by Robert Naiman
Let us be perfectly clear, as President Obama might say. There is no "emergency" requiring the House to throw another $33 billion into our increasingly bloody and pointless occupation of Afghanistan before we all go off to celebrate the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from foreign occupation.
This fact -- that there is no emergency requiring an immediate appropriation -- is absolutely critical, because the claim that there is some "emergency" requiring an immediate infusion of cash, otherwise there will be some new apocalyptic catastrophe, is the means by which the Pentagon and the White House hope to dodge two sets of questions about the war supplemental urgently being asked by Democratic leaders in the House.
Secretary Gates has complained that if the war money is not approved by July 4, the Pentagon might have to do "stupid things" like furlough civilian Pentagon employees.
I am not in favor of furloughs, even of Pentagon employees (can we furlough someone who approves breaking into Afghans' homes in the middle of the night and killing pregnant women?), but as "stupid" goes, furloughing Pentagon employees doesn't hold a candle to laying off public school teachers, which is the likely consequence of allowing the Pentagon and the White House dodge their critics in the House.
The war funding proposal has been sitting in the inbox for six months. What kind of "emergency" is that?
The $33 billion represents about five percent of the gargantuan Pentagon budget. The Pentagon can live with a little more delay, while we get answers to some urgent questions.
The first set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: now that we've dumped McChrystal, what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?
Yesterday, thirty Members of the House sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, demanding that the questions about the war raised by Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone article be answered before the House votes on the Pentagon's request for more money.
According to Hastings' article, "Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further." A senior military official says, "There's a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer," which is a pants-on-fire contradiction to the promises made when the last increase of forces was announced. Meanwhile, McChrystal's Chief of Operatons, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, said:
"It's not going to look like a win...This is going to end in an argument." If it's going to end in an argument anyway -- Mayville is surely right -- why shed more blood? Don't we have a right and obligation to demand a straightforward and concrete accounting of what the additional bloodshed is purportedly going to achieve?
Ninety-eight Members of the House -- almost a quarter -- have now signed on to legislation demanding that President Obama establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Shall the House not debate establishing a timetable for military withdrawal before voting on more money for pointless killing?
The second set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: what the hell is the federal government doing about Main Street's economic crisis?
While it is not the responsibility of the Pentagon to do something about Main Street's economic crisis, it is the obligation of the Pentagon to defend more Pentagon spending as the best use of public resources, at a time when states and local governments are looking at mass layoffs of public employees, including school teachers.
This is the question that House Appropriations chair David Obey put on the table when he said he would sit on the war appropriation until the White House acted on House Democratic demands to unlock federal money to aid the states in averting a wave of layoffs of teachers and other public employees.
But on money to save teachers' jobs, the White House is still Absent Without Leave, hiding behind the purported threat of a Senate filibuster, just as it did on the public option for health insurance. If it fought for teachers, the White House could win.
But it isn't fighting, because unlike the war funding, teachers' jobs are not a White House priority.
If we want this to change, Obey has to be able to make good on his threat. And that means the House has to be willing to call the Pentagon's bluff.