An Exit Strategy That Keeps Wars Going

By David Swanson

If George Orwell could see this he’d probably curse himself for not having thought of it. We are apparently about to see wars perpetuated by an exit strategy. How is this possible?

Well, the way Congress actually ends wars, the “exit strategy” that forces the troops and mercenaries to exit, is this one: you stop funding the wars. That’s what works. That’s what the Constitution foresaw. But nowadays we talk about crafting “exit strategies” while funding the continuation of wars. We even do so when the exit strategy is nothing but a one-sentence wish to someday have an exit strategy. And we even do so when the act of supporting a ridiculous “exit strategy” serves as cover for voting Yes on more war money.

A few things happened on Capitol Hill on Monday. First, it became clear that the Democratic Party (Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi) could not find the votes to pass $97 billion in war funding. Republicans were all opposing the bill because of IMF funding that had been added, and enough Democrats were opposing the IMF funding, the war funding, or both.

Second, and other large organizations let it be known that they planned to encourage their members on Tuesday to urge Congress members to sign onto a bill introduced by Congressman Jim McGovern that reads in its entirety:

“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.”

The exit strategy to satisfy this bill could consist of a plan to redeploy troops to Iran in 2015. It could be anything. McGovern had tried to have this language included as an amendment to the war supplemental, but had been turned down. No doubt the Democratic leadership on Monday was beginning to wonder whether letting this harmless amendment be included would have bought them some needed votes. Already on Monday Congress members were beginning to claim they were justified in planning to vote Yes for the war money because they were cosponsoring McGovern’s bill.

And MoveOn’s timing, together with other organizations in the Win Without War coalition, was telling. Because many members of these groups oppose the war and have complained about their organizations’ silence on the supplemental vote, the organizations’ leaders chose the moment of the war vote to propose something else that might at least look like a halfway step. In reality, however, it may turn out to be counterproductive — a development that would please Pelosi and Emanuel.

Third, after having opposed the war supplemental for weeks, having committed two years ago not to fund wars, having recorded a video a few days ago denouncing this bill and committing to voting against it, on Monday Congressman McGovern decided to vote Yes, according to Congress Daily.

The report may have been wrong. Or it may have been a test by McGovern, and he may claim it was a misunderstanding if he takes too much heat for it. (For example, people might phone his office at 202-225-6101 on Tuesday morning and ask him to explain himself. There would certainly be no way I could stop people who were inclined to do that.)

But assuming the report is right and that McGovern will vote Yes to fund wars and the IMF, and do so less than a week after taping a video advocating the opposite approach, then the question must be asked: what did the Democratic Party threaten him with or promise him?

Here’s my guess: they told him that his exit-strategy bill would be brought to the floor for a vote if he voted yes on the war money. If this happened, he could have calculated that any blockage of the war money would be temporary and that he should go ahead and cave in now if it allowed him to negotiate something, even a doomed vote on a toothless piece of rhetoric.

If I’m guessing right, then an exit strategy has already prevented one key member from supporting an actual exit. But McGovern may not be the only defector. Others may have similar plans. Even if this guess is wrong about how McGovern was bought off, it is very likely that other Congress members will cosponsor McGovern’s bill and then vote Yes for the war money, claiming that a toothless, pointless, exit-strategy bill redeems their votes to fund the continuation and escalation of war.

Thus would an exit strategy succeed in keeping wars going.

By Wednesday I hope to report that all of this is completely mistaken, Jim McGovern stands firmly for peace, and over 40 principled Democrats stand with him.