Antiwar Lawmakers Wary of Adding Troops in Afghanistan
Some want to see clear exit strategy before escalation
WASHINGTON - After campaigning on the promise to end one war, President Obama is preparing to escalate another.
Obama's dual stance on the two wars is not lost on congressional Democrats, many of whom also ran on antiwar platforms. In coming weeks, they expect to consider tens of billions of dollars needed for combat, including a major buildup of troops in Afghanistan.
While increasing the military's focus in Afghanistan was expected - it was a major theme of Obama's campaign - many Democrats acknowledged in recent interviews that they are worried about sending more troops, even in small numbers.
The concern, they say, is that the military could become further entrenched in an unwinnable war on their watch.
"Before I support any more troops to Afghanistan, I want to see a strategy that includes an exit plan," said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, who at one point wanted to cut off money for the Iraq war.
Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin and a fierce war opponent, added: "The idea of putting the troops in without having more clarity at least gives me pause."
The Obama administration is in the midst of a war strategy review. The results of that assessment might not be released for several weeks. In the meantime, the administration is expected to approve an immediate request from the top military commander in Afghanistan for three more brigades, roughly 14,000 troops.
It is expected that more troops would follow, eventually doubling the presence from 33,000 to 60,000.
The proposed buildup had been under consideration by the Bush administration as a means of dealing with a rise in violent attacks. More than 130 US personnel died in Afghanistan last year, compared with 82 in 2007, according to a Pentagon report.
Vice President Joe Biden sought to lower lawmakers' expectations about the war when he met recently with House Democrats at their party retreat.
"The economic and security and social conditions there are daunting" and the nation has "geography, demography, and history working against us," he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said as much in congressional testimony last month, warning against aspiring to turn Afghanistan into a "Central Asian Valhalla," referring to a haven of purity in Norse mythology. "Nobody in the world has that kind of time, patience, or money, to be honest," he said.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Drug trafficking and corruption are rampant. Terrorist fighters move freely across the Pakistan border. European voters want their armies to leave.
"The complexities just mount - and you have to bring yourself back to what I hope we're going to ask, which is 'what is the goal?' " Representative John Tierney, Democrat of Massachusetts, said after returning from his third trip to Afghanistan.
"You've got to look at these kids' parents in the face when you go to a funeral and say, 'This is why your kid was killed in action,' " said Tierney, who chairs a national security subcommittee.