I’ve been trying to monitor some reactions from members of Congress and partisans on both sides of the aisle to gauge how President Obama’s “escalate so we can leave” strategy will go over. The responses are kind of interesting:

• Jack Murtha spoke for many Democrats in expressing “nervousness” about the escalation and the strategy to win hearts and minds, particularly because the time horizon is limited both by American willingness to continue engagement and the goodwill of the Afghan people. The top Democrats on the Defense Appropriations Panel also said “What’s the meaning of victory? I can’t remember a clear answer.”

• Jane Harman, in the midst of a primary challenge against an antiwar progressive, went even further, specifically comparing the decision to Vietnam.

I do not agree that inserting 34,000 additional U.S. and 5,000-10,000 additional ISAF troops into southern and eastern Afghanistan will enhance the chance of success. Just the opposite. Expanding our military footprint in Afghanistan is a mistake. A larger occupation gives the Taliban an enhanced recruiting tool, continues the dependency of Afghan fighters on our superior training and logistics, and commits scarce U.S. resources ($1 million per soldier annually) at a time when other counterterrorism challenges—including inside the United States—appear more urgent. We are already spending more annually on Afghanistan than its GDP!

There are eerie echoes of Vietnam and the crucial 1965 memo to President Johnson in which National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy wrote, ‘The situation… is deteriorating, and without new U.S. action defeat appears inevitable. There is still time to turn it around, but not much.’ Bundy turned out to be wrong, and I think a troop build-up as part of an otherwise careful and thoughtful strategy is also wrong.”

• Progressive groups are warning against escalation, too. Moveon.org sent a letter rebuking the decision to their members, asking them to call the White House and express their dissatisfaction. The letter says “It’ll cost the lives of thousands of American troops and Afghan civilians, and it won’t make us safer.” True Majority, a smaller group, has 32,000 signatures on a petition urging the President to stop sending more troops.

• This is not to say that there aren’t supporters on the Democratic side of the aisle. In an unusual move, Joe Sestak, who is in a primary challenge to Arlen Specter for Senate in Pennsylvania, favors the troop increase and the “escalate to withdraw” exit strategy. Sestak wants to see an emphasis on eradicating Al Qaeda, rather than institution building in Afghanistan. Commenting on how this will affect his primary campaign, Sestak offered, “I would be giving you short shrift, at least in my experience, to take a political position rather than a national security position after I have looked at the issues.”

• Sestak does not support David Obey’s war surtax, though he agrees that the war ought to be paid for on budget, perhaps with a cut in fossil fuel subsidies or obsolete defense programs. By contrast, Chair of the House Budget Committee John Spratt (D-SC) opposes the surtax and apparently any move to pay for the escalation at all. Spratt, who supports the policy, said that “we hope to offset (the spending) in the future.”

• Several Bush-era officials, including Karl Rove, and even the RNC are tentatively supporting Obama’s decision. Rove said on NBC that “And if the president does (add 30,000 troops), I’ll be among the first to stand up and applaud.”

Certainly, the President will have a chance to hear from many of the above-named folks and leaders from both parties when he briefs Congress before leaving for West Point today.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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