At White House and on the Hill, a Growing Focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan
By Ben Pershing
Two weeks ago, David Obey warned that the war in Afghanistan might "devour" President Obama's policy agenda, turning into "a problem that nobody knows how to get out of." Yesterday, the House Appropriations chairman unveiled a $94 billion supplemental bill to pay for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and funnel economic aid to rapidly deteriorating Pakistan.
The measure has funding for other purposes as well, but the "Af-Pak" region -- where Obey said yesterday he was "very dubious" of U.S. prospects for success -- is the bill's primary focus, and "Mr. Obama's war" may well become the primary focus of the president's first term.
Today's Washington Post front page says Taliban forces "tightened their grip" on a key region of Pakistan Monday. The New York Times front says "the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan barely exists for the Taliban," allowing fighters to roam across it at will. The Economist suggests Pakistan's "squandering of America's war-on-terror cash has been an open joke" for years. With fears rising that the Taliban could gain access to Pakistan's nuclear materials, American and Pakistani officials are now in talks to have the U.S. play a bigger part in securing Pakistan's nuclear stockpile.
All of which brings us back to that supplemental spending bill now pending before Congress. How many more will there be? The always-outspoken Obey says he'll give Obama a year to deal with the Af-Pak mess, just as he gave Richard Nixon a year to figure out Vietnam when he arrived at the White House. (Yes, Obey has been in Congress a long time, and no, the Obama administration does not want to see more Democrats mention "Afghanistan" and "Vietnam" together.) With many antiwar Democrats all-but-certain to oppose this funding measure because it doesn't include a firm withdrawal timeline for either Iraq or Afghanistan, Obama will be forced to rely on a bipartisan coalition of supporters to get the money he wants. And he can only hope that the situation looks better in a year, when he comes back to the Hill to ask for more.
Posted at 8:25 AM ET on May 5, 2009
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