[Marxism] Obama may turn to Republicans for support on Afghanistan escalation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Oct 1 07:05:26 MDT 2009

Washington Post, Thursday, October 1, 2009
On War, Obama Could Turn to GOP
Democrats Oppose Larger Afghan Effort

By Scott Wilson

With much of his party largely opposed to expanding military operations 
in Afghanistan, President Obama could be forced into the awkward 
political position of turning to congressional Republicans for support 
if he follows the recommendations of the commanding U.S. general there.

Congressional Democrats have begun promoting a compromise package of 
additional resources for Afghanistan that would emphasize training for 
Afghan security forces but deny Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal the 
additional combat troops he has indicated he needs to regain the 
initiative against the Taliban insurgency. The emerging Democratic 
consensus is likely to constrain the president as he considers how best 
to proceed with an increasingly unpopular war.

On Wednesday, Obama chaired a three-hour discussion on Afghanistan with 
Cabinet members and senior officials at the White House. The meeting was 
largely a reassessment of the past eight years of American involvement 
in the region, with the president repeatedly probing his military and 
civilian advisers to justify their assumptions, according to one 
participant. This source said there was a recognition that the decision 
facing Obama is one of the most critical of his presidency.

In interviews over the past week, Democratic leaders have endorsed the 
change in military focus and the expedited training of Afghan forces 
that McChrystal outlined in his stark initial assessment of the war. But 
they expressed deep misgivings over McChrystal's impending request for 
as many as 40,000 new U.S. troops. Some argue that any increase in the 
U.S. military presence would help the Taliban whip up public anger 
toward an expanding foreign occupation that already comprises more than 
100,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers and Marines.

"We basically need a much larger Afghan army much quicker -- that's the 
bottom line, that's the winning strategy," said Sen. Carl M. Levin 
(D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Before we 
commit to additional combat forces, which has a distinct negative, not 
only for our overstretched troops but also the footprint argument, I 
believe we must do these other things that are the best way to succeed."

Levin's argument is echoed by many Democrats in the Senate, which is set 
to vote this week on a $636 billion defense appropriations bill, 
including $128 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress 
would be called on to approve additional funds if Obama decides to 
expand the war effort in Afghanistan.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee, said history demands that the administration and Congress vet 
the mission before committing more forces. "In Vietnam, we heard the 
commanding general on the ground saying we need more troops. We heard 
the president of the United States say if we just put in more troops, 
we're going to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said in an 
interview for The Washington Post's "Voices of Power" series. "And the 
fact is that they were wrong because they never examined the underlying 
assumptions on which our involvement was based."

Recent opinion polls have shown that only a minority of Americans 
believe the war is worth fighting, and the flawed presidential election 
in August has eroded the Obama administration's confidence in the Afghan 
government. Much of the opposition to the war is rooted in Obama's 
political base, which is angry that he is ending one war in Iraq only to 
expand another in Afghanistan, even though he pledged in his campaign to 
do just that.

Obama and his senior advisers, including McChrystal, who participated by 
video link, on Wednesday concluded two days of initial discussions on 
the general's assessment. The talks marked the first formal internal 
White House debate over the report's recommendations, which, if carried 
out in full, would greatly expand the U.S. commitment to the war in 
Afghanistan, in terms of both military presence and civilian assistance 
to build a more stable government from the provinces to Kabul.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made clear in a meeting 
with Post editors this week that he supports the counterinsurgency 
strategy that Obama endorsed in March and that is the basis of 
McChrystal's plan.

"Basically I share [McChrystal's] view," Rasmussen said. The right 
policy, he added, "is definitely not an exit strategy. It's of crucial 
importance to stress that we will stay as long as it takes to stabilize 
the country."

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of 
anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the administration is 
asking questions about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan "that frankly 
have not been asked over the last eight years."

The official said the discussions are focusing on how best to pursue 
"our core national security goals," which the official defined as 
defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. But the official indicated that an 
array of alternatives are under review.

"I don't know if there is such a thing as middle option, because I know 
there are more than two options," the official said.

In his 66-page report, first published by The Post, McChrystal warned 
that "a failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum" 
in the next 12 months "risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency 
is no longer possible." He stated that "resources will not win this war, 
but under-resourcing could lose it."

In the administration, there are divisions on whether to send more 
resources to Afghanistan or adopt a more narrow counterterrorism 
campaign that would avoid some of the long-term nation-building tasks 
that McChrystal considers necessary.

In the past, Vice President Biden has advocated a strategy of shrinking 
the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and concentrating on disrupting 
al-Qaeda and its allies through drone strikes and Special Forces 
operations. Now anti-war Democrats on the Hill are pushing for that option.

"We should use the same approach that we take in parts of the world that 
we have not invaded," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of 
the Foreign Relations Committee, citing U.S. operations in Somalia, 
Yemen and elsewhere.

The emerging Democratic position could compel Obama, whose domestic 
agenda is facing stiff Republican criticism in Congress, to rely on 
those same opposition lawmakers for support if he decides to send more 
combat troops to Afghanistan.

Doing so would give Obama far less flexibility in devising his own plan, 
given that Republicans have strongly favored giving McChrystal what he 
asks for. As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Armed 
Services Committee, said last week: "I'm against a half-measure. That's 
the worst scenario. . . . If you do what the commanders recommend, I 
will be an enthusiastic supporter of the president."

Feingold warned that "it would probably not be a good idea for the 
president to rely on Republicans and a handful of Democrats."

McChrystal, whom Obama sent to Afghanistan in May after firing his 
predecessor, is expected to soon request thousands of additional combat 
troops, support forces and military trainers. His timeline for more 
resources roughly coincides with the U.S. withdrawal schedule from Iraq, 
which calls for all U.S. forces to leave the country by the end of 2011.

At the conclusion of an initial review in March, Obama approved 21,000 
additional combat troops for Afghanistan. By the end of the year, 68,000 
U.S. troops are scheduled to be on the ground.

Lee H. Hamilton, the former Democratic chairman of the House Foreign 
Affairs Committee who has many former aides working on Obama's national 
security team, said that "everyone likes the training of troops, which 
is something we've not been very good at." But he said the key question 
is whether Congress, if it approves the resources for McChrystal's 
counterinsurgency strategy, will continue that level of support for the 
years it will take to stabilize Afghanistan.

Even the most politically popular aspects of the administration's Afghan 
strategy are meeting resistance in Congress.

Last week, a Senate panel stripped $900 million from the 
administration's $6.6 billion request to train and equip Afghan security 
forces. In a statement opposing the decision, the White House said the 
"full request reflects his commanders' plan for Afghan forces to assume 
a greater share of responsibility for security as quickly as possible."

Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, 
said: "This is a very complex stew here, and the McChrystal report is 
only one element of that stew. It's clear we're at a major decision 
point in Afghanistan, and unfortunately it comes as we're at a major 
decision point on health care, a major decision point on climate change, 
a major decision point on financial regulation and the economy," he said.

Staff writers Ben Pershing, Paul Kane, Michael D. Shear and Anne E. 
Kornblut contributed to this report.

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