As if President Obama didn’t have enough to worry about with two wars raging in Asia, he’s now taking heat from both sides of the aisle over his plan for Afghanistan — and facing an increasingly skeptical American public.
A new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows that less than half of Americans — only 43 percent — think the war was worth it, compared to 52 percent at the end of 2008. And Obama’s approval rating on the war is down to 45 percent, as compared to 56 percent in April 2010.
The American public isn’t alone in its skepticism against the war: both Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), moderates with a level of respect in and out of their caucuses on military and foreign policy issues, came out with pointed criticisms of the Afghan war this week.
Webb was just the latest member of Congress to question the strategy for Afghanistan — now the nation’s longest-ever war — asking Obama to “provide use some clarity” on what he hopes to accomplish there.
Thursday’s sharply worded statement from Webb piles onto a heavily trafficked blog post by Lugar on Huffington Post decrying a lack of “clarity” from Obama’s team on what is going to happen in Afghanistan. Obama and the Pentagon insist they are on track for a July 2011 drawdown of troops — even as the surge he ordered earlier this year is still in the works — but, increasingly, members of Congress aren’t taking the president’s word for it. And they’re not the only ones.
There’s also the antiwar left on the Hill, most of whose members at one point mostly supported the war. But that’s changed, and Rep. John Conyers is only the latest senior member of Congress to challenge Obama. He opposes the $33 billion for Afghanistan in the latest supplemental spending bill Congress will consider in the coming weeks.
Conyers said recently on Democracy Now:
Our constituents now want us out of both Afghanistan and Iraq, and what we’re doing now is forming a way to discuss this with our president in an effort to make him more comfortable with doing what most people want him to do and what we thought he was going to do in the first place, namely, to clearly disengage from the military, increase the diplomatic activity, and bring in some help in terms of food supplies, aid, and positive build up of these countries and to make as many friends as we can over there rather than this ninth year of what has now become a debacle in every respect.
Lugar’s essay peppered Obama with questions and said Congress deserves answers, quickly. Here’s the key bit:
I recognize that the situation in Afghanistan is fluid and not easily defined. I also understand why an administration would not want to be pinned down to a specific definition of success. The problem is that we are expending enormous resources in Afghanistan. Our resources are finite, and they must be focused effectively. We need to know if some missions that currently are receiving resources are not intrinsic to our objectives. We also need to know what missions are absolutely indispensible to success, however it is defined. We can’t fall back on measuring our military and civilian activities in Afghanistan according to relative progress. Arguably we could make progress for decades on security, employment, good governance, women’s rights and other goals - expending billions of dollars each year — without ever reaching a satisfying conclusion. In such circumstances, avoiding mission creep toward unattainable goals is essential.
But Lugar, ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also sounded a hopeful note:
I am hopeful that the administration will not wait six months to refine its explanation of our goals in Afghanistan. It is up to the president to define success, and delineate how much time and how many resources should be devoted to achieving it.
Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the Navy, sounded a similar note in his statement Thursday. “The argument that we are in Afghanistan because of 9/11 is true only in the sense that the presence of international terrorists inside Afghanistan at that time illuminated the overall threat,” Webb said.
He challenged the administration to “clearly show” in its December report to Congress who the mission in Afghanistan would degrade or defeat the threat of international terrorism. He said they must demonstrate several things that might not be so easy: “(1) measurable results, (2) evidence of political stability; and (3) an agreed upon conclusion to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.”