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      Questions about Reps. Jim McGovern and Walter Jones Bipartisan Bill

      A new bill introduced today by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Republican co-sponsor Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), the Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act, speaks only of a “completion date on the transition of U.S. military and security operations in Afghanistan to the Government of Afghanistan." As far as I know, this bill was not circulated to peace leaders before release. The Obama administration already has set a goal for this transition as 2014, and has left open loopholes for bases and counterterrorism operations beyond that date.

      In contrast to this bill, the Center for American Progress [CAP] is calling for an “orderly reduction” to 40,000 by the end of 2012, a reduction of 60,000. CAP furthers reductions to 15,000 or less by 2014 to ensure security during the 2014 Afghan elections, and says the withdrawal plan should be accelerated if the Karzai government shows no signs of progress. The report was written primarily by Caroline Wadhams, who was Russ Feingold’s legislative assistant during the last cycle.

      The Afghanistan Study Group [ASG] proposes reductions of 33,000 [the surge number] by this coming October, and another reduction of 38,000 by July 2012. They estimate savings of $60-80 billion per year.

      I suggest meeting immediately with CAP and ASG, both well connected with Capitol Hill, to ensure that the new bill does not undercut their recommendations.

      This is a critical time when the president is about to announce decisions on how many troops he will begin pulling out of Afghanistan starting in July, and whether to withdraw the remaining 47,000 troops from Iraq by December. A withdrawal of half the troops from Afghanistan and all the troops from Iraq would save over $100 billion and bring 100,000 home by 2012.

      Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill to cut funding except for a redeployment still stands as a strong measure with perhaps 100 supporters. Her resolution before the DNC, which passed unanimously, calls for a rapid, significant and substantial withdrawal and the transfer of funds to job creation. The DNC resolution seems to be stronger than the new legislative proposal.

      Missing in all these measures is a cogent proposal for an exit strategy including power-sharing talks with the Taliban, which already are underway behind the scenes. Those talks, difficult as they may be, are more likely to succeed if a withdrawal plan is an integral component. Language recommending guidelines for an exit plan has been needed for a long time, and now more than ever.

      In Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, the president is quoted twice as saying, “I need an exit strategy.” At another point, he says he expects a timetable proposal to come from the Hill. It is more difficult now with the Republicans in charge of the House. On the other hand, it is easier with Osama bin Laden gone. Congress has to do its part in moving us out of these two quagmires, and before I recommend support for this new bill, I need to hear how it achives this goal.

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