Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Missouri Pols React Cautiously to Obama Surge Plan


Missouri's leading Republicans praised President Obama's call to infuse Afghanistan with 30,000 additional troops but contended a timetable for withdrawal could undermine the goal of the mission.
The president said the troops would deploy in early 2010, but also allow the United States "to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011."
"It will be clear to the Afghan government – and, more importantly, to the Afghan people – that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country," Obama said.

That's where Republicans are breaking with the president.

"I am encouraged that the President has renewed his commitment to the strategy he outlined in March, a strategy that will allow our troops to return on success and put Afghanistan on the road to stability," said Sen. Kit Bond, who was briefed before the president's speech.

In a separate statement obtained by the Associated Press, Bond said more troops would've been better, "but this is what the president has recommended and that's what we'll support."

But the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee quickly added, "We need a success strategy, not an exit strategy." According to Foreign Policy's blog, Bond made his concerns clear to the president in their meeting.

Bond's concern, that emphasizing the exit strategy will send the wrong message to U.S. allies and enemies, was echoed by Congressman Roy Blunt.

"The president tonight tried to walk a line between the political views of those who are ready to give up on the war in Afghanistan, and the real-world needs of both our troops on the ground and the Afghan people, all of whom need to have confidence that the U.S. is there to get the job done," Blunt said.

"While I’m pleased that he will take steps toward adopting General McChrystal’s troop level recommendations, setting a published timetable while announcing a troop increase will satisfy neither of those groups," Blunt added.

Blunt's likely U.S. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan's spokesman did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking reaction.

GOP Congressional candidate Ed Martin
, who is waging a bid against Democrat Russ Carnahan, said Obama's "indecisiveness will be viewed by history as endangering our troops and for not furthering national security interests."

But the president is also facing opposition from the left, many who are skeptical that a troop surge will do much to solve the military and political problems on the ground. But that pressure is not coming from Missouri's prominent Democrats.
Several Senators, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, expressed skepticism about a proposed war surtax to pay for the military effort.

"I can't tell right now if it's a serious proposal, or just one that's been thrown out," McCaskill said to The Hill. "It's too early to judge whether it's serious."

In a carefully worded statement, McCaskill called Obama's approach "thoughtful" without fully endorsing it. She also said she would be looking closely at benchmarks for the new strategy.

"We cannot continue to allow the Taliban or Al Qaeda to gain ground in Afghanistan and therefore the Commander in Chief should be commended for establishing a thoughtful strategy that acknowledges that the war in Afghanistan is not a war of choice," McCaskill said.

"I will be looking closely at the benchmarks being set for this new strategy, including ensuring our allies and the Afghans are stepping up to do their part and that we are expending our nation’s resources responsibly," she added.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who repeatedly encouraged the president to embrace a strategy with new troops, said he still had questions.

"I have a number of questions to which I hope we can get answers--for example, the role of Pakistan, how specifically we will measure progress over time, what additional resources we will need on the civilian side of the effort, how we will manage strain on our forces, and how we expect the government of Afghanistan to be reformed," said Rep. Ike Skelton.

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