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Democratic Split on Afghanistan Deepens

By Ben Pershing
The House and Senate Democratic leaders already appear to have their differences on the way forward in Afghanistan. Now the two men who control the purse strings for the federal government have also parted ways on the subject.

In the span of just a few hours Tuesday, the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees -- both Democrats -- made markedly different public statements on what President Obama should do next and whether more troops should be sent to bolster the war effort, with Sen. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) voicing support for a new counterinsurgency strategy and Rep. David Obey (Wis.) reiterating his doubts about the entire venture. The split matters, since an increase in troops for Afghanistan would likely require the Obama administration to ask Congress for more money, and Inouye and Obey would need to agree.

Inouye returned from a trip to Afghanistan Tuesday night and issued a statement endorsing the overall strategic recommendations of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander there. "At this time, I believe General McChrystal's assessment of the current situation and his conclusions, including his assessment that coalition forces must have more daily contact with the people of Afghanistan, is correct and is what is needed if we are to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan," Inouye said. "As for the specific numbers of U.S. troops that may be required for this new strategy, I will await specific recommendations from the military and the Administration."

While acknowledging the high cost of sending more troops, Inouye said: "If, after further consultation and deliberation we decide we need 40,000 more troops or 50,000 more troops in Afghanistan, that's what we'll send but much more discussion has to take place before a final decision on troop levels can be made."

Obey, meanwhile, delivered a speech in Stevens Point, Wis., where he made clear that he does not believe the national will exists for a big troop buildup, nor does he believe the U.S. has reliable partners in this fight.

"When you have to work through two weak reeds like the Pakistan government and Afghan government, it severely limits what you can accomplish," Obey said, according to the Wausau Daily Herald (as was flagged by "The Cable" blog on ForeignPolicy.com).

Obey later added, "If we're going to try and take on the Taliban all across Afghanistan, it's going to require hundreds of thousands of American, Pakistani and Afghani troops, and I just don't believe that this country wants to see that happen."

Obey has made these points before, issuing a lengthy statement last week outlining the pitfalls of a continued long-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan. "Because it would drain the spirit of the country over that long period of time as well as drain the U.S. treasury, it would devour virtually any other priorities that the President or anyone in Congress had," Obey said.

The split goes beyond just the current chairmen. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the previous Appropriations head before Inouye, made a rare visit to the Senate floor Wednesday to say: "I have become deeply concerned that in the eight years since the September 11 attacks, the reason for the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan has become lost, consumed in some broader scheme of nation-building which has clouded our purpose and obscure our reasoning." Byrd said he did not understand what McChrystal aimed to achieve with his troop request, and "if more troops are required to support an international mission in Afghanistan, then the international community should step up and provide the additional forces and funding."

That top Democrats are divided on Afghanistan is clear, but the next step on Capitol Hill is not.

The House and Senate are just beginning negotiations to reconcile their different versions of the Defense appropriations bill for 2010, and both measures include $128 billion to fund ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that amount simply represents the Obama administration's best guess, made months ago, for what the Pentagon would need over the next year.

That money does not included the cost of adding more troops beyond the current level. In his statement Tuesday, Inouye used the estimate that each additional 1,000 troops sent to Afghanistan would cost $1 billion per year, and that same ballpark number has been used by Appropriations aides and the administration. So a 40,000-troop increase would require something like $40 billion to fund.

But no one knows yet what strategy Obama will choose, and since the Pentagon has a huge budget and at least some flexibility to shift money between accounts, no one on Capitol Hill is willing to hazard a guess yet as to when the White House will have to ask for more money. When it does, Obey and Inouye -- and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), among others -- will have to sit down in a room and settle their differences.

By Ben Pershing  |  October 14, 2009; 4:08 PM ET
Categories:  House , Purse Strings  
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Comments

I trust Obey... more than I trust a guy you can blindfold with dental floss.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | October 14, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

This is the same division that goes back to Scoop Jackson, right?

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 14, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

SIMPLE MEN DO SIMPLE SUMS...

The ratio of American to Brit soldiers in Afghanistan is about 8:1 so it was no surprise when Prime-minister Brown announced, after calling for a solemn moment, that 500 additional front-line soldiers would be commanded to fight the Taliban.

Clearly we wait now for Nobel Peace prize winner, President Obama, to announce 8 x 500 = 40,000 additional young America soldiers to grab their kits and head off to the mountains and plains of Afghanistan.

Much like the slaughter of WW1 as soldiers were ripped apart goin' 'over the top' we will witness youngsters, barely 21, blown apart by IED's or taking massive hits by seasoned Taliban fighters.

Hear the words Senators, of the American people calling for legislation that, in this 'war', the military aged children and grand-children of all cabinet officials, and all Congress members serve on the front lines in the most dangerous combat positions-NO exceptions, NO exemptions.

Wake up please American friends - stop the slaughter of our guys, your children; Obama is powerless without your voices - your actions, do something positive NOW.

Posted by: coiaorguk | October 14, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

the unreliable partner in this fight is mr. obey himself!

Posted by: kenholmes | October 14, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

i was reading an article about how china is in afganistan.mining copper at a pretty big copper mine and they have made a deal with the afgan government.we dont have to save the aganistan people.osama bin lauden isnt around.so why spend our money and troops in afganistan?america are the invaderes and china is going to mine copper to make the afgans money.reseach it for yourselves its time to get out of aganistan if they need help let china handle it.apparantly a american wanted to do the mining but the chinese made a better deal and got the mine.and some of their workers have been killed.my question is how is this going to work out good?

Posted by: maxiis | October 15, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

We've been in one war or another almost non-stop since WWII and what have we accomplished with any of them? A stalemate in Korea. A tragic loss in Vietnam. A bungled job in Africa, rescued martini drinking college students from nothing, double crossed Saddam Housein to get Kuwaiti oil, invaded Afghanistan to drive out the Taliban so we could install the pipeline the Taliban had refused, then into Iraq to take over their oil which 6 or 7 years later we are still attempting and now we're supposed to clear Afghanistan of the Taliban and any others who don't like us taking over their country. Oh, it's different now. After we blow up a village we're supposed to go and be nice to the surviviors. Great strategy. I'm sure the Afghani's will fall for it hook line and sinker.

Of ocurse it doesn't matter if the Afghanis fall for it as long as we Americans do because then those who profit from war, the generals and the military industrial complex can profit. The oil cartels can hold onto their pipeline so they can profit. And what better reason for our sons and daughters to die, nation go bankrupt, lose our standing in the world than to make a profit for the elite few?

Posted by: thestoryplease | October 15, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

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