Nov 30 (Reuters) - Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress are expressing anxiety about President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy before his expected announcement Tuesday that he will increase U.S. troops fighting there.
Among the lawmakers’ worries are:
Can Washington afford to expand the war in Afghanistan? That question is being asked more often because of growing unease about the U.S. national debt, nearly $12 trillion.
The lawmaker in charge of the House committee that approves government spending has proposed a war "surtax." Representative Dave Obey, a Democrat and skeptic on the Afghanistan war, said on CNN Sunday that "if this war is important enough to engage in long term it’s important enough to pay for."
A tax increase is unlikely, especially with mid-term elections next year. But a senior Senate Republican said Sunday the United States may wish to discuss higher taxes to help pay for military operations. Richard Lugar, who won’t be up for re-election until 2012, suggested on CNN that Washington put aside the health care debate to talk about "war and money."
Some Democrats say Obama should offer a flexible timetable for when U.S. military operations in Afghanistan will end. Liberal Senator Russ Feingold says this would "defuse the perception that we are occupying that country."
Last summer, a majority of House Democrats joined a handful of Republicans to support an amendment calling for the Obama administration to provide an exit strategy by the end of 2009. Although Democrats have the majority in Congress, the amendment failed because most Republicans opposed it.
Lugar thinks Americans, already faltering in their support for the war, would not be willing to sustain the military campaign for five or 10 more years. But Republican Senator Jon Kyl warned on Fox News Sunday that a departure timetable now just tells the Taliban to "lay low until we leave."
Many lawmakers think the Afghan army should be shouldering more of the burden of the 8-year-old war. This argument is championed by the Senate’s leading voice on military matters, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin.
Levin, a Democrat, says the emphasis should be on training Afghan forces, not pouring in more U.S. combat troops. "The key here is an Afghan surge, not an American surge," he told CBS.
Another respected voice on military matters, Senator Jack Reed, suggested giving more responsibility to Afghan troops.
"The key element here is not just more troops, the key element is shifting the operations to the Afghanis," said Reed, a Democrat and former Army Ranger who graduated from West Point, where Obama is to announce his Afghan strategy Tuesday. "If that can be done, then I would support the president."
AFGHAN PRESIDENT KARZAI
Whether they support staying in Afghanistan or not, many lawmakers are dissatisfied with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying he has not clamped down on corruption and cronies.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opposes upping the ante in Afghanistan, calls Karzai an "unworthy partner" who does not deserve either an increase in U.S. troops or civilian aid.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a supporter of the war, said Sunday it was important to set targets for Karzai to meet while adding U.S. troops. "We’re going to put measurements and benchmarks on the Afghan government, but we’re going to have troops in Afghanistan to win the conflict," he said on ABC.
Some lawmakers worry that Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan, a sanctuary for some militants, could be further destabilized by an expanded war. Pakistan’s government has nuclear weapons.
Feingold says Americans must think about how sending more troops affects the region and efforts to fight al Qaeda globally. "Spending billions more dollars and sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan ... may actually prove counterproductive in stabilizing Pakistan and fighting al Qaeda in the region and around the world."
Some lawmakers ask why U.S. allies don’t step up with more troops for Afghanistan. "So I’ve got a real problem about expanding this war where the rest of the world is sitting around and saying, ‘Isn’t it a nice thing that the taxpayers of the United States and the U.S. military are doing the work that the rest of the world should be doing?’" Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, said on ABC on Sunday.
UNEASE ABOUT HALF-MEASURES
There are many lawmakers who worry Obama will not give his battlefield commander, General Stanley McChrystal, the resources and time he needs to successfully accomplish his task. Most are Republicans considered strong on defense and loyal to a party base with the instinct to "finish the job" in Afghanistan instead of "cutting and running."
But some are Democrats, like House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, who sent Obama a letter in September warning him not to "half-ass it and hope" in Afghanistan. (Reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by Doina Chiacu) ((For more on Afghanistan, click on [nAFPAK])) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +1 202 898 8390; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))