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Liberals Yet to Roar on Afghan War (Roll Call)

http://www.rollcall.com/issues/54_112/news/33704-1.html

Roll Call

Liberals Yet to Roar on Afghan War


By Jennifer Bendery
Roll Call Staff
April 1, 2009

Anti-war Democrats have been largely mum on President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled policy for Afghanistan — partly because leading liberals don’t yet know where they stand.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that she and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) — all co-founders of the Out of Iraq Caucus — are not on the same page about how to respond to Obama’s decision to send another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan as part of his comprehensive strategy for stabilizing the region.

Woolsey, who is also a co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said the three lawmakers are “individually looking at Afghanistan.” The main reason they haven’t teamed up and issued a statement is because they haven’t had time, she said.

A Lee spokeswoman said Lee hasn’t issued a statement on Afghanistan yet or commented on the record because she is still waiting to put together a joint statement with Woolsey and Waters.

Woolsey said she is “universally opposed to war. Period.”

Asked why there appears to be so little pushback from anti-war lawmakers on Obama’s call for a troop increase, Woolsey replied, “You’ll feel the pushback when we start paying for it.”

By contrast, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), also a co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, said he isn’t patently opposed to more troops in Afghanistan.

Grijalva said he could back a troop increase in combination with a humanitarian package, an international effort and an exit strategy. His biggest worry, he said, is that the Pentagon will push Obama to funnel even more troops into the region.

Grijalva described “an uneasiness” toward Obama’s strategy among progressive lawmakers.

“We want this administration to succeed,” he said. But some Members feel that “instinctively and politically, we are being pulled in a direction where we don’t want to go.”

Further illustrating the conundrum facing anti-war lawmakers, Lee was the only House Member to vote against funding for the war in Afghanistan while there was near-universal opposition among progressives to all rounds of Iraq War funding.

Progressive leaders have settled on one way to come together in response to Obama’s plan: holding their own series of forums to discuss aspects of Afghanistan policy. The second in the series of six meetings kicks off this afternoon, and it will include talks by a retired colonel as well as a former Clinton administration official.

Grijalva noted that it will be the first forum where Members address Obama’s newly unveiled strategy.

One prominent anti-war lawmaker, who requested anonymity because he was still working out his position on the issue, said he is “very troubled” by Obama’s plan because it leaves the United States in the position of remaking a foreign country.

“That whole exercise in nation-building, I’m not at all sure we’re capable of doing it,” the lawmaker said. “We may be biting off much more than we can chew and doing what we shouldn’t do. There’s ‘mission creep.’ You start doing one thing and you know, it’s there.”

Still, the relative silence from anti-war lawmakers is not “totally purposeless” since the United States might face potential terrorist attacks emanating from the region, he said. “If there is such a threat but we can deal with that without troops, just by bombing some camps or something, then maybe we ought to do that. I lean in that direction.”

Other lawmakers were more visible — and blunt — about their lack of enthusiasm for Obama’s plan.

“It stinks,” House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said. “It may be that the smartest guy in America is about to make one mistake.”

“No,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) replied when asked if he supports Obama’s plan. “We need to find a way to end the conflicts without the military. I’m not voting for anything with a troop increase.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) dismissed the idea that anti-war lawmakers are staying quiet on Afghanistan and said he continues to raise questions about Obama’s policy.

“I have this sinking feeling we’re going to get ourselves involved in a war that has no end,” he said, noting that he will vote against any legislation that funds troops for Afghanistan.

Referring to a Tuesday meeting between Obama officials and select House Members to discuss Afghanistan policy, McGovern said he used that forum to raise concerns with Obama’s plans.

“I feel even more certain that my concerns are validated as a result of that briefing today,” McGovern said. “You need a clearly defined mission, which means that you need a beginning, a middle and an end. ... I haven’t heard any of that.”

But the Massachusetts Democrat said he is not frustrated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who opposed military increases in Iraq but is on board with Obama’s plan to ramp up a military presence in Afghanistan.

“Issues of war are issues of conscience. Some people may think this is the right thing to do and I respect that,” McGovern said.