Congressional Democrats are hailing President Obama’s plan, announced today, to send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan and set goals for fighting extremist groups entrenched along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The Democratic reaction boils down to a single sentiment: After spending seven years decrying George W. Bush’s lack of focus on the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Obama’s party is thrilled to see him focus on what it asserts is the “central front of the war on terror.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put it simply:
We’ve said for some time that we must refocus our resources on threats like al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region. I strongly support the President’s decision to do just that.
Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House intelligence committee, agreed:
While I know that the plan outlined today will evolve as conditions on the ground dictate, I am highly encouraged by President Obama’s commitment to Afghanistan and focus on defeating al-Qaeda. He has identified a strategy that relies on all elements of national power to bring physical security, reliable governance, and economic development to the people of Afghanistan.
Obama’s plan does not require congressional approval, but House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) said his panel would nonetheless examine it in detail:
I applauded the President’s recent approval of an additional 17,000 troops for Afghanistan. However, we will not win in Afghanistan and Pakistan through military means alone. We cannot kill our way into victory, which is why the President’s strategy focuses on a whole of government approach. We need more civilian resources in Afghanistan to help build the Afghan government and help rebuild the country.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) tempered his praise with a warning to the administration to keep Pakistan closely in mind even as it sends troops to Afghanistan:
… I am concerned that the new strategy may still be overly Afghan-centric when it needs to be even more regional. As the bombing near the Khyber pass this morning highlights, we need to fully address the inextricable links between the crisis in Afghanistan and the instability and terrorist threats in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the legacy of the Bush administration in this region can best be compared to a comment the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made in 2007: “In Iraq, we do what we must and in Afghanistan, we do what we can.” This new administration must ensure that we do what we must not only in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan.
In other words, the proposed military escalation in Afghanistan, without an adequate strategy in Pakistan, could make the situation worse, not better.