Lawmakers split over Obama's troop plan for Afghanistan
By Paul Kane
President Obama won endorsements Tuesday from leading congressional hawks for his proposal to send 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan, but antiwar liberals denounced the policy and vowed to fight the effort when the war-funding legislation arrives on Capitol Hill.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) voiced support for the general parameters of the emerging proposal, which Obama will formally announce Tuesday night before thousands of Army cadets at West Point. Lieberman, who supported McCain over Obama in the 2008 election, called the president's proposal the "right decision" that comes very close to matching Gen. Stanley McChrystal's initial request for 40,000 troops, which Lieberman supported.
"Over 30,000 is a significant American commitment," Lieberman said.
Support from Lieberman and Republicans is likely to be critical for the White House, given the uprising of liberal Democrats against the proposal.
Obama and congressional leaders have not decided how the increased deployments -- which will put the total number of troops at more than 100,000 on the ground in Afghanistan -- would be funded, but the leading idea was sending a supplemental war-funding request to Congress early next year. If liberals on both ends of the Capitol lived up to their current rhetoric, they would have more than enough votes to kill the war funding unless a large bloc of Republicans joined Obama in supporting the effort.
McCain said he supported the troop request but had reservations about the potential for Obama, in his speech, to signal a tacit timeline for withdrawal. "Success is what causes us to withdraw," he said.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), a senior Republican on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, visited McChrystal in Kabul on Thanksgiving Day and came away convinced by the general that the plan would be successful. "He's very confident with the strategy. It's the 40,000 he laid out," Chambliss said, counting the increased NATO troops to reach the initial request. "I feel confident that I'm going to be able to support the president's proposal."
But liberals and some prior supporters of the war effort expressed outright opposition to the plan. "I'm skeptical of any troop increase," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who visited McChrystal in August.
"I'm glad I don't have to give that speech," said Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and close friend of Vice President Biden. Kaufman said the most significant policy pronouncement is not the overall troop level but rather dealing with the corruption inside the Afghan government and getting the Pakistani government to take on Taliban elements in their territory.
"What I fear is we're getting sucked into a war without end," said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), who joined Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in announcing their opposition. The lawmakers demanded that the troop funding request come to Capitol Hill immediately after the health-care debate is concluded so they can consider it before the president starts deploying the additional troops to the war-torn region.
In an indication of the amount of unrest among Democrats, Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) announced her opposition to the decision by declaring that were "eerie echoes of Vietnam" and the 1965 decision to ramp up the number of troops there. Harman has been one of the leading hawks among Democrats, an initial supporter of the war in Iraq.
"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," she said in a statement.
December 1, 2009; 3:45 PM ET
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