Liberals AWOL at Afghan War Forum

Posted April 1, 2009 at 6:11pm

Liberal House Democrats have been touting their newly launched series of forums on Afghanistan as a way to engage lawmakers on pressing foreign policy matters, but Wednesday’s session ended up attracting just one Member.

The meeting, sponsored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and focused on defining strategic interests in Afghanistan, was billed as the first public forum on the Hill for Members to discuss President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled plan for the region.

Yet only one lawmaker made an appearance: Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus. He spoke for a few minutes at the beginning of the two-hour forum and then left.

“We want very badly for our president to succeed,— Grijalva said. “But at the same time, it is appropriate for us in the Caucus … to question the direction, wonder about the outcomes, ask about the endgame. … Those are all fair and legitimate questions that need to be talked about.—

The rest of the time, attendees included a smattering of Hill aides, members of the anti-war group CODEPINK and the general public.

The liberals’ forum comes at a time when anti-war Members including Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) are still trying to work out their positions on Obama’s plan to send another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan. The troop deployment is part of the president’s comprehensive strategy for stabilizing the region.

The agenda set aside 20 minutes for a Q&A session from Progressive Caucus members, but since there were no lawmakers in attendance, the facilitator, an aide to Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), skipped over it.

Had Members been in attendance, they would have heard concerns from a political science professor about Obama’s lack of a clear exit strategy and warnings from Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, not to “overmilitarize— U.S. foreign policy toward Afghanistan.