If politics makes for strange bedfellows, then imagine the scene that unfolded in our nation's capital earlier this month, when President Barack Obama announced plans to add some 30,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan.
Some Democrats were aghast. Many Republicans rushed to pledge their support. GOP consultant Karl Rove, known as George W. Bush's "architect," said President Obama should be "cheered."
But before we increase the number of troops in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 (most of which will have been committed by Obama, not Bush), we need to step back and remember a certain pillar of our democracy.
Congress funds wars. And unless Congress gives the go-ahead, Obama won't be able to send three additional soldiers abroad, much less 30,000. And a vote needs to happen before the troops are deployed, not after. "Let us have this debate before he moves forward," Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said in a recent interview. "I remember the debates in Iraq. Bush already had the troops there and then we were debating...I'd like it to be before we escalate one single American over there."
Granted, the inside-the-Beltway tealeaf-readers think it highly unlikely that Congress will reject funding for what has now unfortunately become a war waged and owned by Obama. Most Republicans and enough Democrats likely will go along with the president's request.
But the 435 members of the U.S. House all have one thing in common. All of their names will be on the election ballot next November. Members of Congress usually respond to their constituents, so those of us who have deep and grave concerns about the build-up in Afghanistan have an opportunity to convey our concerns to our elected representatives.
There are many reasons why escalation in Afghanistan is bad policy. Among them is this simple fact: We have needs at home that can't go ignored. An official unemployment rate that's over 10 percent (the "unofficial," or real, unemployment rate is much higher), the worst recession in generations, home foreclosures still a crisis, nearly 50 million Americans with no health insurance. The list seems endless.
The combined costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are about to exceed $1 trillion. That's more money than is being proposed by the more generous House version of health care reform -- and, unlike the war, health care reform will largely pay for itself.
As U.S. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said recently, the cost of the military efforts "could devour our ability to pay for the actions necessary to rebuild our own economy. We simply cannot afford to shortchange the crucial investments we need in education, job training, health care, and energy independence. The biggest threat to our long-term national security is a stunted economy."
Faced with relentless pressure from Pentagon hawks and others, Obama couldn't save himself or his administration from the perils of further entanglement in Afghanistan. But Congress can -- and should -- save him. Soon after they return to our nation's capital in early January, Congress should vote on deployment. It's our money and our decision.
Matt Holland is director of TrueMajority, the online department of USAction, which advocates for a progressive America.