Debate Over Afghan War Heats Up In Congress

For years, the war in Afghanistan got little attention from Congress as lawmakers battled over the Iraq war. But Iraq has increasingly become the forgotten war on Capitol Hill. Republican lawmakers say President Obama should accept the recommendation for additional troops made by his top commander there. Some key Democrats, meanwhile, express doubts about that war.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


It used to be that Iraq got all the attention in Congress while Afghanistan was, at best, the other war. Now the debate on Afghanistan is at the front. Republican lawmakers say President Obama should accept the recommendation for additional troops made by his commander there. Some key Democrats are expressing doubts.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Senator John McCain says he spoke over the weekend with the man who beat him last November about the war in Afghanistan. But that conversation did little to quell the Arizona Republican's insistence that President Obama accept General Stanley McChrystal's call for more troops in Afghanistan.

Representative JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We need to have the number of troops that have been recommended, which are the best kept secret in Washington, and that's 30 to 40,000 additional troops, and I believe that General McChrystal and General Petraeus have a strategy for winning.

WELNA: But the president says he wants to get the strategy right for Afghanistan before deciding whether to send more troops there. Yesterday, he began a series of policy review meetings that aides say could go on for several weeks. On the Senate floor, Missouri Republican Kit Bond questioned the president's deliberative pace.

Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri): Time is of the essence, and we cannot afford more stalling by the administration on this vital national security issue.

WELNA: Some of the president's closest Senate allies are rushing to his defense. One of them is Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey.

Senator BOB CASEY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): I'm a little tired of some people in the Capitol saying the president should decide in the next couple of days. Something this serious requires a thorough review that he's doing now with the commanders.

WELNA: Some Democrats who oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan say they're actually encouraged by the president's insistence on reviewing strategy before deciding on troop levels. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold advocates a flexible timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): I'm already not satisfied with the policies as they are. But at this point, we really need to consider whether we're going to get further mired in the Afghanistan situation, and that's where the president has a very tough decision to make. We all know there are significant disagreements within the administration on it, but I want him to have the opportunity to make that judgment. And then I'll respond appropriately.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Republicans are also calling on the White House to let top Afghanistan commander General McChrystal testify before Congress. Here's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday on the Senate floor.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): Now it's time for Congress to hear his detailed assessment of the mission that we confirmed him for and to give him an opportunity to explain why he's concluded that additional troops are needed to avert failure.

WELNA: But senators who've spoken with the president say he would not allow General McChrystal to make a case on Capitol Hill for more troops until a decision's been made about troop levels. Still, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who chairs the Intelligence Committee, says she needs to know what McChrystal's plan is for Afghanistan.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California; Chair, Senate Intelligence Committee): They are many of us that are concerned that it looks like a 10-year plan. Whether it is or not, I think we need to know.

WELNA: In the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was even more blunt this week about wanting to hear from the top commander in Afghanistan.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): Where I stand is that I want to hear from McChrystal. I think clearly, Afghanistan poses a very difficult issue for us.

WELNA: It's an issue especially difficult for Democrats not wanting to part ways with their president over a war about which many are having second thoughts.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

(Soundbite of music)


Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.