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Reaction To The Obama Afghanistan Strategy

Most everyone in Washington has an opinion on President Obama’s decision to escalate for 18 months in Afghanistan. Here are some interesting ones:

• Nancy Pelosi was extremely noncommittal. It’s worth looking at her statement in full:

“President Obama inherited a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan because the Bush Administration did not have a plan to get the job done.

“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. 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.

“Our troops in Afghanistan and around the world have performed excellently; they have done everything that has been asked of them. As always, we are grateful and respectful of the enormous sacrifices our men and women in uniform, and their families, have made.”

There’s nothing in there offering support, just a recitation of the strategy and a vow that Congress will look at the policy.

• The dissenters to the strategy on the Democratic side are legion. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI): “I cannot endorse a military surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s time
for our troops to come home.” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI): “I do not support the president’s decision to send additional troops to fight a war in Afghanistan that is no longer in our national security interest.” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR): “I’m not convinced the case has been made to add more than 30,000 new troops.” Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA): “American national security, our dedicated soldiers already serving, and the people of Afghanistan will be better served if we focus our efforts on improving the socioeconomic conditions of the region instead of sending more of our brave soldiers to fight in this war.” I could go on. Much more voices speaking against the war here.

• Harry Reid, on the other hand, seems supportive: “With clarity and conviction, the President presented not only a sound strategy for sending our troops to Afghanistan, but also a clear plan to begin to bring them home. President Obama made a convincing case that sending additional troops to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda and other terrorist groups is critical to our national security. After years of the previous administration’s neglect, we will finally give this mission the attention and resources it demands.” Reid also seemed to misread the speech, saying that Obama laid out “a strategy that will begin to bring our mission to a close within the next 18 months,” which is just not true.

• There are other supporters, including Evan Bayh and Joe Sestak, who parrot the “we can’t leave a safe haven” theory. Most of the support is coming from Congressional Republicans, who still find fault with the “end date” of July 2011 which isn’t an end date.

• What’s crucial is that support among advocates and allies outside of Congress is starting to collapse. VoteVets, the veteran’s groups which has stood behind the President’s strategy uniformly, broke with it today, saying that they are worried about the impact on dwell time and overall troop stress, and that they don’t feel there is a credible partner in Hamid Karzai. FWIW, senior Administration officials said that the increase in overall military size means that they can accomplish this surge in troops without affecting dwell time.

• There’s also pundit reaction, with Thomas Friedman forgetting the “suck on this” Thomas Friedman and opposing escalation, and Afghan Malalai Joya offering at least a more consistent take.

What does this all mean? I don’t think that Congress will have the means to block this strategy, although Feingold will lead an effort to try. Obviously, if the Administration tries another supplemental funding request, which is entirely possible, there will be an opportunity to block it. But I don’t expect enough will in the Congress to actually do it. Talk is cheap.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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