Merkley pushes for faster withdrawal from Afghanistan

Carla Axtman

This is why we sent Jeff Merkley to the U.S. Senate: epic common sense.

Charles Pope, The Oregonian:

The Senate on Wednesday urged the White House to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The message was sent through an amendment written by Oregon Democrat Sen. Jeff Merkley that passed the chamber by voice vote.

The easy - and anti-climatic - passage of a question that has historically triggered fierce debates and taut votes occurred because Merkley's provision is not binding.

Instead, it requires the White House to simply "study" options for bringing troops home sooner than the current schedule and report back to Congress. The current schedule, which itself remains controversial, calls for the U.S. to terminate full-scale involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Even with the non-binding nature of the amendment, John McCain used the opportunity to demonstrate why he lost the Presidency:

"Is it required that it be implemented by Congress or is it a nice informational, notional kind of thing?" McCain said, adding that senior commanders including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have testified that they would prefer more time and troops than included in the 2014 plan.

Merkley said his measure would rely on advice from those same commanders.

But McCain was dismissive. "So now the president shall devise a plan based on input from military commanders. I can tell the senator what the input is. ... All you have to is pick up the phone and ask them. You don't have to have an amendment."

But Merkley said the mission has changed, from fighting terror to nation building. And that while the U.S. was successful on the first, it is likely to fail on the second.

"Destroying al-Qaida ... and building a modern nation state where none has ever existed are two entirely different things," he said.

The military commanders are taking their orders from the President, not the other way around. If we're done destroying al-Qaida, then it's time for us to go. If McCain wants to do nation building, he can advocate for raising taxes and get the American people to sign off on it.

More on this from Merkley himself, at Daily Kos.

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    I give him a lot of credit for actually caring enough to get his own information and make his own decisions. He came out to visit Kabul while I was deployed there and we managed to go running together at the Embassy (around and around and around). Unlike most of the politicians that come through, he was genuinely interested and open-minded, not just grandstanding.

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    I'll add one thing. McCain may have been throwing a tantrum on the floor, but he didn't force a vote on the issue.

    That tells us that the Republicans have figured out that this issue is a loser for them. They don't want to be on record supporting longer troop deployments for an engagement that doesn't have a mission.

    We've won the political argument, folks. And Jeff Merkley just proved it.

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    Credit to Sen. Merkley for putting this "on the table" of discussion. Let us remember, though, that even with the "total" pullout of US troops from Iraq (as was forced by the Iraqi government), the US will still have 16K personnel at the humongous embassy in Baghdad (1/2 of these personnel to be private-contractor mercenaries). And, with the pullout from Afghan, will the US still be doing the drone attacks? So, in conclusion, let us support the Merkley amendment and all other ways that will force the US to curtail the overseas involvements. And, let us hope Imran Khan will be electyed PM in Pak in 2013, as he would force the US to stop drone attacks in his country.

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    Regardless of whether drone strikes should be continued as policy or not, how could any Pakistani force our forces to stop using drone attacks considering our disproportionate military strength and our billions in aid that flow into the country?

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    @Marshall: all the Pakistanis would have to do is quit accepting the US money and say they are no longer cooperating with the effort. And, if it came down to it, shoot the drones out of the sky. What is the US going to do, at this point, go into another full-fledged war against a Muslim country? Not likely after having gone through the last ten years.

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    If a sovereign country denied access to its airspace and in order to uphold its sovereignty it merely shot down unmanned, intruding aircraft, who could fault the nation which was being intruded upon? Heck, the shoot-down of the drones could be considered a humanitarian act, in and of itself.

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