One of the highlights of the Netroots convention that ended yesterday was a panel on getting out of Afghanistan that included the threat by two House Democrats to work with antiwar Republicans to undermine the Obama war program in coming weeks.
Below I'm going to provide some of the back-and-forth from that panel to convey the intensity and eloquence of that leftwing criticism, at a time when the Congressmen said that the White House is reexamining its Afghan commitment. And if you don't read everything in this dialogue-- well, be sure to read General Paul Eaton's Arlington Cemetery story 1/2 way down.
REP. JIM McGOVERN of Massachusetts: "We’re being called by the administration and being told about all these successes in Afghanistan. 'We secured this village, this [other] one'… The question is, is any of this sustainable without a prolonged military presence? Everything we do requires us to be there forever... And I wouldn’t trust the government of Afghanistan to tell me the correct time, based on their record of corruption."
STEVE CLEMONS of the New America Foundation, and leader of an Afghan Study Group, pointed out that we are spending nearly $120 billion a year in a country that has a GDP of $14 billion. Couldn't that money be better spent than on military actions? Clemons named Republicans who are making hay by questioning Afghanistan, including Michelle Bachmann, Michael Steele, Ann Coulter, Bing West (a former Reagan Defense official), Grover Norquist, and likely presidential candidate John Huntsman Jr.
The White House figured that when leftwingers abandoned them on Afghanistan, they still had the right wing. But Clemons arranged for a poll of conservatives. "Once they knew of the costs, support collapsed."
MCGOVERN. "The president still hasn’t gotten it yet."
CLEMONS: "The president could be in an LBJ position." Nixon was elected to end LBJ’s war-- a war Republicans "could blame on the incumbent president."
JOHN GARAMENDI, Democratic congressman in the Bay Area of California: "That didn’t turn out well for our team, did it-- Vietnam... If the president doesn’t move… he will face a revolution in Congress … [of] 'hell no we’re not going'… It’s coming to that.
"It's really important what Jim said: you’ve got to get the message out now, because this decision is being made in the White House now, and they’re listening. They really need to listen to their base."
CLEMONS said that all American "strategic ambitions" around the world "are stuck because we’ve created a Moby Dick in Afghanistan."
McGOVERN: "The fundamental point [is that] … the killing of Osama bin Laden has created this moment for the president to pivot. … [we need to] light a bonfire to get him to move in the right direction on this… I'm not sure that there will be another time like this… [And] this is Barack Obama’s war, he owns it. He owns it because he called for a surge.
MAJOR GENERAL PAUL EATON, warning that what he was about to say was emotional:
"On Memorial day I went to Arlington Cemetery. My father was killed in Vietnam, and in the grave next to his is a soldier recently killed in action, and there were his mom and dad, and they were doing a recording of their feelings at that moment.
"And that is an active part of Arlington, Section 60, and other families were sitting there, some in chairs, some with umbrellas. No picnicking-- picnicking is not allowed. But there was .... a mother with scissors trimming the grass around the headstone of her child...
"If I were asked, could I justify what has happened very recently to Americans who were killed in what we are talking about?… Every operation order has a Why. It’s an emotive event but really part and parcel of what we’re talking about."
DARCY BURNER, former congressional candidate, Microsoft executive, now a Netroots leader, said that if she were "going to wave my magic wand" for 2012, she would create a very short online video with General Eaton’s story of Arlington, and the fact that the Afghan war is costing us nearly $120 billion a year, and the statistics on how many teachers we are laying off this fall. Then air that video in states Obama will have to win in 2012.
"He will lose the election if the Republican candidates are calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan and progressives are calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan, and he is wrong on the issue."
GARAMENDI: "How did Barack Obama become a credible candidate? Iraq... Is Barack Obama Lyndon Johnson and is Michelle Bachmann Richard Nixon?"
McGOVERN: "We need to find more conservatives and Republicans. … Progressives in Congress [have been] cheap dates in terms of standing up on this issue… We’ve been too quiet for too long… [We can] halt the debate on the Defense Appropriations bill on this issue." When Bush was president, Republicans said they didn’t want to alienate one of their own on the Iraq war. "But that time is over for progressives… It is time to speak loudly and clearly and demand a fundamental change in this policy."
DARCY BURNER: "I am of the opinion and this is my opinion, that the fundamental human rights of every human being on this planet ought to be a priority for all of us.... And the idea that cultural differences ought to be a reason for us to deprive people of fundamental human rights… doesn’t fly with me.... How do we end the war in Afghanistan… and how do we pursue the protection of basic human rights for everyone on the planet..."
MCGOVERN: "The status quo policy is the wrong policy and it's bankrupting us, it's undermining our moral authority, it's undermining our national security interest. It's not doing anything that it is supposed to be doing."