18 Reps Call for Up-or-Down Vote on Surge. Peace Groups Target 100. Is One of These Your Rep.?

Breaking, 18 U.S. Representatives led by Jim McGovern, Barbara Lee, and Walter Jones (R-NC) have called on Speaker Pelosi to provide "the opportunity for a separate debate and up-or-down vote on the President's proposal to escalate the United States military presence in Afghanistan." The up or down vote would be stripped of bundling tactics like including unemployment benefits or, as Afterdowningstreet's David Swanson quips, funds to "save the kittens." This comes on the day a new Facebook group Stop the Surge is announcing a call campaign from now until December 24th, targeting the House members who co-signed McGovern's bill HR 2404 demanding an exit strategy, to commit to a "no" vote on escalation funding. It is feared that the additional $50 billion per year for the surge will be the "anvil" upon which any further action on domestic initiatives, such as health care reform, will be crushed.  The Facebook group states:

"The following reps have cosponsored McGovern's HR 2404 demanding an exit strategy. They know they didn't hear one in Obama's West Point speech announcing a surge of 30,000 more troops. They now need to cosponsor Lee's HR 3699 blocking the funding of the surge. No money, no surge."

The press release from Rep. Lee's office states:

"President Obama spent three months reviewing and deliberating United States strategy in Afghanistan. At the very least, Congress owes our men and women in uniform an honest debate regarding the benefits, costs, affordability, and strategic importance of a military escalation...combating terrorism around the globe will not be fulfilled by sidestepping this critical debate."

"Those of us who have signed this letter have differing views on how to move forward in Afghanistan," said Rep. Jones. "I, for example, do not believe that `doubling down' on the strategy of propping up the Karzai regime in Afghanistan is the correct strategy, but rather we should work with and through the tribal structures that have existed in the country for centuries.  We can all, however, agree that this is an issue that deserves a debate.  The American people deserve a debate on something that could so deeply affect their loved ones and their country."

Text of letter and 18 co-signers HERE. The letter signaled a return of the Legislative Branch into the decision-making process on war, reiterating the importance of Congress' role and responsibility.

This follows a speech on the House Floor by Cheney-why-don't-you-STFU Congressman Alan Grayson calling for no escalation funding.

The Facebook group strategy of targeting the 100 co-sponsors of HR 2404, mirrors film director Robert Greenwald's Rethink Afghanistan campaign, a large grassroots initiative which demands a civilian solution to a problem which, the group maintains, has no military solution and in fact can only be exacerbated by expanded military operations.  "Rethink" has spawned hundreds of Meet-ups and showings of Greenwald's film "Rethink Afghanistan" in homes and in public spaces across the country (full disclosure: I am interviewed in the film.)  

An enormously broad range of Afghan women's activists, experts both military and civilian, Afghan elders building tribal coalitions for security, and others have called the troop escalation a bad idea which will turn what is essentially an insurgency driven by hunger, starvation, and the red cape of foreign troops on Afghan soil, into a united, nationalist uprising which will only benefit the Taliban and the Karzai warlord government, not the Afghan people.  "Zoya" of the Afghan women's organization RAWA, who has conducted a US speaking tour under a disguised identity for her safety upon her return to Afghanistan has said:

"RAWA strongly believes that throwing more troops in will not solve the crisis of Afghanistan.  It will even make the situation worse than before."

Malalai Joya, the Afghan woman legislator who was thrown out of Parliament upon her criticism of "warlords" in the government, and who has already survived numerous assassination attempts, has called for US withdrawal as the wisest course, and says that the Afghan people are capable of turning on the Taliban themselves if the US would stop making them stronger by its presence:

"[If] these occupation forces leave Afghanistan and their governments leave us alone then we'll know what to do with our destiny - if they leave us a little bread and peace, because these warlords and the Taliban have no fruit among the heart of my people. My people hate them."

Chief Zazai of the Tribal Union in the Zazi valley, whose father was assassinated by Mullah Omar and who has united 11 tribes in his area as guarantors of security who pledge loyalty neither to the Taliban nor the Karzai government, says"

"To send more troops means to create more new battles, I think we have already got a few nasty fronts in the south where the British soldiers and U.S. Marines are fighting almost non-stop and of course more troops means more body bags and that itself would be an alarming sign. In Vietnam the U.S. had over half a million soldiers and still the generals were asking for more. I would suggest that Gen. McChrystal instead explore better alternatives on the ground rather than asking for more troops."

Numerous foreign policy actors have said it is a mistake to believe that there is no means of mounting a civilian assistance solution which would reach the poorest of Afghans.  Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank which finances Afghanistan's widely hailed National Solidarity Program, notes:

there are steps one can take to make corruption harder and less likely. Afghanistan's reform-minded finance ministers have taken practical steps to simplify government processes and add transparency to reduce opportunities for corruption...

Zoellick told the Washington Post:

"locally led projects are the most effective. The National Solidarity Program...empowers more than 22,000 elected, village-level councils to decide on their development priorities -- from building a school to irrigation to electrification. So far, the program has reached more than 19 million Afghans in 34 provinces, with grants averaging $33,000. Development owned by the community can survive amid conflict: When an NSP-funded school was attacked in August 2006, the villagers defended it."

And in a remarkable Boston Review article by journalist Nir Rosen, Rosen concludes:

"Afghanistan should have been easier. Eight years after overthrowing the Taliban--the world's most detested and backward regime, which provided no service to its people--the United States has restored many brutal warlords the Taliban expelled. The authority the United States established is a failure, corrupt and brutal. Americans and their allies manage to kill innocent civilians, and the Taliban have once again become attractive to many Afghans. A few tens of thousands of troops will not turn things around."

Rethinkafghanistan and the Facebook "Defund the Surge" are asking citizens to call the following congressmembers, who have demanded an exit strategy, rather than the open-ended commitment "subject to conditions on the ground" which President Obama described in his West Point speech. Calls from constituents are most effective.  Is your congressman one of these?  Then you have power.  Let's give our young brothers and sisters in uniform  the best Christmas ever.  "Merry Christmas, trooper.  You're not going to Afghanistan."

Representative     District     Phone

Bartlett, Roscoe G.   MD-6   202-225-2721

Berkley, Shelley    NV-1    202-225-5965

Berry, Marion    AR-1   202-225-4076

Bishop, Timothy H.   NY-1   202-225-3826

Braley, Bruce L.   IA-1   202-225-2911

Carson, Andre   IN-7   202-225-4011

Christensen, Donna M.  VI   202-225-1790

Clay, Wm. Lacy   MO-1   202-225-2406

Cleaver, Emanuel    MO-5   202-225-4535

Costello, Jerry F.   IL-12   202-225-5661

Davis, Danny K.   IL-7   202-225-5006

DeFazio, Peter A.   OR-4   202-225-6416

Delahunt, William D.   MA-10   202-225-3111

Doggett, Lloyd   TX-25   202-225-4865

Duncan, John J.   TN-2   202-225-5435

Farr, Sam   CA-17    202-225-2861

Fattah, Chaka   PA-2   202-225-4001

Fudge, Marcia L.   OH-11  202-225-7032

Gutierrez, Luis V.   IL-4   202-225-8203

Hare, Phil   IL-17   202-225-5905

Harman, Jane  CA-36   202-225-8220

Hastings, Alcee L.  FL-23  202-225-1313

Himes, James A.  CT-4   202-225-5541

Hodes, Paul W.  NH-2    202-225-5206

Holt, Rush D.  NJ-12  202-225-5801

Honda, Michael M.  CA-15  202-225-2631

Jackson, Jesse L.  IL-2  202-225-0773

Kagen, Steve  WI-8  202-225-5665

Kaptur, Marcy  OH-9  202-225-4146

Kilpatrick, Carolyn C.  MI-13  202-225-2261

Kilroy, Mary Jo  OH-15  202-225-2015

Lewis, John  GA-5  202-225-3801

Loebsack, David  IA-2  202-225-6576

Lujan, Ben Ray  NM-3  202-225-6190

Maloney, Carolyn  NY-14  202-225-7944

Matsui, Doris O.  CA-5  202-225-7163

Michaud, Michael H.  ME-2  202-225-6306

Moore, Gwen  WI-4  202-225-4572

Napolitano, Grace F.  CA-38  202-225-5256

Oberstar, James L.  MN-8   202-225-6211

Olver, John W.  MA-1  202-225-5335

Pastor, Ed  AZ-4  202-225-4065

Pingree, Chellie  ME-1   202-225-6116

Polis, Jared  CO-2   202-225-2161

Price, David E.  NC-4  202-225-1784

Richardson, Laura  CA-37  202-225-7924

Rohrabacher, Dana  CA-46  202-225-2415

Rothman, Steven R.  NJ-9  202-225-5061

Rush, Bobby L.  IL-1  202-225-4372

Ryan, Tim   OH-17  202-225-5261

Schakowsky, Janice D.  IL-9  202-225-2111

Schrader, Kurt  OR-5  202-225-5711

Serrano, Jose E.  NY-16  202-225-4361

Sestak, Joe  PA-7  202-225-2011

Shea-Porter, Carol  NH-1  202-225-5456

Slaughter, Louise McIntosh  NY-28  202-225-3615

Space, Zachary T.  OH-18  202-225-6265

Speier, Jackie  CA-12  202-225-3531

Spratt, John M. Jr.  SC-5  202-225-5501

Stearns, Cliff  FL-6  202-225-5744

Stupak, Bart  MI-1  202-225-4735

Sullivan, John  OK-1  202-225-2211

Sutton, Betty  OH-13  202-225-3401

Thompson, Bennie G.  MS-2   202-225-5876

Thompson, Mike   CA-1  202-225-3311

Tierney, John F.   MA-6  202-225-8020

Tsongas, Niki  MA-5  202-225-3411

Walz, Timothy J.  MN-1  202-225-2472

Waxman, Henry A.  CA-30  202-225-3976

Welch, Peter  VT  202-225-4115

Whitfield, Ed  KY-1  202-225-3115

Woolsey, Lynn C.  CA-6  202-225-5161

Wu, David  OR-1  202-225-0855

Yarmuth, John A.   KY-3  202-225-5401   


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Obama Making the Taliban Shadow Into the Real Thing

As Afghanistan experts in NGOs which actually work among the people frantically try to tell Obama that he is making a big, big, mistake, the arrival of the first of 17,000 more American troops has already borne fruit.  It has managed to unite different factions of Taliban under the banner of Mullah Omar, who a month ago was wondering how to stay alive day-to-day against Predator strikes on one hand and radical young Taliban commanders who would like to take his place on the other.  Obama single-handedly solved many of his problems.  The UK Guardian:

three rival Pakistani Taliban groups have agreed to fight together against international troops in Afghanistan. The pact occurred after Mullah Omar, the cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, called for all militants fighting in Pakistan to stop and come to Afghanistan to "liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces." The united group is calling itself Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen, or Council of United Holy Warriors.

Most of the "Taliban" rank-and-file in Afghanistan currently consists of 19-year-old kids who stash their weapons under rocks until some Americans come around, which gives them the chance to fight and make a few bucks.

The Obama plan is missing the forest for the trees, as do almost all present discussions of the insurgency. The West cannot understand that you cannot have 50% of children stunted through malnutrition, a 40% unemployment rate, no alternative to growing poppies as a means to feed your family, and foreign troops on the ground as a nice big red flag and not have an insurgency.

They don't need a hundred more civilian engineers looking for places to build bridges.  Spend $5 billion on indigenous jobs clearing canals and digging ditches for water pipeline, and your problem goes away, with all due respect to regional "no peace without Pakistan" analysis. The West is throwing away its most potent tool: most Afghans hate the Taliban. But a few months of killing these kids, whose crime is to want to feed their families, along with the inevitable civilian casualties and an atrocity or two, and by God now you've got a shooting war with real legs.  As in, quagmire.

Film-maker Robert Greenwald, on a recent trip to Afghanistan for his project "Rethink Afghanistan" caught up with about 20 men who were turning in their weapons and leaving the Taliban. He wrote in his blog:
Within a few minutes I was engaged in interviewing, talking, and asking the various Taliban how long they had been fighting (from 2-30 years), why they fought, what they wanted to say to the United States, and what they wanted in general (jobs and to take care of their families).

American forces should decline to chase the "Taliban" across the countryside, and aim their guns outward to protect Afghan work-crews. If I were on a road crew leveling ground with a shovel and laying gravel, I would feel real safe with a company of Marines looking outwards around me.  The Pakistan Taliban/Al Qaeda problem? Pakistani Pashtuns will likely start slipping across the border to get in on the jobs action.

Day-labor-for-cash jobs, $5 a day, 500,000 of them. No chasing Taliban. Problem solved, we go home in a year.

Fighting the "Taliban" shadow will only generate the hatred necessary to turn this into a genuinely nationalistic, ideology-driven conflict. With fewer desperate, angry young recruits to wear suicide vests, Taliban commanders and ideologues sit twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring. Now NGOs, area experts, and I know how Cassandra felt. Please, Mr. President, there is still time to correct course.

Afghanistan may never have a true central government. They have the Loya Jirga. The political goal should be to negotiate neutrality toward the West among all factions, and an inter-factional peace enforced with 90% carrots and 10% sticks. You may never stop Afghans from fighting each other. That's what Afghans do. But gradually warlordism will give way to a younger, better educated generation who will leave that behind and discover better ways to live life.


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Iraqis Pay as the "Surge" Explodes in McCain’s Face

McCain's efforts to seize credit for Monday's failed bailout agreement appears to be just one symptom of McCain's chronic reflex to steal credit for doomed efforts. Like Monday's bailout agreement, McCain used his "surge" support to heap credit and praise upon himself for a decrease in Iraqi violence. In reality, the US's Sunni allies are primarily responsible for the descrease in conflict, and, like the bailout, if they fail, McCain looks like a fool. And the news from Iraq indicates that might just happen:

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The Surge Is Working

Let's just stop for a moment and parrot what mccain, palin and the repubs say - "the surge is working" (actually it should be called the escalation).

Now why don't the Democrats and Obama/Biden try responding with something like this...

"Ok, let's say that the surge or escalation is working.

Is the surge working because al-sadr decided he wanted to be an ayotollah, told his army to stand down and took off to Iran for training and schooling?

Is the surge working because we are paying off militant groups to stand down?

Is the surge working because some Iraqis have had enough and are standing their ground?

We know our troops are part of the reason the surge or escalation is working, but is the surge why we went into an unjust and illegal war?

Does anybody remember the reasons why we went to war in Iraq?

Was it WMD? Was it terrorism? Was it to track down the killers and planners of 9/11? Was it to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here?

Or... was it so that we can have a successful Surge?

What is the reason, this month, for over 4,000 of our brave United States soldiers being killed?

What is the reason, this month, for over 30,000 of our brave United States soldiers being wounded, maimed and disfigured?

What is the reason, this month, for the trauma and PTSD suffered by the tens of thousands of our brave United States soldiers?

What is the reason, this month, for the death of some of our brave United States soldiers that feel their only escape is suicide?

What is the reason, this month, for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians?

What is the reason for all of this needless death, destruction and suffering....?

What is the reason for the Surge or escalation?

It does not matter if we disagree on if the surge or escalation is working or why, what matters is WHY do we need this surge in the first place.

What Is The Reason for This WAR in Iraq?!"

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Angry, Controversy-Laden Diatribe Inside

Iraq was feeling good. He had finally rid himself of the dreaded Saddamlophocus infection, his WMD levels were amazingly low, and his Violence Eruptus had stopped flaring up. Best of all, though, he was finally going to have that reconstruction he had been waiting for since 2003.

Yes, it was lucky times for Iraq:

The month's Iraqi civilian toll, though harder to count and still wretchedly high, will also be one of the lowest since the insurgency got going in 2004; some 500-odd violent civilian deaths were reported in July, compared with a tally of 3,700 at the height of sectarian mayhem two years ago. Irrespective of the different plans of the two American presidential candidates, a reduction of American troop numbers is also happening steadily, from 171,000 in October to 145,000 at last blush. At the same time, the size of the Iraqi forces is creeping up, from 115,000 two years ago to 229,000 today. This week the province of Kadisiya, south of Baghdad, became the tenth out of 18 to come under Iraqi, rather than American, operational command.

The Iraqi army, alongside the Americans, recently began a big push against al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in the mixed-sect Diyala province, perhaps now the bloodiest, just north-east of Baghdad. Basra and Anbar provinces, in turmoil a year and a half ago, are quiet. The city of Mosul, a bloody trouble spot earlier this year, is still sharply divided, mainly between Sunnis to the west of the Tigris river and Kurds to the east, but is broadly coming under state control. Autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan remains calm and increasingly prosperous.

Iraq had been enjoying these sunny days ever since his first appointment with Dr. McCain. Despite his recent luck, though, he was plagued by a nagging concern. It was the reason he went to see Dr. McCain in the first place:

Yet political progress, though it quickened earlier this year under the tightening grip of the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has not matched the improvements in security. Indeed, as the burning-hot summer holiday begins (parliament is about to go into recess), to be followed by the fasting month of Ramadan that will last throughout September, there is a worrying risk that the politicians will again muff their chance to make a breakthrough towards a real accommodation between Iraq's competing sects and groups.

An oil law has still not been passed that would allow for much-needed investment and should enable the Kurds to have a measure of control over management and exploration contracts in their area. But the worst recent hiccup is over a provincial elections bill that was all but agreed; it is crucial for bringing the hitherto disaffected Sunni Arabs back into the peaceful political arena by empowering them in local government in areas where they predominate, through elections originally due to be held in the autumn but now likelier in January at the earliest. This week, thanks partly to the Turkmen of Kirkuk overreaching themselves at the behest of their Turkish sponsors, the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd, felt obliged to veto a bill with some last-minute changes to it.

You see, a few years ago, Iraq was diagnosed with Politico Reconcilitis. The disease first manifested itself with an odd symptom--a purple finger. Frightened, Iraq was determined to find the right doctor. Dr. McCain proclaimed expert knowledge, and he brought a passion to the illness that was almost scary. Iraq thought to himself:

The Blue Cross Blue Shield provider booklet pulls through in the clutch once again!

After mulling Iraq's treatment options for tens of seconds, Dr. McCain prescribed a moderate dose of Surgécil. This experimental drug was in clinical trials to validate its safety and effectiveness for treating Politico Reconcilitis. The drug had previously been approved to treat Violence Eruptus.

A few months after his initial visit, Iraq returned to Dr. McCain for a follow-up. Not surprisingly, his chronic Violence Eruptus had disappeared, but the Politico Reconcilitis was as bad as ever. Although the drug failed to alleviate Iraq's Politico Reconcilitis, Dr. McCain instructed him to stay the course and continue taking it as originally prescribed. As a self-appointed expert in the disease, Dr. McCain was strict in his orders to avoid alternative treatments.

In Iraq's patient file, Dr. McCain scribbled the following:

It's an inconvenient truth for the Obama campaign that the progress in Iraq is not merely reflected in a dramatic decline in violence (most evidenced by the total absence of stories on last month's casualty figures on liberal blogs and in paper's across the country), but also in reconciliation at the national level. Again, part of the problem may stem from Obama's long absence from Iraq, which requires him to rely on the counsel of staffers like Rice more extensively than someone who has military experience and who has been in theater. But it is deeply troubling that those advisors refuse to acknowledge the changing conditions in Iraq.

After many months (and many more assurances that the Surgécil was working), the disease persisted. Iraq was finally ready for a second opinion.

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