Thursday, May 14, 2009
“I am extremely dubious that the administration will be able to accomplish what it wants to accomplish.” - David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin
“What is our policy in Afghanistan? Is it an open-ended commitment to remake the country?” - Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York
“We keep asking for a plan. I think the Democrats are nervous just because they haven’t seen a plan yet.” - John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania
May 14, 2009
Democrats Uneasy Over National Security Policy
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are voicing growing unease over the Obama administration’s national security policies, including the seemingly open-ended commitment in Afghanistan and the nettlesome question of what to do with prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
House leaders have yanked from an emergency military spending bill the $80 million that President Obama requested to close the detention center, saying he had not provided a plan for the more than 200 detainees there. The White House has said the center will close by Jan. 22, 2010.
It is virtually certain that the Democratic majorities, with solid Republican support, will approve $96.7 billion in spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for other military operations.
But with votes in the House on Thursday and in the Senate next week, the discomfort among Democrats points to a harder road ahead for Mr. Obama and the prospect of far more serious rancor if conditions worsen overseas.
The unease, particularly over the war in Afghanistan, is greatest right now in the more liberal ranks of the Democratic caucus and is more evident in the House than in the Senate.
But American troop levels and war costs in Afghanistan will soar in the coming year, and party leaders, including Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, have warned that Democrats will most likely give the administration just one more year to get a handle on the military situation there before they start losing patience.
Mr. Obey said he would give the White House a year to demonstrate progress, just as he gave the Nixon administration a year to show progress in the Vietnam War inherited from the Johnson administration.
“With respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan, I am extremely dubious that the administration will be able to accomplish what it wants to accomplish,” Mr. Obey said last week. “The problem is not the administration’s policy or its goals. The problem is that I doubt that we have the tools there that we need to implement virtually any policy in that region.”
Mr. Obey, who entered Congress in 1969, added: “At the end of the year, Nixon had not moved the policy, and so I began to oppose the war. I am following that same approach here.”
The House spending bill requires that the Obama administration deliver a report early next year on progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, though it does not set any benchmarks for American military performance.
On Guantánamo, Senate Democratic leaders now say they plan to include the money to close the prison in their version of the supplemental military spending measure, but with tight restrictions that for now would ban the transfer of prisoners to the United States. Before using the money, the administration would also have to submit a plan to Congress detailing how it would close the camp.
Republicans are not oblivious to the Democrats’ internal disagreements. In the Senate, the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is making speeches nearly every day about the dangers of shuttering the Guantánamo camp.
Some liberal Democrats are expressing outright opposition to continuing the operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, and are planning to vote against the spending bill.
“There is no need in the 21st century to do this, to make us safe,” Representative Alan Grayson, a freshman Democrat from Florida, said of the continuing American-led wars. “This is a 19th-century strategy being played out at great expense in both money and blood in the 21st century, in the wrong time at the wrong place.”
“It’s wrong,” Mr. Grayson added. “That’s why I am going to vote against it.”
Representative John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania and chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said the administration had not provided a clear enough plan to reassure lawmakers about the operations in Afghanistan.
“We keep asking for a plan,” Mr. Murtha said. “I think the Democrats are nervous just because they haven’t seen a plan yet.”
Mr. Murtha also cautioned the administration about taking any steps that would prolong the operations in Iraq. “I can see a lot of consternation with the Democrats because a lot of them felt that the election was all about getting out,” he said.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, said he was struggling with how to vote on the supplemental military spending bill. “What is our policy in Afghanistan?” Mr. Nadler asked. “Is it an open-ended commitment to remake the country? I don’t know. That would worry me.”
Even lawmakers who are supporting the spending bill say they want to see better progress in the military operations overseas. “The difference between the last administration and this one is the difference between night and dawn,” said Representative Tom Perriello, a freshman Democrat from Virginia. “But we’re looking for day.”
Mr. Murtha said debate over the administration’s national security policies would only intensify over the next few weeks as Congress begins to consider the full military authorization bill for next year.
“This is going to be a problem from now, through the big bill, through the next year,” he said, adding that discontent will grow if the situation worsens in Iraq or Afghanistan or if there are further events like the killings of five American soldiers by a fellow American that underscore the severe strain on the troops.
“The public is not focused on the war at all,” Mr. Murtha said. “But they are going to be focused on it if it goes bad.”
Posted by Independent Intellect at 17:11