This article originally appeared in The Nation.
A plain reading of yesterday's vote on the Kucinich war powers resolution is that an overwhelming majority of the House has authorized the Afghanistan war, including a majority of Democrats. The war now has greater legitimacy. The vote was 356-65-9.
(If Rep. John Conyers had been present, the dissenting bloc would have been 66, including just five Republicans. Few members took the option of abstaining.)
Strong Kucinich supporters will feel vindicated that their hero took a lonely stand and forced the House to a moment of choice. Critics will note that a dubious war has been legitimized, and that it will be more complicated for those who voted "aye" to reverse course in the months ahead.
The outcome will make the anti-war forces appear weaker for now than they are, and appearances do matter.
By contrast in Germany, 100-plus members of the Left Party demonstrated inside the Bundestag last week against expanding the German troop commitment, and were thrown out of the parliament for hours. They too lost the vote, but they made their point to the German people and parliament, drawing a sharp line in German politics.
As things stand now, most of the same bloc of 65 Congressional dissenters are likely to vote against $33 billion in funding for the recent troop escalation, a measure introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee. That means a two-thirds House majority soon will be voting to fund the escalation. Soon after will come the vote on funding the war for the next year.
The fact is that peace forces inside and outside of Congress lack sufficient support to terminate war funding.
Perhaps, therefore, a two-year strategy will receive consideration.
A majority of Democrats already support HR 2404, the exit strategy resolution being prepared by Rep. Jim McGovern. The measure, which was opposed by the White House, needs updating and amending. If subject to hearings, McGovern's initiative might flesh out what the Obama administration has in mind when planning to "begin" withdrawing by summer 2011. Depending on the formulation, the McGovern measure might win a Democratic majority and even pass the House, a signal to Obama that the Democrats are beginning to pull away.
A strategy to amend the funding bills might also win much greater Democratic support than a straight yes/no vote. None of the possible amendments has been discussed significantly, but they might include a requirement of all-party peace talks in Kabul, a deadline for US troop withdrawal, and lifting the secrecy around Pakistan, among others. McGovern is collaborating with Sen. Russ Feingold, who tentatively plans to introduce a "flexible timeline for troop reductions" on the Senate side.
None of this will please the peace movement.
But neither are Obama and the Democrats likely to avoid a growing quagmire in the next two election cycles, at budget costs reaching trillions of dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan, and thousands of American lives. Twice the American people have been manipulated into sending 250,000 troops (cumulatively) into Iraq and Afghanistan on the pretext of hunting an Al Qaeda which wasn't there. The real hunt is a secret CIA operation for Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders hidden in the wilds of Pakistan. If they simply avoid capture, Obama loses, and the spreading occupation goes on. If bin Ladin is killed (a big if), Obama wins, and the spreading occupation goes on anyway.