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Cable News Fleshes Out Afghanistan Quagmire – Are Congressional Democrats Listening?

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Posted on August 25 2009 2:30 pm

Five months ago, immediately after Barack Obama had increased the number of American troops stationed in Afghanistan to subdue the rising Taliban insurgencies there, the President told CBS’s 60 Minutes that it was vital for the U.S. to have a clearly defined exit strategy for those troops. At the time, U.S. commanders said that as many as 30,000 additional troops were needed to overcome a stalemate in parts of Afghanistan. Obama chose to send 17,000.

Five months later, the situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen, according to military brass.

Although Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen repeatedly dodged the question on additional troop requirements in the region, NATO military commanders told a recent U.S. Senate delegation in Kabul – in no uncertain terms – that more troops are urgently needed.

And now, with the results of the Afghan presidential election in dispute, the concern of an eruption in sectarian violence grows as both incumbent President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah make simultaneous claims of victory and fraud in the election.

Obama on Afghanistan

President Obama made a now-well-known declaration about the war in Afghanistan at a recent VFW event in Arizona. “We must never forget,” he said. “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.”

It’s an echoing of past statements the President has made about the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. During the aforementioned 60 Minutes interview, for example, Obama spoke at length about the now eight-year-old war:

“It’s very important to make sure that we’ve got stability in Afghanistan at least through the elections in August… the Taliban have become much more aggressive, much better organized, have been pushing hard. And that makes the entire country very vulnerable. So we had to beef up our troop presence there. There’s an election that’s taking place in August. And we’ve gotta make sure for the legitimacy of the Afghan government that there is a fair and free election.”

Obama was clear on his belief that a secure Afghanistan will make for a safer America:

“Making sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies. That’s our number one priority… our main challenge, our main issue, has to be really make sure that Bin Laden and his lieutenants aren’t plotting to kill Americans. That’s our primary national security concern. And I think we’ve lost sight of that… it is not acceptable for us to simply sit back and let safe havens of terrorists plan and plot to kill Americans– in the homeland. And that’s why this is– an enormous burden that we’re gonna have to bear.”

Semantics – A Favorite Tool in Partisan Politics

There are too many unfortunate ironies here to document without a hefty publishing deal. But, summed up, these ironies lie primarily in partisan politics and the manner in which Democrats are fighting to prevent the public from seeing any parallels between Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan and George Bush’s choices on Iraq.

As pointed out in March 2009 by both Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Bill Sammon of FOX News, Democrats are scraping the bottom of the semantics barrel to avoid these comparisons.

“Whereas a lot of democrats reflexively opposed George Bush’s surge – it wasn’t so much because they were anti-war, it was because they wanted to destroy the Bush presidency. And that’s why a lot of the lefty groups are now silent on Obama’s surge in Afghanistan.” — Bill Sammon, FOX News

What Leading House Democrats Said

“This is about our national security, how we protect the American people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) on the The Rachel Maddow Show earlier this year following her Congressional Delegation trip to Kabul, Afghanistan, in February.

She expanded on this in a post-trip press conference, saying:

“It was clear to us that Afghanistan cannot be allowed to be a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against the United States… The consensus at our meetings was that the U.S. national security interest is in a secure Afghanistan with a government considered to be legitimate by the Afghan people.”

More pertinent to the current dilemma, Pelosi adds:

“I don’t know when that is coming, but it is imminent. But I know that Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have an interest in following this issue, contributing their thinking to it, raising questions about it.”

In May 2005, when the House of Representatives was debating H.R. 1815 (National Defense Authorization Act of 2006), current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md) said:

“I believe many Democrats will vote for this legislation because we are committed to provide our troops with every resource necessary to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan and anywhere else the call to defend freedom takes our men and women in the military.”

What They’re Saying Now

Not much. Previously outspoken Democrat leaders in Congress have been largely silent thus far in the public discourse over the “serious and deteriorating” situation in Afghanistan. And their silence may be a result of waning public support for the war.

According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, “A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country.” Among registered Democrats, the divide is much deeper, with 70 percent saying the war is no longer worth fighting.

Democrats are notoriously disinclined to address the tough issues, especially when they lack popular approval from the American voter. So the big question becomes: Will Congress abandon the President if he requests more troops for the war in Afghanistan?

FOX contributor Juan Williams says, “I think part of that is a responsible President Obama saying we are going to take aggressive action, even if it comes at a political cost to him [support] from his left – and it will. You watch.”

Williams’ assessment is proving to be correct. A quiet dissent is brewing among Democrats in Washington over any proposals Obama may put forth for increasing troops in Afghanistan.

One Democrat, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin – who previously opposed President Bush’s 2007 troop surge in Iraq and actually called on Congressional Democrats to cut off funding for the Iraq War — has already said he will not support a troop surge in Afghanistan.

“After eight years, I am not convinced that simply pouring more and more troops into Afghanistan is a well-thought-out strategy,” Feingold told editors at a Wisconsin newspaper.

And there will likely be more Dem defections when Congress and the President return to Washington.

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