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The San Francisco Chronicle

Obama Hears Conflicting Views on Afghanistan from Democrats

Carolyn Lochhead

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)

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.

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.


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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:


Troops President Obama sent in the spring


Total troops in Afghanistan now

Source: Associated Press


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


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

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