Congress Divided on Obama’s Afghanistan War Plan

Posted December 1, 2009 at 10:14pm

Congressional leaders in both parties had mixed reactions to President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night address on his Afghanistan war strategy, which centers on sending 30,000 more troops into the region over the next six months.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), caught between wanting to support the president but aware of deep divisions in her caucus, had a neutral response to Obama’s plan.

“Tonight, the president articulated a way out of this war with the mission of defeating Al Qaeda and preventing terrorists from using Afghanistan and Pakistan as safe havens to again launch attacks against the United States and our allies,” she said in a statement. “The president has offered President Karzai a chance to prove that he is a reliable partner. The American people and the Congress will now have an opportunity to fully examine this strategy.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called Obama’s strategy “balanced— but also refrained from pledging outright support. He said he awaits the testimony of military leaders and administration officials set to appear before House and Senate committees this week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), meanwhile, was overtly supportive of the president’s plan. He praised Obama for providing a timeline that makes it “clear that our resources are not unlimited and our commitment is not open-ended.—

“By laying out a strategy that will begin to bring our mission to a close within the next 18 months, the president drew an essential distinction between his approach to the war and that of the previous administration,— Reid said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a key Obama ally, avoided weighing in. “President Obama asked for time to make his decision on a new policy in Afghanistan. I am going to take some time to think through the proposal he presented tonight,— he said.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), who continues to press for a war tax to make all Americans share the cost burden, expressed doubts that Obama’s plan will lead to success in Afghanistan.

“The president has inherited a God awful mess and has no good options available. I hope his policy succeeds … We can have the most carefully thought out policy in the world, but if we do not have the tools on the ground, the odds for success are stacked against us,— Obey said.

Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), meanwhile, praised Obama’s decision to commit 30,000 more troops to the effort. “My main concern has been for the president to listen to our military leaders and commanders on the ground, and he did,— Skelton said.

Not surprisingly, liberals were overwhelmingly opposed to Obama’s plan to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said there were no surprises in Obama’s speech, except that he increased her fears that “we’re going to be chasing al Qaeda all over the world.—

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told MSNBC that she “felt bad for this young, bright, articulate president who wants to do the right thing but made commitments in his campaign— to find Osama bin Laden.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he was “skeptical— and feared “an open-ended commitment of troops.— Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) took things a step further and threatened to take action to block Obama’s plan to increase troop levels.

“I will work with members of both parties and both houses of Congress to push for a flexible timetable to reduce our troop levels in Afghanistan,— he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans seemed equally divided on Obama’s plan.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) praised Obama for “embracing the counter-insurgency strategy that succeeded in Iraq— by calling for a troop surge.

But Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, called it “troubling— that Obama rejected Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s full request for resources. Even more concerning, Price said, is that Obama “managed to declare the beginning and the end of a military operation at the same time.—

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) led a chorus of GOP critics of Obama’s plan to begin drawing down troops in 2011.

“Success is the real exit strategy,— said McCain, who is supportive of troop increases. “When we have achieved our goals in Afghanistan, our troops should begin to return home with honor, but that withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines.—