Obama confronts division, doubts on his Afghan decision

09:19, December 03, 2009      

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen (L-R) testify at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Afghanistan war on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., capital of the U.S., Dec. 2, 2009. Gates said during his testimony on Wednesday that "failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover" and it would "have severe consequences for the United States and the world." (Xinhua/Zhang Yan)

U.S. President Barack Obama is confronting divisions and doubts on his decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan as he is trying to sell his new Afghan strategy to the U.S. Congress and the general public.


There are sharp disagreement among members of Obama's own Democratic party, which indicates potential political trouble for the president.

Some Democratic lawmakers applauded the decision, which calls for sending 30,000 more U.S. forces to Afghanistan and starting pullout in July 2011.

"I am pleased that he made clear that our resources are not unlimited and our commitment is not open-ended. ... The president drew an essential distinction between his approach to the war and that of the previous administration," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

Senator Kay R. Hagan (D-North Carolina) said he was "encouraged" by the decision.

"With these additional troops, we can disrupt, dismantle and defeat the terrorists there that threaten all of us here at home," he said.

Calling it a "necessary step," Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-Louisiana) said, "I support the president's decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan and commend him for taking the time to get input from both his military and civilian advisers."

But others are not so convinced, offering a cautious note.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California) said, "the American people and the Congress will now have an opportunity to fully examine this strategy."

While saying she supports the president's exit strategy, Senator Barbara Boxer, (D-California) said she do not support adding more troops.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), former colleague of Obama, said he needs to "take some time to think through the proposal."

Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on The State Department and Foreign Operations said, "at this point I am not convinced that the hole dug earlier by a thousand bad decisions can be paved over at all."

Several members of the Democratic Senate caucus even voiced opposition.

Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania) said he opposes sending 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan "because I am not persuaded that it is indispensable in our fight against al Qaida."

"I disagree with the president's two key assumptions: that we can transfer responsibility to Afghanistan after 18 months and that our NATO allies will make a significant contribution. It is unrealistic to expect the United States to be out in 18 months so there is really no exit strategy. This venture is not worth so many American lives or the billions it will add to our deficit."

Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) called the plan "an expensive gamble".

"Sending more troops could further destabilize Afghanistan and, more importantly, Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state where al-Qaida is headquartered," he added.


Leading Republicans backed the additional deployments, but cast doubts on the exit strategy illustrated by the president.

Senator Lamar Alexander, (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said his major concern of the strategy is "that the administration is more focused on an exit strategy than a success strategy. An exit strategy should come only after we've achieved success."

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said while he is glad that the president will send more troops, but "sending mixed signals by outlining the exit before these troops even get on the ground undermines their ability to succeed."

Republicans like John McCain, Obama's former campaign rival, said they are wary that the exit strategy may be too firm and a signal to allies and the Taliban that the U.S. is not committed to the fight.

"The way that you win wars is to break the enemy's will, not to announce dates that you are leaving," McCain said.


Some experts also raised doubts on Obama's decision, fearing that the timetable for winding down the war in Afghanistan may be too short for the United States to achieve its war aims but too long to hold American public support.

Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor and former Army officer, said the balancing act could leave Obama facing "really unpalatable" choices in 2011 and beyond.

He said Obama could be forced to choose between sticking to his plans and leaving the American mission unfinished or extending the U.S. role in an unpopular war.

"It's hard to conceive that public support will have risen. On the other hand, a president facing re-election who pulls the plug on a failing war is going to find himself charged with being an ineffective commander-in-chief," said the expert.

Kori Schake, an associate professor at West Point, said the timetable Obama is laying out is "completely unrealistic."

Washington has been unable to commit the kind of civilian resources needed to help Afghanistan build civil institutions and has "an imperfect partner" in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, she said.

Matthew Hoh, a former State Department official who resigned in protest of the administration's Afghanistan policy in September, argued Obama's expected timeline is too long.

"I think it should be sooner, coupled with serious negotiations to produce a political resolution to a conflict that has been going on for about 30 years now," Hoh said.

Peter Mansoor, a retired U.S. Army colonel who helped plan the "surge" campaign in Iraq in 2006, said the "critical element" in U.S. plans "is time, not necessarily troops."

"Any counterinsurgency takes years to fully tamp down the insurgents and create a viable state that we can leave as U.S. troops withdraw," he said.

The mixed reaction to Obama's Afghan decision reflects the division and doubts among the U.S. public on the issue.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted in mid-November found 50 percent of the people support sending large number of troops to Afghanistan while 49 percent don't.

At the same time, political support for the war has fallen from more than 90 percent in 2001 to 45 percent.

Obama delivered a prime-time speech to the nation Tuesday night, laying out a strategy which calls for sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and starting pulling out U.S. forces in July 2011.

As the public is turning negative toward the Afghan war and his fellow Democrats are increasingly vocal in their opposition to a troop buildup in Afghanistan, the decision is regarded as one of the most critical moment to shape his presidency and will be a tough-sell.

Obama ordered to send 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in March and U.S. troop levels there has grown to 68,000.

When the 30,000 additional troop arrive there under Obama's latest decision, the U.S. military presence in that country will grow to nearly 100,000, three times of the U.S. troop size there when Obama took office in January.

Source: Xinhua
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