By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts, who has launched the only effort in the US House to oppose President Obama's plans for the Afghan war, received an unexpected boost of support today from a group of Afghan and Iraqi war veterans, who raced around Capitol Hill lobbying for his bill.
Congress is expected on Thursday to swiftly approve the $94.2 billion war funding bill, which would support the 21,000 additional combat troops and military trainers that Obama plans to deploy. But McGovern's bill, which he plans to file Thursday, would require the Pentagon to come up with an exit strategy by the end of the year.
The veterans, who are part of a small but growing group of Americans who oppose the Afghan war, traveled to Washington this week, shadowed by the Brave New Foundation, a California-based nonprofit film company that produces social justice documentaries and has launched a campaign called Rethink Afghanistan.
Realizing that it could not stop the supplemental, the group focused instead on getting more support for McGovern's bill.
"Without an exit strategy, then the mission is doomed to fail," said Jake Diliberto, who fought in Afghanistan in 2001 as a Marine. Diliberto, who said he is now getting his master's degree in ethics from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said that he strongly believed in the mission, but that the US presence has grown extremely unpopular among Afghans, as civilian casualties have increased.
Former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes, who also served in Afghanistan shortly after the US invasion, said he never thought he would lobby Congress. But by midafternoon, he had met with representatives from 20 offices. The group planned to fan out and meet with 100 more.
"So far the response has been positive, but you never know how they will vote," said Reyes, who believes that the United States was made less safe by the operations in Afghanistan. He said his team was ordered to break down doors and beat people who later turned out to be innocent.
Still, many members of Congress are reluctant to question a war that is directly linked to an attack on the United States, not to mention a popular president.
Representative Raul M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the Progressive Congressional Caucus and shares skepticism about the troop increase, told the veterans that their message is still a hard sell.
"I think there is a sense that there is no other option," he said, adding that people routinely ask him "'What do we do if we don't do this?' "
Grijalva told the vets that an atmosphere of fear of opposing the president has permeated Capitol Hill over the past eight years. But he said he has not faced much backlash for his anti-war stance, despite the fact that 15 percent of his constituents are veterans.
"I support Barack very much but I think sometimes we tell our friends and colleagues that we have to part ways," he said.
But so far, the only member of Congress to introduce legislation to restrain Obama's actions on Afghanistan is McGovern, a Worcester Democrat and an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war. (Click here to read the bill.)
So far, 60 members of Congress have already signed onto the bill, which McGovern opted to file as stand-alone piece of legislation, not linked to the supplemental.
"After 8 years, he is getting a sinking feeling that we are getting in deeper and deeper into Afghan without any idea how we are going to get out," said Michael Mershon, a spokesman for McGovern. "He feels very strongly that no matter who the president is, or whether he has a 'D' or an 'R' next to his name, if you believe our military efforts need to have a clearly defined strategy, then that's what you have to fight for."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.