Afghan Decision Will Come With A Price Tag

President Obama holds the last of six White House meetings to re-examine the course set in Afghanistan Friday. Still unknown is how the president will come down on a request from his top commander there for additional U.S. troops. Any decision will require funding by Congress, and that's bound to put some Democrats on the spot about an increasingly unpopular war.

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

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Secretary Clinton is moving on from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates. That's where she will meet the Palestinian president. She is trying to restart peace talks with Israel.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And it's a sign of the breadth of Secretary Clinton's job that as she traveled through the Muslim world, the secretary of state made an announcement about Honduras. She said a political crisis has resolved. Four months after the Honduran president was ousted in a coup, he will be able to return. An election comes next month.

MONTAGNE: And as Afghanistan scrambles to redo its election, President Obama is concentrating on the war there. Today he holds the last of six White House meetings on what do next in that eight-year-old war. The president has not tipped his hand on a request by his top commander in Afghanistan for an additional 40,000 or more U.S. troops. Whatever he decides, it will require funding from Congress. And that's bound to put some of Mr. Obama's fellow Democrats on the spot about an increasingly unpopular war, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Senator John Kerry not only chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, he also recently played top U.S. persuader in Afghanistan. Kerry convinced Afghan President Hamid Karzai to hold a runoff for an election Karzai earlier had claimed to have won.

Kerry is now sounding the alarm on the troop build-up recommended by the top U.S. commander there, General Stanley McChrystal. Earlier this week, Kerry told the Council on Foreign Relations he supported a smart counter-insurgency plan for a limited geographic area, which is what McChrystal's recommending for Afghanistan.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): But I believe his current plan reaches too far, too fast.

WELNA: Kerry added that if President Obama does decide to send more troops to Afghanistan, he could support such a move, but only if it's under the right circumstances and leads to sustainable gains.

Sen. KERRY: The bottom line is that deploying additional troops won't result in sustainable gains if the Afghan security, civilian, and governance capacity isn't there. And right now, as our generals will tell you, in many places, too many places, it isn't.

WELNA: Another Democrat just back from a fact finding trip to Afghanistan was cautious when asked whether he could back a request for 40,000 or more additional U.S. forces. Sheldon Whitehouse is a senator from Rhode Island.

Senator SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (Democrat, Rhode Island): I will want to see both the presidential request and the analysis and justification that support it before I start leaping ahead and drawing lines in the sand or conclusions.

WELNA: Some prominent Senate Democrats have expressed support for General McChrystal's troop request, though not in floor speeches. Critics of the proposed build up have done so - including West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd last week.

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): Many here in the Senate who believe that we should proceed with such a folly in Afghanistan, I'm not one of them.

WELNA: Nor is Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who earlier this week, warned against escalation in Afghanistan.

Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): We must appreciate that our military presence may well be counter-productive and, in fact, driving the conflict, creating more militants that it is eliminating.

WELNA: Asked last Sunday, on CBS's "Face the Nation," whether he was prepared to block funding for more troops, Feingold said what he wanted was a flexible timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.

Sen. FEINGOLD: So if necessary, we will act and we will do what we can to prevent this mistake. But I'm hoping the President will listen to us at this point, and consider what we're saying.

WELNA: But while those Democrats are urging caution, their GOP counterparts have been exhorting President Obama in floor speeches, to side with General McChrystal. Jon Kyl is the Senate's number two Republican.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): I respectfully submit my recommendation to the president, that he approve this full troop request, that he do so as soon as possible. And if he does as I said, I believe that Republicans will be very supportive of his policy.

WELNA: Kyl thinks the president may even have to rely on Republicans to get a major troop increase funded by Congress.

Sen. KYL: That's quite possible, and that's one o the reasons that I wanted to signal that he would have support from Republicans.

WELNA: A more likely scenario, says Delaware Democratic Senator Ted Kaufman, is that lawmakers from both parties will consider any eventual funding request for Afghanistan from President Obama, simply on its merits.

Senator TED KAUFMAN (Democrat, Delaware): This will not be a partisan vote. I think we - if he comes with a plan that's a good plan, I think he'll get the votes. If he comes with a plan that isn't a good plan, he won't get the votes. I think that's really what it'll come down to. Maybe I'm naïve, but I think after 36 years in Washington I can't be accused of that.

WELNA: Still, what seems plain is the fewer additional troops the president asks for, the more support he's likely to get from war-weary fellow Democrats.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org 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.