It appears President Obama’s strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan is winning over key members of Missouri’s Congressional delegation.
West-Central Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says President Obama struck the right notes.
“I thought the West Point speech was excellent,” Skelton tells the Missourinet. “The most important part was calling for America to unify against the common enemy.”
Obama used the backdrop of West Point to declare that Afghanistan is not lost, but has moved backwards. He declared that the war there was vital to the country’s national security, because it is in Afghanistan and along the border of Pakistan, that the Taliban provides aid and comfort to al Qaeda which attacked America on September 11th, 2001. Obama announced that he will send an additional 30,000 troops to join with the 68,000 now deployed there.
The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
Skelton and Obama are Democrats. Sen. Bond, a Republican, is Vice Chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee. He favors the decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
“I applaud his decision. It should have been three months earlier,” says Bond. “But, at least he’s taken that step.”
Bond criticizes Obama’s delaying, insisting that the president could have reached a decision three months ago. In his speech, the president denied that there had been a delay He stated he used the time to ask hard questions and explore different options. Bond says he heard that defense earlier, when he and other Congressional leaders, including Skelton, met with the president at the White House. Still Bond isn’t persuaded that it should have taken that long to reach a decision.
While Bond criticizes the time it took Obama to reach a decision, Skelton doesn’t. Skelton says Obama needed to listen to his commanders in the field and build consensus at home. General Stanley McChrystal actually had asked for 40,000 additional troops. Skelton says he believes NATO might provide the extra 10,000.
Bond does oppose one aspect of the strategy. He says Obama should not set a timetable for withdrawal. Bond says such a timetable undermines America’s credibility with both its allies and its opponents, sending a message that al Qaeda and the Taliban simply have to wait out America.
It is a criticism the president has heard and addressed during the speech.
Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort – one that would commit us to a nation building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.
Skelton is less concerned about the timetable. He says that if the strategy is successful, America will be able to meet Obama’s deadline to begin withdrawing troops in July of 2011. Skelton says that it is clear the United States doesn’t want an open commitment in Afghanistan.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, was unavailable to speak after the speech, but her office provide a written statement from the senator, “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. 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. My thoughts and prayers in the days ahead will be with our brave troops and their families.”
Skelton says he is pleased with the strategy and believes it is headed in the right direction.
“I hope that America can understand the seriousness of this,” Skelton says. “We would hate for the al Qaeda to attack us again, because we sat back and didn’t do enough.”
Brent Martin reports.