Afghanistan War Powers Resolution

Floor Speech

By:  Howard Berman
Date: March 17, 2011
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in opposition to the resolution.

Mr. Speaker, this is the third debate we have had pursuant to a war powers resolution in the last year.

I completely agree with the gentleman from Ohio that as we are moving into the 10th year of this conflict, it is critical--not just nice, it is really critical for the House to have an open and honest debate on the merits of our ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, and that debate should be outside of the context of a defense spending bill.

But what I also do is take strong issue with the invocation of section 5(c) of the War Powers Act as the basis for this debate. If we are here to respect the law and the procedures, you have to remember that it is that section which authorizes a privileged resolution, like the one we have before us today, to require the withdrawal of U.S. Forces when they are engaged in hostilities and Congress has not authorized the use of military force.

There may be aspects of our operations around the world that people can claim under section 5(c) have not been authorized. No one can make a contention that what we are now doing in Afghanistan was not authorized by the Congress. There can be no doubt this military action in Afghanistan was authorized. It was authorized in 2001, soon after 9/11.

But let's set aside the procedure and the specific dictates of the statute. I do think and share my concerns, well articulated by the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, that it is not responsible to demand a complete withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year without regard to the consequence of our withdrawal, without regard to the situation on the ground, including efforts to promote economic development and expand the rule of law, and without any measurement of whether the current strategy is indeed working.

I am very sensitive to the arguments posed by the gentleman from Ohio. The cost of human life due to the war and the heavy costs incurred by our country at a time of great economic hardship should give any Member of Congress pause.

I am also keenly aware of the concerns regarding our overall U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. It remains to be seen whether a counterinsurgency strategy will succeed there and, equally important, whether the Afghans are taking sufficient responsibility for this war. I am troubled that the war very much remains an American-led effort and that the U.S. presence has created a culture of dependency in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding all that, I won't support a call for a full withdrawal until we give the President's strategy additional time, at least through the spring, to show results or, without a responsible withdrawal strategy, to ensure gains made thus far will not be lost.

A number of positive developments make me unwilling to throw in the towel just yet. For example, as noted by General Petraeus in testimony yesterday, coalition forces have been making some progress against Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. In addition, the training of Afghan security forces has exceeded targets, and we are inching slowly toward the point at which they may be able to secure their own borders.

A final plea to my colleagues, and that is to some of my colleagues who are joining me in opposing this resolution. I am sure we are not going to succeed in Afghanistan unless our civilian efforts are fully resourced. When I traveled to Afghanistan last April, I was encouraged to see our military forces, diplomats, and development experts working closely together in the field.

General Petraeus couldn't have been more clear in his testimony: We are setting ourselves up for failure if we fully fund the clear part of the President's counterinsurgency strategy, the part carried out by the military, but shortchange the hold-and-build portions of the strategy, like economic development and building good governance. These are the keys to lasting success in Afghanistan. These are the keys to a successful counterinsurgency strategy. And when we meet those tests and do those works, we may be able to create the environment that will allow our troops to return home.

For all these reasons, I oppose the resolution.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. BERMAN. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I just want to take a couple of minutes to talk about one point. That part of the majority party that is urging the same position I am on this resolution, which is a ``no'' vote, has made the argument a number of times that when you're dealing with fundamental issues of national security, you spend money, even under difficult times, a point that I have no disagreement with. And they argue the issue of what the alternatives will be and the potential for providing new safe havens for terrorists or more safe havens for terrorists or a return of Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorists if we pass this resolution, and I don't disagree with that point.

What I find upsetting about the majority's position is their denial of the fundamental point. They quote General Petraeus for every position that they find philosophically and factually satisfying and ignore General Petraeus and Secretary Gates on the fundamental concept of how we hope to change the course of what is happening in Afghanistan. Because if we don't change it, then we have to come and address the fundamental question of what we're doing there through a counterinsurgency strategy.

So we talk about clear and hold and build. And it is the military's job to clear and, for a time, to hold, but build is fundamentally a civilian program. General Petraeus over and over again has said this conflict in Afghanistan cannot be won unless we strengthen the governance of a very flawed government in Afghanistan, unless we provide economic opportunities for that society to progress and win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan to the cause for which we are fighting.

It's also a view of Afghanistan as if it's isolated from the rest of the world. I can go through countries around the world--failed states, nearly failing states, terrible problems--which are certainly becoming safe harbors for terrorism.

So when the same party that makes a strong case for our national security interests here at the same time passes legislation which slashes every aspect of efforts to strengthen governance and development assistance and to provide the kinds of opportunities that serve our national security interests, I find it a strange kind of logic and a flaw in their approach to this.

I understand the economic hardships we have. If one wanted to look at the foreign assistance budget and take specific things that aren't working and get rid of them, I understand that, and if one wanted to make proportional cuts in the foreign assistance budget. But to come with the argument of, ``We're broke; we've got to cut spending,'' and then disproportionately focus on that aspect of our national security strategy which will do a tremendous amount and will be fundamental to any effort to stop them from being safe harbors for terrorism, and that is to massively slash disproportionately foreign assistance, it's a terrible mistake. It terribly undermines the national security strategy that we're trying to achieve through our operations and our presence and the money we're spending in Afghanistan. It's not thinking, I think, as clearly as needs to be thought. And I urge those in the majority to think again about how much the cuts that we need to make should be coming from that part of the budget that constitutes 1 percent of the Federal budget.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. BERMAN. I simply would very quickly make the case that the resolution should be voted against for several reasons. Initially, because it improperly invokes a provision of the War Powers Act that's inapplicable. This war was authorized by the U.S. Congress. Secondly, the manner in which it would force withdrawal is irresponsible and I don't think is the right way to do it. And, thirdly, that I am not prepared, from this point of view, to say that failure is in any way inevitable, and that we should not at this time make the judgment to pull the plug out from what we are doing in Afghanistan.

I would urge a ``no'' vote on the resolution.


Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.