By Russell Berman and Pete Kasperowicz - 03/17/11 11:18 PM EDT
Opposition to the war in Afghanistan has grown in the House, but not nearly enough to call for an end to it.
The House easily defeated a measure Thursday that would have directed President Obama to remove U.S. forces by the end of the year, as 93 lawmakers, including eight Republicans, voted for it.
The war in Afghanistan has been, since June 2010, the longest in U.S. history, having run over 113 months. The Vietnam War lasted 103 months.
On a nearly identical bill a year ago, just 65 lawmakers backed an immediate withdrawal, including five Republicans. GOP Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Howard Coble (N.C.) voted in favor of this year’s measure after opposing it in March 2010.
“The president needs to define success in Afghanistan. I think he has failed to do so,” Chaffetz told The Hill after the vote.
He said President Obama had not justified the need to keep more than 100,000 U.S. troops in the war zone. In an earlier floor speech, Chaffetz, who is considering a Senate bid in 2012 against Orrin Hatch (R), criticized the administration for not going “all in” if it thought victory was essential.
“A politically correct war is a lost war,” Chaffetz said. “At the present time, we are playing politics.”
While Chaffetz argued for the resolution, anti-war activists shouted from the House gallery, “End the occupation!” They were escorted out of the chamber.
The House vote comes four months before a July benchmark when Obama has pledged to begin a gradual withdrawal of troops. Gen. David Petraeus, testifying before Congress on Wednesday, decried the Kucinich-backed measure, saying it would trigger “incalculable consequence[s]” in Afghanistan and across the Middle East.
“The Taliban and al Qaeda obviously would trumpet this as a victory, as a success” if the House approves it, Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. “Needless to say it would completely undermine everything our troops have fought so much for and sacrificed so much for.”
The general said the measure would essentially “close the door on the very, very hard-fought effort and end a mission that I think is seeking to achieve a very, very important security objective of our country as well as of our allies.”
The Kucinich measure came to the House floor under an expedited procedure allowed by the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
During debate on the legislation, a handful of Republicans joined liberal Democrats in arguing for its passage. The floor speeches centered on both the moral and strategic aspects of the conflict, as well as on its cost at a time of soaring deficits and debt.
“You want to cut out waste, let’s get out of Afghanistan,” Kucinich said. He called the conflict “an open-ended war” and said the U.S. could remain in the country through 2020. “There is no end in sight,” he said.
Several Republicans spoke out forcefully in favor of the American war effort, putting them in the unusual position of defending Obama against critics in his own party.
“We need to stand with our commander in chief,” Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, said Congress had to trust the military leaders and the president. “What we’re doing right now is taking out the enemy,” he said. “And we have to trust Gen. Petraeus, we have to trust President Obama in this case, that they know what’s going on.”
The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.), opposed the resolution, saying lawmakers should give the military more time to achieve the goals set by the president.
“I will not support a call for a full withdrawal until we give the president’s strategy additional time, at least through the spring, to show results,” Berman said. He said the Kucinich measure was “inevitable.”
The five Republicans who backed the withdrawal measure in 2010 also supported it on Thursday. They were: Reps. Walter Jones (N.C.), Ron Paul (Texas), John Campbell (Calif.), John Duncan Jr. (Tenn.) and Timothy Johnson (Ill.). Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) voted present.
Among Democratic leaders, only Rep. John Larson (Conn.), the conference chairman, voted for withdrawal. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a critic of the war, waited until the very end of the vote to register her opposition to the measure.
“I strongly believe that today’s vote in the House should not be taken as an indication of support in Congress for an open-ended commitment of U.S. forces,” Pelosi said in a statement after the vote. “Americans have grown weary of war, and many of us in Congress have expressed our opposition to an extended military presence in Afghanistan.”
John Bennett contributed to this report.