Donate Today!


 

EMAIL SIGN UP!

 

Popular content

Obama Hears Conflicting Views on Afghanistan from Democrats

by Carolyn Lochhead

WASHINGTON - As President Obama ponders a request from U.S. commanders for as many as 80,000 more troops for Afghanistan, Democrats in Congress are deeply divided over whether the strategy can succeed and at what cost.

In this July 14, 2009 file photo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., from left, is joined by other House Democratic leaders, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Pete Stark of California, Henry Waxman of California, Charles Rangel of New York, and John Dingell of Michigan, in a news conference. Democrats in Congress are deeply divided over whether the strategy can succeed and at what cost. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) Obama met for the fifth time Wednesday with his national security advisers as he moved toward a decision viewed on Capitol Hill as the most important of his presidency.

In recent weeks, congressional leaders have issued wildly conflicting advice, from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's support for a troop increase to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey's warning that a counterinsurgency effort could take 10 years and cost $1 trillion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, has refrained from promising passage of a war funding bill. Meanwhile, anti-war activists have scheduled a protest today outside Obama's appearance at a fundraiser in San Francisco.

There are currently 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 21,000 Obama sent in the spring, that have proved insufficient to quell a resurgent Taliban.

Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, raised pointed questions last week about the feasibility of the strategy recommended by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to use the military to protect the population while rebuilding civil society.

"What will that policy cost and how will we pay for it?" Obey said. He compared inattention to the cost of the war to the obsession with the cost of health care legislation that four congressional committees are "twisting themselves into knots" to fit into Obama's $900 billion, 10-year limit.

The Congressional Budget Office "is earnestly measuring the cost of each competing health care plan," Obey said, asking: "Shouldn't it be asked to do the same thing with respect to Afghanistan?"

Other challenges

He insisted that any commitment to rebuilding a nation with a high illiteracy rate must be measured against other challenges for the United States: joblessness at home, weaning the nation off oil imports, controlling the federal deficit and putting Social Security and Medicare on a sound financial footing.

House liberals said opposition to a troop increase is building. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, has introduced legislation prohibiting funding, while Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, wants to reverse the ratio of military to civilian aid.

"We have plenty of Republicans that will vote for whatever escalation comes about, and we probably have a moderate number of Democrats who will vote for it," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, co-chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus. "But we have more Democrats than ever that may not vote for anything."

Pelosi has said many times that passing Obama's request for more troops last spring was the most difficult effort of her speakership. "Nothing to compare to it," she said in an interview last month, adding that Obey's warning "is one that should be heeded."

Feinstein's support

Other leading Democrats, however, are publicly urging Obama to follow the recommendations of his generals.

Feinstein, who met with Obama last week, said Sunday, "I don't know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as Gen. McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you're not going to pull out."

Feinstein said Obama ruled out a withdrawal. "If you're going to stay, you have to have a way of winning," Feinstein said.

From her view as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she said Afghanistan is critical to stability in one of its bordering nations, nuclear-armed Pakistan. She also cited humanitarian concerns such as the fate of women and girls under Taliban control.

Likewise, the chairmen of the Armed Services committees in the Senate and House urged Obama not to allow another vacuum to develop in the country that harbored terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Pelosi's stance

Pelosi has outlined the difficulties facing any nation-building effort, compounded by the weakness and corruption of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. Still, she has been careful to pose such challenges in the broader context of U.S. security.

"Protecting the American people, keeping our people in our country safe, is our first responsibility, because without that, what else really matters?" she said in a recent interview.

"We all supported going into Afghanistan to begin with. That was where the threat was. We are training an army there. We cannot let the Taliban then take over the country and the army that we just trained."

Troop build-up by the numbers

The number of U.S. troops now in Afghanistan and how much they could increase:

21,000

Troops President Obama sent in the spring

68,000

Total troops in Afghanistan now

Source: Associated Press

108,000

Troops after an increase of 40,000 requested by U.S. military commander

148,000

Troops after an increase of 80,000 that is now under consideration

Comments are closed

52 Comments so far

Show All

Comments

Note: Disqus 2012 is best viewed on an up to date browser. Click here for information. Instructions for how to sign up to comment can be viewed here. Our Comment Policy can be viewed here. Please follow the guidelines. Note to Readers: Spam Filter May Capture Legitimate Comments...