“I am pleased the President recognizes that success in Afghanistan is paramount. Continuing to degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities in Afghanistan and the surrounding region must take priority over any calendar dates. It’s important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant,” the Ohio Republican said.
“It is my hope that the President will continue to listen to our commanders on the ground as we move forward,” he added. “Congress will hold the Administration accountable for ensuring that the pace and scope of the drawdown does not undermine the progress we’ve made thus far.”
But in a reflection of the depth of the division within the GOP, which has long been Obama’s chief source of support in his handling of the war, Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar argued before the speech that the reductions would not be enough.
The Indiana Republican was once one of Obama’s closest Senate GOP allies on foreign policy. But he argued Wednesday that in addition to deep cuts in troop levels, “the president should put forward a plan that includes a more narrow definition of success in Afghanistan based on U.S. vital interests and a sober analysis of what is possible to achieve,” including a greater emphasis on counterterrorism and abandoning nation-building efforts.
Top Democrats were also divided. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) called the troop reductions a positive step, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) expressed disappointment that troops wouldn’t be exiting faster.
“The President’s plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is a critical step in the right direction,” Reid said in a statement. “I commend the many brave members of our Armed Forces who have served there and thank them for their sacrifice.”
Pelosi contended that the sooner the war ends, the sooner the United States can focus more on domestic matters. “It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the President laid out — and we will continue to press for a better outcome,” she said in a statement.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.