July 10, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Weissman: Congress Is Abdicating Its Authority on Wars

One reason for the current confusion over U.S. policy toward the Karzai government in Afghanistan is that U.S. decision-making has not been the result of a meaningful democratic process.

The yearlong debate over health care reform legislation produced a tidal wave of criticism of the “dysfunctional” American Congress. In the same period, President Barack Obama dispatched more than 50,000 additional troops to Afghanistan with essentially no legislative debate. But hardly anyone has complained about Congressional dysfunction here.

This silence is amazing because it is widely accepted that past administrations, acting without Congressional input, made huge mistakes in America’s last two major wars. And these eventually proved devastating to the parties in power. Both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged that interventions in Vietnam and Iraq were either misconceived or significantly mismanaged. After each, there was a sense that Congress could have done more to test flawed policy assumptions and hold decision-makers accountable, enlisting sustained public support for better policies. Yet despite different concerns about Afghanistan policy on both sides of the aisle, Congress has been re-enacting its performances in Vietnam and Iraq.

According to several officials, key Congressional foreign policy committees have neither received nor requested a National Intelligence Estimate or comparable broad intelligence community analysis of the issues in Afghanistan. They have denied themselves a major resource of Congress in foreign policy: the ability to compare intelligence analysis with administration policy judgments. In Iraq, the Senate at least requested and received an NIE; its mistake was in failing to examine the document and reveal its flaws.

Learning little from its failures to expose administration divisions over Vietnam and Iraq, Congress has fumbled a golden opportunity to assess the U.S. Embassy in Kabul’s last-minute dissent from the developing Dec. 1 decision for a U.S. military “surge.” When news leaked of two November cables from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry “expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan,” one key foreign policy committee requested the classified documents. The State Department refused to provide them, and the committee never considered using its subpoena power, according to an informed source. Eikenberry subsequently testified that after “refinement” and “clarification” he was now “100 percent supportive” of the president’s strategy. No Congressman from either party pressed him to describe the basis of his reported reservations or how they were resolved.

As American troops began to move into Afghanistan, the full text of the cables was leaked to the New York Times. It showed how fundamental the ambassador’s critique was. Among several “unaddressed variables” in the new strategy, he emphasized that Afghan President Hamid Karzai “continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden ... it strains credulity to expect Karzai to change fundamentally” and his government had “little or no political will or capacity to carry out basic tasks of governance.”

Even after the ambassador’s critique was published, there was no visible Congressional reaction.

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