WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives rejected a resolution Wednesday that called on President Barack Obama to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by year's end.
However, the 65 to 356 vote highlighted the willingness of liberal Democrats to abandon the president on a major issue even as important votes loom on health care, and signaled that many in his party are weary of waging war.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gave Democrats the freedom to vote their conscience on the resolution rather than muscling them to back Obama's war policy. In the end, 60 Democrats and five Republicans voted for the resolution while 189 Democrats and 167 Republicans voted against it.
"If the leadership didn't want this debate, we wouldn't be here, there was no pushback," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. "This debate here today, more than the vote, (was) to express to the White House that there is concern — we need to talk about clarity, about when our military contribution to the political solution comes to an end."
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, introduced the resolution, with the backing of other liberals who are angry with Obama for doubling down in Afghanistan after assuming what they thought was an anti-war posture during the 2008 presidential campaign.
While Obama was the preferred major presidential candidate of many antiwar advocates, he never ran as an antiwar candidate regarding Afghanistan. He ran pledging to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq, but always with the caveat that he would dedicate more resources to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a country where the Taliban harbored al Qaida prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The resolution called on Obama to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan within 30 days, or by year's end if it was determined that trying to get out within a month was too dangerous. Obama has said he wants to start bringing U.S. troops home in July 2011, but hasn't set a final exit date.
In an almost four-hour debate, liberal Democrats, joined by a few conservative Republicans, maintained that Obama, following former President George W. Bush, is waging an expensive, open-ended war without a clear strategy or criteria for victory.
"I'm not convinced the United States and its allies can end the 35-year civil war in Afghanistan, nor is that our responsibility," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. "We should not use our troops to prop up a corrupt government. It's simply not justifiable to sacrifice more money and more lives on this war. We must rethink our policy. If we do not we are doomed to failure and further loss of American lives."
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, echoed Nadler's sentiments and took them a step further.
"This war is an illegal war, this is an immoral war, this is an unconstitutional war," Paul said. "Are we going to do it for 10 more years? How long are we going to stay?"
Supporters of the war, however, including Republicans who routinely oppose Obama on nearly everything, countered that Congress shouldn't meddle in Afghanistan just as Obama's surge policy appears to be working. They cited the Marines recent taking of a Taliban stronghold in Marjah as an example.
"Now is not the time to turn our back on the Afghan people," Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said. "It is not the time to counter the mission of our troops, especially when they are engaged in the first major offensive of President Obama's reaffirmed counterinsurgency strategy."
Even Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who shouted "You lie!" at Obama as he addressed a joint session of Congress in September, spoke supportively of Obama's Afghanistan policy.
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, gently scolded supporters of the resolution.
"After eight long years, we finally have a strategy for success in Afghanistan," he said. "Success is not guaranteed in this mission. But passing this irresponsible resolution guarantees failure in Afghanistan and poses a serious risk that we will once again face the same situation that existed on September 10, 2001."
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