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Welch amendments seek to end war, limit president’s powers

May 24, 2011
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Vermont Rep. Peter Welch is planning to offer several amendments to a defense spending bill this week, aiming to change U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and curb presidential war powers.

Rep. Peter Welch

Welch, a Democrat, and Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz are spearheading a bipartisan group in the House that sent a letter to President Barack Obama earlier this month asking him to hasten the end of the war in Afghanistan. The House members are seeking an end to the costly nation-building and counter-insurgency strategy, and a transition to a policy that relies on a counter-terrorism strategy focused on drones and special forces to take out Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

The successful raid on a Pakistani compound where 9/11 terror attacks mastermind Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. special forces is an example of how such a strategy can work, Welch said.

The group of eight House members — half Democrats and half Republicans — plans to offer several amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, scheduled for debate this week, to end the war in Afghanistan, alter U.S. policy there and limit presidential war powers.

“It’s always uphill when you’re trying to persuade Congress to change the national security policy we have for the one we need,” Welch said. “We’ve been in Afghanistan for 10 years and making a change is a challenge. We understand that.”

But Welch said opinions in Congress are changing after the death of bin Laden, and the demonstrated success of special forces raids.

“Many in Congress on both sides of the aisle now feel more confident in asking the question of whether it’s time to change,” he said.

One of the five amendments Welch intends to offer would require the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops and only authorize the presence of forces that are directly involved in counter-terrorism operations. The Secretary of Defense would be required to submit a withdrawal plan within 60 days.

Another amendment would eliminate expanded presidential war powers. Welch said pending legislation would “broaden the president’s authority to permit him to go after any forces aligned with anybody trying to do harm to the United States.”

“That’s pretty much a blank check,” Welch said. “There’s not parameters about the extent to which the war powers of the president could be used. Our amendment would take away what is a proposed expansion of the powers of the president.”

Other amendments would “prevent mission creep” by prohibiting funding to deploy U.S. troops or private security contractors on the ground in Libya, and ban companies convicted of bribing foreign officials from securing contracts with the U.S.

Despite the bipartisan support, Welch said the amendments are not likely to see widespread support in Congress.

“At the moment they’re uphill, particular in the defense authorization bill, because of the general inclination of Congress to support the status quo,” Welch said. “If we are able to have a good debate about this it could give the president some good political latitude for that change in direction.”

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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