- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2009

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai now in place for a second term, Democrats and Republicans said the clock is ticking faster for President Obama to decide whether to surge the number of U.S. troops there.

A runoff election between Mr. Karzai and a challenger was canceled over the weekend and Mr. Obama called the newly victorious president Monday to tell him to stop years of “drift” in the Afghan government and “write a new chapter” for his beleaguered people.

The White House said a decision on whether to send more troops to the troubled country is still not imminent, but lawmakers in Congress are getting restless.

Republicans said Mr. Obama had been using the stalled elections as an excuse — and one he no longer has as he ponders Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for more troops to keep Afghanistan from becoming a lost cause.

“Now that it is clear that President Karzai will remain in office, the White House has no further pretext for delaying the decision on giving Gen. McChrystal the resources he needs to achieve our goals in Afghanistan,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Delaying the decision puts our men and women fighting there in greater danger every single day.”

Pressure also came from some key Democrats, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, who said having an outcome to the election means Afghanistan and the United States must move quickly to stabilize the country.

“I continue to believe that Gen. McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan is the right approach, including his call to build capability at the local level,” Mr. Skelton said. “The recent flawed election process has reinforced the need to also push for the reform of the national Afghan government, to increase legitimacy and help build a capable partner for our efforts in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Karzai for about 10 minutes Monday, and the president told reporters at the White House his Afghan counterpart “assured me that he understood the importance of this moment.”

“But as I indicated to him, the proof is not going to be in words, it’s going to be in deeds,” Mr. Obama said.

The White House defended Mr. Karzai and the process that led over the weekend to him gaining another five-year term.

Challenger Abdullah Abdullah, an Afghan physician and politician, withdrew Sunday from the runoff election Saturday. The runoff was scheduled after the first election in August was found by independent observers to have been marked by widespread fraud and vote-rigging, much of it to the advantage of Mr. Karzai.

There are about 65,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but Gen. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has requested an increase of troops that could number as many as 40,000 or even 80,000.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said a decision on his request will be made “in the coming weeks.”

But it’s not clear how much leeway Congress will give Mr. Obama once he does act.

On the political left, Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, has continued to push for a deadline for pulling American troops out of Afghanistan.

That the decision to send more troops would likely be coupled with a broader strategy or that it is coming from the leader of his party, has not changed Mr. Feingold’s position.

“I do not believe sending scads more troops in will stabilize Afghanistan, and it will possibly have the effect of causing even more resentment and instability,” Mr. Feingold said.

From the right, Mr. Skelton has ardently insisted the generals should get the troops they request.

“When you’re in a war, you fight it to win,” Mr. Skelton said last week.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democrat who traveled to Afghanistan two weeks ago as part of a congressional delegation assessing the situation, said that Mr. Obama’s political capital on the issue was likely damaged by George W. Bush’s interaction with Congress over the past eight years.

“President Bush expended most of the good will that would naturally adhere to president’s making wartime decisions,” he said.

• Tom LoBianco can be reached at tlobianco@washingtontimes.com.

• Jon Ward can be reached at jward@washingtontimes.com.

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