(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, December 3, 2009)
By SKEETER SANDERS
President Obama’s long-awaited unveiling of his new strategy in Afghanistan Tuesday night to deploy up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to the war-ravaged country — with a timetable to begin a phased withdrawal a year and a half from now — has, as expected, drawn sharply negative reviews from both anti-war activists who supported his candidacy last year and right-wing critics who have dogged him since he took office nearly a year ago.
A coalition of up to 100 anti-war activists has called for a mass protest in Washington on December 12 to demand an end to all U.S. military action in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, TalkingPointsMemo.com reported Wednesday.
The activists, under the name "End U.S. Wars," posted an open letter to the president on the coalition’s Web site, in which they pledged to support only anti-war candidates in the 2010 midterm election — and warned that they will "seriously consider backing an explicitly anti-war primary candidate to challenge you during the Democratic primaries [in 2012]."
On the other side, right-wing radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday branded the president’s address "incoherent" and blasted his new Afghanistan strategy as "the policy of a left-wing politician, not a serious commander-in-chief who leaves the strategies to the experts."
Limbaugh tore into the president’s address as being "all about placating as many sides of the political spectrum as there are. The last thing it was about was military victory . . . He didn’t talk about victory because, remember, he’s uncomfortable with the concept of victory."
PRESIDENT: OUR MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN IS NOT LIKE VIETNAM
Anticipating much of the criticism against his strategy, the president sought to refute them head-on in his Tuesday-night address. He rejected comparisons to Vietnam, insisting that, unlike that war, Washington leads a coalition of 43 nations and is not facing a "broad-based popular insurgency."
"To abandon this area now — and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaida from a distance — would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaida, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland," Obama said.
To those who have argued against increasing U.S. troop levels, the president insisted that "the status quo is not sustainable" due to continuing gains by the Taliban.
To Republican objections that he failed to follow the recommendations of General Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in the region, for a greater and more open-ended escalation, Obama was dismissive. "I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests," he said.
CODE PINK STAGES CAPITOL HILL PROTEST
On Wednesday, members of Code Pink, an anti-war women’s group, staged a protest outside the Capitol Building in Washington as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary William Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The protesters called on Clinton and Mullen not to make "an epic mistake."
As Clinton arrived, Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin shouted out,
"Hillary! You know better!" Her fellow protesters then called out at Mullen, "Mike! That’s a peaceful name!" briefly catching Mullen’s eye. "We can’t afford this escalation or this war!"
Benjamin then chimed in, "You do realize this is a misadventure. The Afghans don’t need more troops, they need more economic development, jobs." She warned of "an endless cycle of violence" if the troop buildup goes forward.
KERRY GIVES QUALIFIED ENDORSEMENT, BUT FEINGOLD SAYS NO
Reaction on Capitol Hill was more muted, but still reflected sharp divisions in both parties toward Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy. Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made a qualified endorsement Tuesday night, giving the president high marks for "defining a narrower mission, not an open-ended nation-building exercise."
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who later opposed that conflict, made it clear, however, that his support for sending additional troops to Afghanistan is based on a "strict understanding of the need to transfer and build as well as partner with Afghans," and he warned that unless authority is quickly handed over to the Afghan government, it "will end in failure, no matter how many troops we send [there]."
But Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) said he opposes the troop buildup in Afghanistan because it’s a misguided mission.
"Many believe, and I’m one of them, that this could push more extremists into Pakistan and destabilize a country that’s much more dangerous," Feingold told Wausau television station WAOW-TV on Wednesday. "So when the President says we need to do this to finish the job, I say, ‘What job?’ Al-Qaida is not based in Afghanistan anymore and to the extent they’re there, we can handle it without putting hundreds of thousands of troops."
REPUBLICANS BACK ‘SURGE,’ BUT DISLIKE WITHDRAWAL TIMETABLE
For their part, Republicans on Tuesday for the most part expressed support for Obama’s decision, but they also expressed deep displeasure with his pledge to draw down forces in a year and a half.
Even before Obama delivered his address, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), the president’s opponent in last year’s election, made clear his opposition to the timetable. "Dates for withdrawal are dictated by conditions,” McCain told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill. "The way that you win wars is to break the enemy’s will, not to announce dates that you are leaving."
At a White House meeting with Obama late Tuesday, McCain and other leading Republicans were assured by the president and other administration officials that he would indeed let the progress of the war determine the pace of the drawdown.
Nonethelss, the president’s decision did not mollify many of his Republican critics, who, like Limbaugh, accused Obama of trying to appeal to those who oppose escalation of the war even as he called for a troop increase.
Representative Howard McKeon (R-California) the ranking minority member on the House Armed Services Committee, told Reuters he was disturbed by the president’s exit timetable. "I don’t like having a deadline," said McKeon. "You can have one in mind, but why tell the enemy?"
REACTION IN KABUL JUST AS DIVIDED AS IN WASHINGTON
The reaction in Afghanistan to Obama’s address was just as divided as that in this country.
"The U.S. president’s speech was very important," Foreign Minister Dadfar Rangin Spanta was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse on Wednesday. "Mr. Obama said that the United States will take the necessary steps to help Afghanistan."
But other Afghan officials said that they opposed the "surge," citing past influxes of troops that failed to push back the insurgency.
"We couldn’t solve the Afghanistan problem in eight years, but now the U.S. wants to solve it in 18 months? I don’t see how it could be done," Segbatullah Sanjar, chief policy adviser for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told The Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban insurgents, however, issued a dismissive communique that the U.S. troop increase would only strengthen their movement. "However many more troops the enemy sends against our Afghan muhejedeen, they are committed to increasing the number of muhejedeen and strengthen their resistance," the Taliban’s communique said, warning that more U.S. soldiers "will die because of it."
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Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.