Obama Faces Liberal Rebellion on Afghanistan

Tuesday, 24 Nov 2009 12:53 PM

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As opposition grows among his own base of liberal Democrats, President Barack Obama is bracing for a tough sell of his apparent decision to commit tens of thousands of new U.S. forces to the stalemated war in Afghanistan.

Military officials and others expect Obama to settle on a middle-ground option that would deploy an eventual 32,000 to 35,000 U.S. forces to the 8-year-old conflict, according to the Associated Press. That rough figure has stood as the most likely option since before Obama's last large war council meeting earlier this month, when he tasked military planners with rearranging the timing and makeup of some of the deployments.

Obama held the 10th and final meeting of his Afghanistan strategy review since mid-September on Monday night. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president left the war council meeting without announcing a decision to the group or to aides, but that no more meetings are planned, the AP reported.

"After completing a rigorous final meeting, President Obama has the information he wants and needs to make his decision and he will announce that decision within days," Gibbs said not long after the two-hour meeting broke up.

But opposition is growing within the liberal ranks of the Democratic Party, which is already angry over the president’s reluctance to fully embrace a public option on healthcare reform. Democratic allies of the president, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, have become more outspoken on the war in other forums as well.

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Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, reiterated his opposition to escalating U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and said Monday that if President Obama does approve an increase in troop levels, the war should financed by a surtax on the rich.

Obey argued that the tax should be paid by all taxpayers, with rates ranging from 1 percent for lower wage earners to 5 percent for the wealthy. He proposed a similar tax to pay for ongoing military operations in Iraq in 2007, only to have the idea dismissed out of hand by Pelosi, who had just become Speaker of the House.

Obey’s demand for a new war tax echoes a similar call by Levin, who recently told Bloomberg's Al Hunt that he favors a new tax on Americans earning more than $200,000 a year to pay for sending any additional troops.

"I want the president and every American to think ahead of time about what it means if you do add to our involvement in Afghanistan," Obey told ABC News. "I am no military strategist, but I don't believe we have the tools to accomplish our mission in Afghanistan because you have to have functioning, effective government and there isn't one in Afghanistan. There isn't one in Pakistan either."

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, meanwhile, are beginning to organize more strongly against Afghanistan, according to Roll Call. Some are demanding an immediate troop withdrawal, while others press for a scaled-back troop increase tied to timelines and resources for economic development.

“The Progressive Caucus does not have a stand on it at this moment,” Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., told Roll Call. “We will. We’ll have our set of principles and expectations, but health care sucked the energy out of everything. ... We know we’ve been quiet.”

The 83-member caucus has also been split over whether to wait for Obama to lay out his strategy before weighing in versus proactively staking out a position on the war in advance of Obama’s decision, an approach advocated by Woolsey, Roll Call reported last week.

“Unfortunately, we have been quiet,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., also a CPC co-chairman. But he suggested that behind the silence has been an evolving position toward Afghanistan, which in recent months has been dominated by news of government corruption, misspent U.S. dollars and rising U.S. casualties.

“I think the whole dynamic of the argument [for troop increases] has changed,” Grijalva said. News of more violence and corruption has had a significant effect on “people who said they were willing to tolerate more troops ... two months ago if they were tied to an exit strategy.”

The majority of the caucus is opposed to any troop increases and is prepared to deliver a blow to Obama if he requests more war funding from Congress.

“It does look like, because we have our president in the White House, we’re giving him a little bit more room. But that wasn’t intended,” Woolsey said. “We’re going to disagree if he wants to put a whole bunch more troops in there.”

CPC members have largely rallied behind three bills filed by fellow liberals: Rep. Jim McGovern’s, D-Mass., proposal to create withdrawal timelines and measurements for success; Rep. Barbara Lee’s, D-Calif., proposal to prohibit funds for troop surges; and Honda and Grijalva’s proposal to invest 80 percent of funds in infrastructure and economic development and 20 percent in security.

But even the proposal to spend 20 percent of funds on military operations, as compared with 90 percent now, is still hard to swallow for leading anti-war voices like Woolsey and Lee, Roll Call reported.

Lee said she will “absolutely” oppose any troop increases, regardless of whether there is an exit strategy, because “the more troops that go into Afghanistan, the more open-ended the war becomes.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who has opposed every war funding bill for Afghanistan, complained to Roll Call that House Democratic leaders have put progressives in “these untenable positions” by pairing votes on war funding with issues that they support, such as the hate-crimes bill.

“These are the kinds of games that are being played to try to win votes,” said Kucinich, citing another vote for war funds that was paired with extending unemployment insurance. “Members have been trapped into voting for funding. ... There’s only so many machinations you can demonstrate before the game is done.”

On this policy at least, liberals may find some common ground with moderates and conservatives. Some are beginning to speak out against an Afghan troop surge, if nothing else because they doubt Obama’s staying power in any war. A series of recent polls have shown the American public becoming increasingly disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan, where more than 800 US soldiers have lost their lives.

A new poll Tuesday found Americans deeply divided about deploying more US troops to Afghanistan, just days before President Barack Obama was to announce his decision on sending reinforcements, AFP reported.

The CNN survey, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, found 50 percent of Americans would favor sending tens of thousands more troops while 49 percent would oppose it.

Asked generally about their view about the war in Afghanistan, 45 percent said they are in favor, while 52 percent oppose it.

The poll sampled 1,014 adults, including 928 registered voters from November 13 and 15, and has a three percent margin of error.

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