US Lawmakers Caution Obama on Afghanistan

17 March 2009

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking President Barack Obama to reconsider the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan saying objectives of the U.S. military involvement remain unclear. The lawmakers explained their concerns, expressed in a letter to the president, at a news Capitol Hill news conference.

In their letter the 14 lawmakers assert that rather than helping build a stable Afghanistan capable of governing itself, what they describe as an escalation of the U.S. presence may actually harm U.S. security.

With the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan sparked by the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the U.S soon to enter its 8th year, they urge President Obama to proceed cautiously and allow a full debate.

Representative Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican and one of the few Republican critics of former President George Bush's Iraq war policies, describes what he and others in the group feel needs to be discussed.

"To talk about this policy and how we can have success, instead of having a buildup of 51,000 to [potentially] 100,000 and then we have got the same problem that other great nations have had in Afghanistan. They're in a bad situation that they cannot get out of," he said.

"A message [to the president] that, look, re-think this. Give it another thought. Remember what happened to the British, the Russians and look what is happening to us right now. This [sending 17,000 new troops] is not a prudent step to take," said Dennis Kucinich, a Ohio Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

In their letter to President Obama, the lawmakers voice concern that any perceived military success in Afghanistan might create pressure to increase military activity in Pakistan possibly leading to dangerous destabilization in the region.

Ron Paul
Ron Paul
Representative Ron Paul, an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, says the hope is that the Obama administration will focus on non-military means to resolve the Afghanistan situation. 

"Our effort here in writing this letter is just urging caution because we're hoping that with the new administration, [that] we will have an administration that will lend itself more to diplomacy and working through other means rather than always military confrontation," he said.

While President Obama approved the deployment of 17,000 additional U.S. troops to join the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, his administration is also nearing completion of a comprehensive strategic review of policy on Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Democrats and Republicans who signed the letter say a key goal is to encourage a thorough debate, before the U.S. potentially becomes mired in an even longer military commitment.

(from left) Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Ed Whitfield
(from left) Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Ed Whitfield

"I think it is important for the American people and all of us to have a genuine discussion debate as everyone has said about the strategy, the exist strategy with clarity and that is precisely what we're asking," said Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican.
"During the debate on Iraq we always said it's keeping us from getting Afghanistan right," said Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts.  "Well now we're starting to get out of Iraq, what does it mean to get Afghanistan right? I think some of us believe there is not a military solution to be had."

As for when this comprehensive debate about clear objectives in Afghanistan will take place, the lawmakers who made the appeal to the president point to the 2010 defense appropriations bill Congress will consider, and a new $75 billion war supplemental measure the White House will send to Congress.