- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

UPDATED:

In the process of trying to strike a middle course forward in a deteriorating war, President Obama may have alienated supporters of his Afghanistan strategy on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

Two liberal Democrats and a moderate Republican lawmaker are set to announce their opposition to the president’s plan Tuesday afternoon, just hours ahead of Mr. Obama’s nationally televised address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. And Republican leaders, who support the president’s call for more troops to Afghanistan, have qualified that support by saying that any talk of an exit strategy won’t fly.

Related TWT article: Lawmakers want vote on Obama war plan

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, told The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio program that the president simply should pull all the troops from Afghanistan if he doesn’t plan to prosecute the fight to the fullest.

Mr. Obama is expected to call for 30,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan and set bench marks for an eventual exit of U.S. forces. The Associated Press is reporting that troops will start leaving Afghanistan “well before” the end of Mr. Obama’s first term.

The president is set to outline his strategy to some 31 members of Congress at the White House at 4 p.m. Tuesday and to the public four hours later in the speech at West Point.

Congressional support will be critical for the administration as it faces a ballooning price tag associated with the troop increase of roughly $1 million per soldier annually, or an increase of $30 billion a year for 30,000 additional troops.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said the idea of setting deadlines for an exit of U.S. troops from the conflict was not feasible, but said talk of time lines for bench marks and goals was necessary.

Afghans are likely to be wary of any talk of an exit, with many recalling the United States’ abrupt withdrawal from the region after Soviet troops left Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

“It’s very important for us to have whatever decisions we make on exiting our troops be based on conditions on the ground,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and Thursday before a string of House and Senate committees.

The District’s lone delegate in Congress said she would like to hear what the president has to say before making a final decision, but she cautioned that an extended engagement in Afghanistan would be unsuccessful.

“I can only hope that President Obama has found an alternative between pulling out and digging in. The public will not be with him long on another escalation of war in the midst of a ‘great recession’ that refuses to recede,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, in a statement Tuesday.

“Answering every call to war has almost always appeared necessary to them in order to maintain world leadership, but they have almost always lost that leadership, not on the battlefields, but at home,” she said.

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