Obama’s Afghanistan plan: High stakes for Congress, too

Sgt. Salei Sale of A-BTRY 2/377 PFAR Task Force Steel fires his M4 during a training session at Forward Operating Base Tillman.
REUTERS/Bruno Domingos
Sgt. Salei Sale of A-BTRY 2/377 PFAR Task Force Steel fires his M4 during a training session at Forward Operating Base Tillman.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When President Obama takes to the microphone at the U.S. Military Academy tonight and gazes out into an audience of cadets, he’ll be giving many of them a preview of their future when they deploy to Afghanistan. He’ll look into a television camera and try to convince a skeptical nation that there’s a way to win the war in Afghanistan, and that continuing to fight it is worth the inevitable cost of additional American lives.

Perhaps most critically, he’ll look south to Washington and attempt to convince a divided Congress to go along with his plan and pony up the dollars to pay for it less than one year before every member of the House and one third of the Senate risks their seats in the 2010 midterm elections.

The details of Obama’s proposal remain secret, but he is expected to announce some level of troop increase — fewer than the 40,000 proposed by his top general in the country but more than the none at all proposed by his ambassador there.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., is among a powerful group of lawmakers, including the chairmen of the Appropriations and Financial Services committees, backing a tax to pay for the war effort going forward. The 1 percent surcharge would raise up to $800 billion to $900 billion over 10 years. Paying for wars up front has become an alien concept for a conflict that was often funded through emergency appropriations bills during the Bush administration.

‘How will we get out?’
 The problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan are legion: The former Taliban regime is on the rise. Osama bin Laden remains at large. The new Afghan government is rife with corruption. Pakistan’s government doesn’t have control of the whole country, but does have control of nuclear weapons.

“If the President proposes an expanded engagement, I would like to see him lay out the rationale for that expansion. How will this engagement differ from Iraq and how will we get out?” asked Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. “The president will also have to explain how he will pay for it, laying out the current costs of the engagement and the long-term costs, not only in dollars but in terms of troop levels and expected causalities. Finally, he will have to lay out an exit strategy.

“I am skeptical of a heightened engagement.  There is a real concern that the ongoing cost will detract from investing in our economic recovery and our continued ability to create jobs in troubled economic times.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has gone further in recent weeks, saying that  sending any additional troops to Afghanistan would be a mistake until Afghan President Hamid Karzai cleans up corruption in his own government, including getting rid of cabinet ministers connected to the country’s illegal-but-lucrative drug trade.

And those are Minnesota’s Democrats.

Kline pushes for more troops
GOP Rep. John Kline is among a large group of Republicans who support dramatically increasing troop levels in Afghanistan — and have criticized the president for not already having authorized them. In an Oct. 30 editorial for the Star Tribune Kline warned that “failure to take action sends a loud and clear statement to the world about America’s commitment — or lack thereof — to victory in Afghanistan.”

Kline supports a recommendation by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to send 40,000 more troops to the region. Anything less, he warned, puts the U.S. “in danger of losing.”

“The decision to send additional men and women into a war zone is never easy — nor should it be made lightly or quickly. I don’t want to send our sons and daughters — including my son, who is scheduled to return to Afghanistan early next year — into a situation we can’t win. But I trust the wisdom and experience of our leaders on the ground.”

MinnPost’s Washington Correspondent, Derek Wallbank, will provide live commentary via Twitter on Obama’s speech beginning at 7 p.m. central. Follow along at @dwallbank.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/01/2009 - 09:48 am.

    The most damaging consequence to the American Army from the new zeitgeist of COIN is that it has taken the Army’s focus off of strategy. Currently, US military strategy is really nothing more than a bunch of COIN principles, massaged into catchy commander’s talking points for the media, emphasizing winning the hearts and minds and shielding civilians. The result is a strategy of tactics and principles,

    The new American way of war commits the US military to campaigns of counterinsurgency and nation-building in the world’s troubled spots. In essence it is total war—how else can one understand it any differently
    when COIN experts talk about American power “changing entire societies”—but it is a total war without the commensurate total support of will and resources from the American people. This strategic mismatch might prove catastrophic in the years ahead if the United States cannot figure
    out how to align means with ends in a successful strategy.

    We are told by the experts that this new way of war requires time, patience, modest amounts of blood, and vast amounts of treasure. Yet in the new way of American war, tactics have buried strategy, and it precludes any options other than an endless and likely futile struggle to achieve the loyalty of populations that, in the end, may be peripheral to American interests.

  2. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 12/01/2009 - 11:47 am.

    Let us not forget who got us into the mess and mismanaged the war and our relationship with Pakistan for six-plus years. If we pulled out now, Afghanistan would completely revert to a lawless mess. I’m not sure our chances of success are very high, but I don’t really know what other options we have.

    And as much as I opposed the illegal, stupid and mismanaged war in Iraq, the surge there seemed to signal the beginning of the end.

    And why are people like Kline always worried about “losing.” What is “winning” a war these days? The world is too complicated for simplistic accomplishments such as “winning.” The whole world is so interconnected that you can trace the trouble in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East to European policies that are hundreds of years old. I mean did we really “win” Gulf War I. If we did, why did we have to go back? Every time I hear a politician use words like “winning the war” I just think to myself: “How stupid is this person?”

  3. Submitted by Dan Vogel on 12/01/2009 - 03:34 pm.

    Thank God for Rep. Ellison!

  4. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 12/01/2009 - 05:25 pm.

    Only time will tell whether Obama’s decision is sound strategy or the beginning of a bloody (or bloodier) mess. But say what you will about the merits of his approach, people like columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times who say that Obama should have had the “courage” to just pull out have it backwards.

    Given the vociferous opposition of his base to increasing the number of troops, the courageous decision is the one Obama has taken. There is absolutely nothing in it for him politically. Sure, the Republicans would have chastised him for weakness and for “cutting and running” if he’d withdrawn, but you can bet that they’ll find flaws with the current strategy, too. Some Republicans may support him on this issue, but it won’t stop them from fighting him every step of the way on his domestic agenda or from working tirelessly to undercut his chances of re-election. He is risking the support of his own supporters, who will have themselves to thank if they wake up to President Palin in January 2013. The only conclusion that makes sense to me is that Obama must be convinced that his decision serves the national interest in a vital way.

    I have thought for awhile that Obama may not seek a second term. It’s early days yet, but I believe that the difficulties of governing in such a highly polarized atmosphere have proven more daunting than he anticipated. His Afghanistan decision only reinforces my hunch in this regard.

  5. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 12/01/2009 - 05:40 pm.

    Lyndon Johnson tried this in Viet Nam
    it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
    If the President wants to escalate the War then he needs to find a way to pay for it,probably some kind of War Tax.
    If this war is to go on then it is time to rethink the Draft.
    Poor and Middle Class kids shouldn’t be the only ones sacrificing.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/01/2009 - 09:32 pm.

    @Jean
    The draft gives cause for pause. It chastens the hasty and cautions the reckless. But puts the cost before the action. Had we a draft, we would not have two wars.

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/02/2009 - 05:30 am.

    Dan V (#3) — And for Betty McCollum and Jim Oberstar. We have some uncowable representatives, for which I, too, am grateful.

    Re: the 1% surcharge to pay for this war. Maybe they could think also about another 1% to pay off the deficits created by (1) the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan to date, and (2) the tax cuts for the wealthy that created new billionaires every year, which they did not use to create jobs for the million or so Americans who fell into poverty each year under Bush’s Trickle-Down II.

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