Obama’s Afghanistan Withdrawal Date Sparks Bipartisan Concern

Posted December 6, 2009 at 10:44am

Members of Congress expressed confusion Sunday over President Barack Obama’s timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and one Democratic Senator predicted that opposition to Obama’s Afghan policies would grow in both parties.

“I’m afraid that the president’s idea, which is to just set a date where we may start withdrawing troops, gives nobody anything they want,— Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said on ABC’s “This Week.— “It doesn’t give the Afghan people a belief we are actually leaving, and it doesn’t give the American people confidence that we have a plan to finally end this.—

Feingold added that as the troop buildup continues, “there are going to be more and more Members of Congress who aren’t comfortable with it. And it’s not just going to be Democrats.—

Administration officials appearing on several Sunday morning talk shows said the number of troops that start returning home in July 2011 — the date specified by the president — will depend on conditions on the ground. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appearing on “Meet the Press,— said U.S. troops could remain in Afghanistan for two to four years.

On “Fox News Sunday,— Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Obama must send a message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that there’s a limit to how long Americans will stay in the country if Afghanistan’s government doesn’t begin to address some of its own issues, including corruption.

“I’m going to meet with the president, I’m sure, and have conversations about that deadline, which appears to be interpreted different ways by different people,— Durbin said. “But I would like to believe by July 2011 that we will be in a position where we are going to see our troops coming home.—

On CNN’s “State of the Union,— Republican Sen Jon Kyl (Ariz.) had another concern — that troops could come home too quickly.

“Most of the Republicans — in fact all that I’ve spoken with — are supportive of the president. They want this mission to succeed very much, and we’ll do everything we can to support his policy,— Kyl said. “I think he has complicated matters by having this firm ‘beginning of withdrawal’ date.—

Top military and cabinet officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, blanketed the Sunday talk shows to defend the president’s policy.

On “Fox News Sunday,— Gen. David Petraeus said Obama’s Afghanistan policy would show a “sense of resolve— alongside a “sense of urgency.—

“There’s some benefits to a timeline,— Petraeus said. “That’s why I emphasized upfront these twin messages, which I don’t see as being mutually exclusive at all, although there is undeniably some tension between them.—

Feingold didn’t seem impressed with any part of Obama’s strategy, arguing that it makes little sense to send so many troops to Afghanistan when al-Qaida is operating all over the world, with a huge presence in Pakistan.

“So I’m wondering, what exactly is the strategy, given the fact that we have seen that there is a minimal presence of al-Qaida in Afghanistan but a significant presence in Pakistan,— he said. “It just defies common sense that a huge boots-on-the-ground presence in a place where these people are not is the right strategy. It doesn’t make any sense to me.—

Feingold, who represents the liberal wing of his party, acknowledged it would be difficult to stop Obama’s plan.

“We’ll do whatever we can,— Feingold said. “We’re already working with members of both parties in both houses to question whether this funding should be approved. We’re going to fight any attempts to use … accounting gimmicks to allow it to be funded. There’s an attempt to have an emergency supplemental. I think that’s something we’re going to oppose, not only on the grounds of it being an unwise policy, but also it being fiscally irresponsible…We are operating huge deficits in this country and the idea of continuing to spend for this war flies right in the face of the American people’s priority to bring spending down,— he said.

Obama did get some support from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,— Feinstein said she’s satisfied the president’s plan gives the U.S. a chance to win.

Feinstein acknowledged, however, it would be tough because of the corruption in the Afghan government.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), appearing on “Meet the Press,— said he supports Obama’s decision to send more troops, but worries there are mixed messages coming from the administration regarding the withdrawal date. “It needs to be resolved in this way, that we will not leave on a date certain, but we have every confidence — I do, I have every confidence — that within a year to 18 months that we can achieve significant success,— McCain said.