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.