he said.

He also sees growing support for withdrawing American forces in his solidly conservative district. “I see a lot of active-duty Marines who tell me, ‘We will never win this war,’” he said.