In Lisbon for the NATO summit, President Obama is proposing a plan that would keep foreign military troops in Afghanistan until at least the end of 2014. Even this end date is vague, discussed as an “inflection point” and the possible end of the “combat mission.” We have learned to be skeptical of such rhetoric—our combat mission is also over in Iraq, and there are still 50,000 Americans troops on the ground.
The idea of extending a failing war that is already the longest in US history is not surprisingly setting off alarm bells. Many members of Congress have been quick to respond that backing off from the July 2011 withdrawal start date is unwise and unacceptable. Sixty-one representatives sent a letter to President Obama today:
Mr. President, such an extension of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is contrary to American public opinion and to the future of America. We believe that this Congress will not support efforts to extend our military operations in Afghanistan into 2014 and we call on you to reaffirm your commitment to begin a safe and rapid redeployment beginning in July 2011. Any delay or deceleration in the pace of redeployment is unacceptable.
Yet another group sent a letter to the president about the upcoming Afghanistan strategy review, which the administration has been downplaying. The group encouraged the president to take a serious look at whether the war in Afghanistan is worth the cost.
We write to you, Mr. President, because we have grave concerns that the current course in Afghanistan is compromising our national security interests and is unsustainable even in the short term. Currently, you are carrying out a review and assessment of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, which is due to be released this Friday at the NATO meeting in Lisbon, according to media reports. We strongly support a comprehensive reassessment as we have serious concerns about this strategy. We urge you to avoid making this a review limited to assessing the military tactics within Afghanistan and instead address the fundamental question: Is the war in Afghanistan and the price our nation is paying for this war truly in the national security interest of the United States?
Rep. Barbara Lee also took to The Huffington Post to express opposition to delaying a withdrawal.
Not only does this commitment push back the goal posts for concluding a decade of open-ended war, it delays the tough decisions that will need to be made upon acknowledging the true reality in Afghanistan — our military-first strategy simply isn’t working.
The President’s 2014 proposal does offer a few certainties, however, notably more coalition and civilian casualties, the construction and maintenance of more military bases and facilities, and added profits for the more than 74,000 private contractors currently operating in Afghanistan.
This congressional opposition is only likely to grow as the idea of staying in Afghanistan for four more years sinks in with politicians and the public. The war in Afghanistan is already very unpopular with voters, and especially with Democrats. All of this could spell political trouble for the president as he needs those voters energized and engaged for the 2012 presidential election. The members who have responded so quickly to this backtracking on Afghanistan should be commended, and we must mobilize the grassroots to get more of them creating a drumbeat and pressuring the Obama administration to change course.