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Obama's 'Finish the Job' Talk Sets Stage for Afghan Troop Surge

by John Nichols

President Obama plans to formally announce on December 1 his decision with regard to the request from some of his more ambitious generals for a massive troop surge in Afghanistan.

US Marines fire mortar rounds from their forward operating base in Mian Poshteh in Helmand Province. President Barack Obama, vowing to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, promised he would soon announce his decision on sending tens of thousands more US troops to battle Al-Qaeda and the Taliban (AFP/Manpreet Romana) But indications are that the president who was elected to set a new course for the nation when it comes to foreign policy will instead "stay the course" set by his quagmire-prone predecessor.

Obama announced Tuesday that he plans to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, and there is a growing consensus that he will agree to dispatch roughly 34,000 U.S. troops to the country.

The president says he plans to use his December 1 "finish-the-job" speech to signal "resolve to the allies while not signaling open-ended commitment to the American people."

Translation: There will be talk of an exit strategy -- with reassuring references to "benchmarks" and "off-ramps" -- but no exit strategy.

Obama indicated on Tuesday that he plans to expend a good deal of political capital to promote what is effectively becoming his war. "I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive," he said.

But there is likely to be significant resistance to what many Americans -- some of whom serve in Congress -- see as a plan to steer the country deeper into a quagmire.

As Obama's intentions began to clarify Tuesday, anti-war activists stepped up their activism on behalf of congressional measures that would limit the scope of the war and begin a process of bringing the troops home.

In particular, they focused on a bill introduced by California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, HR 3699, which would prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for more combat troops to Afghanistan, and another introduced by Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, HR 2404, which calls for the development of a clear exit strategy.

Tom Hayden, the former California legislator and anti-Vietnam War activist who has positioned himself as prime mover in the movement to prevent an escalation of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, says the Lee and McGovern bills "provide space for the peace movement to organize in local communities across the country during the next six months."

That's right.

Lee's amendment has 23 cosponsors, McGovern's has 100 --including several Republicans.

And there are rumblings from top Democrats in Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, described Afghan President Hamid Karzai as an "unworthy partner" for the U.S., in a statement that indicated deep discomfort with an expansion of the U.S. commitment toprop up Karzai's regime.

Perhaps even more significantly, Congressman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, bluntly declared that: "On the merits, I think it is a mistake to deepen our involvement."

Obey and Senator Carl Levin, D-Michigan, are proposing a war surtax on the wealthy to pay for additional troops. "If we have to pay for the health care bill, we should pay for the war as well," says the man who will have a significant say with regarding any move by Obama to expand the occupation. "The problem in this country with this issue is that the only people who have to sacrifice are military families and they've had to go to the well again and again and again and again, and everybody else is blithely unaffected by the war."

Obey is offering what could well be the most effective congressional challenge to Obama's plan. The appropriations committee chair argues that the expanded mission is simply unaffordable.

Surging more troops into Afghanistan will "wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our own economy," says Obey, who explains that if Obama goes for an expanded war: "There ain't going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan. If they ask for an increased troop commitment in Afghanistan, I am going to ask them to pay for it."

The Obama administration won't be happy with Obey.

But Obey knows the numbers when it comes to budgeting.

And his warning is stark and necessary one.

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