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Report on Afghanistan Gives Obama Tough Choices

by Joe Garofoli

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan's call for more troops - "or else the mission will be a failure" - gives President Obama a stark set of options for the next step in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama pauses in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009, during a ceremony where he awarded Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti from Raynham, Mass. the Medal of Honor for his service in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal wrote that "resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it," according to a summary of his 66-page report that was reported Sunday by the Washington Post.

Obama said disrupting al Qaeda is his "core goal" and is reviewing options, aides said.

While some backers of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan are encouraging the president to beef up forces there, nobody is actively challenging him to go the other way - and pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, has said she didn't "think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan" and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wants to use existing U.S. troops there to train Afghan forces to hunt down al Qaeda.

But few politicians are publicly opposing the White House, whose position is evolving.

"By failing to speak out forcefully, Congress will serve as enablers on this war in Afghanistan," said Norman Solomon, a media critic, liberal activist and Obama supporter who spent five days around Kabul last month, touring refugee camps and talking with politicians and locals.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, one of the staunchest anti-war votes in Congress and a key Obama ally, told The Chronicle Monday that she's "not so sure" that Obama's supporters on the left are willing to push back against him.

Lee said an amendment to the Defense Department's reauthorization bill would have required the White House to provide an exit strategy for the Afghanistan war, but the bill failed by a 2-1 margin.

"I'm definitely talking about this, trying to create a debate," Lee said. "Whether it was Bush or this president, I think this was not the correct strategy to pursue to protect America's national security."

Lee said she thinks the Taliban is getting stronger regardless of the number of U.S. troops.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has been pushing for "soft power" in Afghanistan that would emphasize economic development, humanitarian aid, education and better governance. Now, 90 percent of U.S. resources in the country go toward the military, according to the Defense Department.

Capitol Hill Republicans urged Obama Monday to give the U.S. military leaders what they ask for. "Anything less would confirm al Qaeda's view that America lacks the strength and the resolve to endure a long war," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., declined to comment on McChrystal's report until she had read it. Last week, she told CNN that that she doesn't think the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is clear.

"I do not believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan," she said. "I believe it will remain a tribal entity.

By November, 68,000 U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan, in addition to 38,000 NATO troops.

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