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03-10-2010, 07:33 PM
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House rejects Kucinich's Afghan withdrawal measure

by Perry Bacon Jr.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected a symbolic resolution calling for the removal of troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and a group of mainly liberal members who argue the war cannot be won, was defeated 356 to 65, with only five Republicans and 60 Democrats backing it.

Democratic leaders took up the measure knowing it would not pass, but wanted to give frustrated liberals a chance to register their opposition to the Afghanistan policies of President Obama, who last December announced an increase of 30,000 troops to fight the Taliban and stabilize the government in Afghanistan.

The resolution led to an unusual three-hour debate on war policy, one of the few formal House floor sessions on Afghanistan since the U.S. sent troops there in 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some Republicans passionately praised Obama for his policies on Afghanistan during the debate, while many liberal Democrats angrily denounced the continuing U.S. involvement there, although most refrained from attacking Obama directly. Neither party's leadership formally instructed their members to take one side or the other in the debate as they do on most important votes.

"The military escalation cements the path of the United States down the road of previous occupiers that earned Afghanistan its nickname as the 'graveyard of empires," said Kucinich.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), one of the most prominent anti-war Republicans, shouted in his speech on the House floor "are we going to do this for 10 more years? How long are we going to stay?" In another fiery speech, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) criticized the administration's policy and also slammed the press for largely ignoring the debate on Afghanistan, but "talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV."

"There isn't a soldier in this country whose laid down their lives for our nation that isn't a hero," said Kennedy. "And no one in here disagrees with that. What is shameful is our policy that puts them in harm's way when they don't need to be."

But Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, warned a withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a "national security disaster" that would allow the Taliban to gain strength, an argument many Republicans made as well.

"In the case of Afghanistan, President Obama has demonstrated great responsibility and a sense of the national security interest of the United States. He deserves our support," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.)

The debate is unlikely to impact on American policy in Afghanistan, where more than 6,000 of the new troops Obama requested have already been deployed. If the House had approved the measure, it was unlikely to see action in the Senate, where opposition to Obama's policy is more limited.

And while even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has expressed little enthusiasm for Obama's troop increase, Congress is expected to approve a $33 billion request from the administration to fund that policy over the next months, as lawmakers are loath to oppose troop-funding bills. By this summer, when the troop surge is scheduled to be complete, about 100,000 U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan.