The United States is currently engaged in three hot wars and the backlash is growing in both political parties against overbearing American military intervention abroad.
Fighting a large-scale engagement in Afghanistan, the tail end to the U.S. war in Iraq and a half-in/ half-out war in Libya is just too much for many Members of Congress and the American public.
Except for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who appears to be spoiling for a fourth war in Syria.
The latest manifestation of this war weariness comes in the form of with a letter signed by 27 Senators to President Obama calling for “a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.”
Last year, in comparison, only 18 Senators were willing to vote for a Feingold (D-WI) amendment demanding a timetable for withdrawal.
This letter follows on the heels of a 204-215 House vote on May 26 against the amendment offered by Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) requiring the President to establish a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. While this effort lost, the amendment produced the most votes thus far to end the war in Afghanistan.
These actions have been accompanied by rising congressional discontent with the U.S. actions in Libya.
In a little noticed vote the evening of June 13, the House voted 248-163 for a Sherman (D-CA) amendment to the Military Construction appropriations bill to cut off funding for the Libya conflict. While the amendment won’t be law until it is approved by the House as part of the Defense Appropriations bill next week – and approved by the Senate and accepted by the President – it is another sign of the times.
Rep. Sherman argued that the amendment was necessary “Because so many administrations have embraced the idea of an imperial Presidency, the idea that a President can send our forces into battle for unlimited duration, for any purpose, unlimited in scope. This is not what the Constitution and the law provides.”
This vote followed others: on June 3, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) offered a resolution to force the removal of U.S. armed forces from Libya. Kucinich received 148 votes, including an incredibly high number of 87 Republicans. It used to be that Kucinich was toxic to Republicans – and to many Democrats. No longer.
In fact, a vote on the Kucinich resolution was delayed in the House so that Speaker John Boehner could put forward an alternative resolution to draw Republican votes from Kucinich.
The Boehner resolution rebuked the President for his Libya policy, but did not require a troop withdrawal. His resolution was adopted by a stunning 268-145. On June 14, the Speaker followed up his amendment by demanding the White House to obtain congressional authorization for military operations in Libya by June 19.
Republican candidates for President have not been immune to this turn against neo-conservatives’ perpetual war.
We expect candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) to oppose any overseas war. But others have joined in.
At the Republican debate on June 13, front-runner Mitt Romney declared: “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can.”
The soon-to-declare candidate former Gov. Jon Huntsman trashed the war: “”If you can’t define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we’re wasting our money, and we’re wasting our strategic resources,” Huntsman told Esquire as part of a long profile in its August issue. “It’s a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it’s now or years from now, we’ll have an incendiary situation… Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don’t think that serves our strategic interests.”
Tea party favorite Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN) added about Libya: “The president was absolutely wrong in his decision on Libya.”
What will these grumblings lead to?
Congress has not declared war against another country since 1941 despite numerous conflicts since that time. Congress can force the withdrawal of U.S. troops by cutting off funding for the war, but it has historically declined to do so.
Maybe that attitude will change, but even if the House is so moved, the Senate appears split down the middle on these military interventions.
There is the McCain (R-AZ)-Lieberman (I-CT)-Graham (R-SC) bombs away school. And there is the more skeptical school headed by Merkley on Afghanistan and Webb (D-VA) and Corker (R-TN) on Libya.
But the Obama Administration and future Presidents will have to be more careful about what President Thomas Jefferson called “entangling alliances,” or to be more accurate, what George Orwell wrote about in “1984” a perpetual war between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia.
The rising mood is not isolationist; it is anti-military interventionist.