Leaked Documents Add To The Democrats' Dilemma On Afghanistan

The publication in the New York Times (as well as the Guardian in Britain and Der Speigel in Germany) of the classified military papers about the war in Afghanistan revealed many truths that have long been suspected but never actually spelled out in such detail.  The documents, which have yet to be completely verified, are especially damning when it comes Pakistan's dealings with the Taliban and Islamabad's conspiring with those who are killing American soldiers while taking billions in U.S. aid.

The revelations, released on the WikiLeaks.org Web site, arrive as the House is about to vote on a bill that would fund President Obama's decision to increase the number of U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan.

The administration has asked for a $33 billion supplemental to pay for the increase in some 30,000 troops that Obama called for last December.  The Democratic-controlled Congress has put off the vote for the longest time, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had to deal with unease over the war among her Dem colleagues — an unease Pelosi shares.

But now the Pentagon is demanding action, saying the delay is jeopardizing soldiers' salaries.

House Republicans are on board with the request for more money.  When the House considered an amendment earlier this month that would have set a timetable for troop withdrawal — a measure that was defeated, 260-162 — only nine Republicans voted for it: Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Howard Coble (N.C.), Jimmy Duncan (Tenn.), Vern Ehlers (Mich.), Timothy Johnson (Ill.), Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.), Ron Paul (Texas) and Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.).

But on the Democratic side, the results were much different.  Two-thirds of the caucus — 153 members — voted for the timetable, including Pelosi, who rarely votes; 98 Dems voted no.

One reason why the Democrats won control of both chambers of Congress in 2006 was because of the public's weariness over the Bush-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But the release of these documents may put some Democrats in a bind over what to do with the latter war that is now being conducted by a president of their own party.  Afghanistan may not be a "war of Obama's choosing," as Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele famously said.  But it is his war and he is asking Congress to fund it.

Firedoglake, the left-wing blog, argues that the release of the Afghan war documents comes at a time when anti-war lawmakers need to take a stand:

If 162 members of the House wanted to get some manner of timeline before, they should be itching for one now, with this portrait. At the least they should want some answers about how the passages in these documents around Pakistan, around civilian casualties and drone strikes, or whatever else have been rectified. Republicans and conservative Dems probably have enough votes to override them, but there’s little reason to add to that by any Democrat calling themselves anti-war.

Steve Clemons, writing in the Huffington Post blog, said the WikiLeaks documents "may be the game-changer in American support for a war that continues to worsen":

This is the "Pentagon Papers moment" in this contemporary war, and it will force President Obama and his team to go back and review first principles about the objectives of this war. ...

The question is whether President Obama has the backbone and temerity to reframe this engagement and stop the hemorrhaging of American lives and those of allies as well as the gross expenditure of funds for a war that shows a diminished America that is killing hundreds of innocent people and lying about it, of an enemy that is animated and funded in part by our supposed allies in Pakistan, and US tolerance for a staggering level of abuse, incompetence and corruption in our Afghan allies in the Karzai government.

This view may not be coming solely from the left.  A similar anti-war sentiment was expressed by John McManus, the president of the right-wing John Birch Society, as quoted in The Hill:

It's long past the time to bring our troops home.  If the revealing leaks about how this war is being conducted help to end this ill-begotten adventure, Americans should express gratitude to those who published them.

But is it a majority opinion in Congress?  Probably not, even with the release of the documents.

Still, there's always satirist Andy Borowitz to put things in perspective.  As Andy wrote this morning, "The war in Afghanistan 'is not going very well at all' and appears to be an uphill struggle, according to top-secret classified documents leaked to Duh Magazine."