Afghanistan: Momentum For Withdrawal

When President Obama announced in December 2009 a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan, he made it clear that those troops would begin to withdraw in July 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,” the president said in his speech announcing the surge. Now the debate in the White House on the future of American involvement in Afghanistan has ramped up in recent weeks, and various news outlets have reported that — despite promising the president in 2009 that the job in Afghanistan would be near complete by next month — military leaders are pushing back against any significant withdrawal starting next month. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, reportedly would only endorse a withdrawal plan that won’t see the surge forces exit Afghanistan until the end of 2012 (under this plan, more U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan than at any other time during the Bush administration). The Los Angeles Times reports today that on Wednesday, Obama is expected to announce that he will order 10,000 “personnel” withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

WILL CONGRESS REVOLT?: Momentum in Congress is shifting rapidly toward putting more pressure on the president to end the war in Afghanistan — particularly since the death of Osama bin Laden. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) is pushing Obama to withdraw at least 15,000 troops by the end of the year. Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) — both of whom will be hosting an event at CAP this week on the future of Afghanistan — have been leading the charge in the House. While the House last month rejected McGovern’s amendment that would have required a timeline for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan, the vote was surprisingly close. The measure failed 204-215, but 26 Republicans joined the Democrats in voting for it. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), who is also part of the coalition in Congress pushing to end the war, called on the president to draw down U.S. troops to 20,000 by the end of the year and to around 10,000 by the end of next year. “Anything short of that, he’s going to have a revolt in Congress. Congress has had it,” he said. Garamendi also said an increasing number of Republicans are joining their ranks on Afghanistan. “The defense appropriations bill is up, and I tell you there will be amendments to defund the war,” he said, adding, “There will be Republican and Democratic sponsors on that.” Sen. Jeff Merkely (D-OR) recently sent a letter to Obama along with 26 other senators calling for a substantial drawdown of U.S. forces from the country; even two Republicans — Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) — joined onto the letter, a clear sign of momentum and bipartisan pressure.

REPUBLICANS DIVIDED: In the GOP presidential primary debate last week, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said, somewhat surprisingly, “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can.” Although he quickly backtracked, saying the president should listen primarily to the military, Romney appears to be looking at polls saying Americans are tired of the war in Afghanistan. Moreover, other GOP candidates, such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, have questioned the wisdom of the war. But some Republican foreign policy elders are pushing back. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) criticized their fellow Republicans last weekend. “If you think the pathway to the GOP nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama’s left on Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, you’re gonna meet a lot of headwinds,” Graham said. At the same time, RNC chairman Reince Priebus is refusing to take a stand in the internal feud. When asked to comment on the dispute, Priebus said he’s “not going get into the weeds on this issue.”

WHAT’S IT GOING TO COST?: Putting aside the hundreds of billions of dollars thus far, the New York Times reported that before he made his decision on the surge, Obama “received a private budget memo estimating that an expanded presence would cost $1 trillion over 10 years, roughly the same as his health care plan.” Moreover, various estimates put the cost of the 9/11-inspired wars in trillions, with Americans paying on bin Laden’s legacy for quite some time. The U.S. currently spends nearly $120 billion per year. While ThinkProgress calculated 10 investments America could’ve afforded if it didn’t spend that money on the war, CAP’s Caroline Wadhams and Colin Cookman lay out the direction America’s Afghanistan policy should take. Wadhams and Cookman call for a withdrawal of no fewer than 15,000 troops by the end of the year, which is to be coupled with a medium-term plan to leave 40,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2012. A separate CAP report outlines how to manage a stable transition to Afghan responsibility.

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