- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2009

After months of the silent treatment, President Obama on Tuesday reached out to congressional Republican leaders, hosting them and Democratic leaders at the White House to talk about a new strategy for Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama warned the lawmakers that his eventual decision on troops and other resources would leave some of them angry, but he promised to include Congress as he considered his options. He also said he would take his case to voters once he made his decision.

In turn, Republican leaders, who said it had been nearly five months since they’d met with Mr. Obama, promised that they would support him - if he follows through on the assessment of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who is in charge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, that more resources are needed to fight the war.

“I’m very convinced that General McChrystal’s analysis is not only correct, but should be employed as quickly as possible,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and the front man for Republican strategy on this issue.

Democrats were more divided. Some said they would like Mr. Obama to give the military commanders the resources they requested, while others questioned whether the situation was right for a boost of troops or equipment.

“Do we have an able partner in [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai? Is the government capable of acting in a way that is not fraught with corruption?” asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and a veteran of the Vietnam War, said he was worried about a “quagmire” similar to Vietnam “if you make the wrong decisions.”

“That’s why it’s so essential to evaluate the fundamental assumptions here. You need to understand exactly what is possible in Afghanistan, what is possible with a government that right now we don’t even know what it is. It’s dysfunctional,” he said.

The meeting was the first time Mr. Obama has spoken with the Republican leadership since May. Last week, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, told The Washington Times that the White House had cut Republicans out of the discussion on big issues such as health care.

On Tuesday, Mr. Cantor said he was “hopeful there is a new page or a new leaf being turned over, perhaps in terms of a more two-way discussion in this town.”

The president told lawmakers that he was not considering an all-or-nothing course that either fully grants Gen. McChrystal’s troop request or scales troops down.

“The president reiterated that we need this debate to be honest and dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” said a White House official.

But Republicans said Mr. Obama’s hands were somewhat tied, because he’s already said leaving Afghanistan was not an option. They said that means the pressure is on him to accept the military commanders’ requests or explain why he’s rejecting them.

“Either give them what they need to be successful, or get out,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “We just can’t keep the status quo.”

Republicans also warned that time was running out on the president. Gen. McChrystal said there is a 12-month window to put a new strategy in place.

So far, though, Democrats in Congress are prepared to give Mr. Obama the time he wants to make a decision. The Senate beat back Republican attempts to force the president’s hand on Afghanistan as it finished its version of the 2010 defense spending bill.

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