Some rank-and-file members split with leaders on Afghanistan

Chris Moody Contributor
Font Size:

The killing of Osama bin Laden has reignited calls within Congress to scale down the war in Afghanistan, but party leaders from both sides have made clear they have no intention to challenge President Obama’s current strategy in the war-torn nation.

For the Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said this week they support the president’s plan to draw down troops over the next few years, signaling that bin Laden’s death would not change the scope of the mission in the region. For Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner said this week that bin Laden’s death made the war on terror “more significant, not less.”

“The president has a timetable to begin withdrawal of Afghanistan,” Reid said Monday. “He’s indicated he’s going to stick with that. I think that’s appropriate.”

The White House has vowed to begin significantly reducing troop levels in Afghanistan as early as July with a full transition to the Afghan government by 2014.

Despite support from party leaders, however, there is a division among the rank-and-file members, some who are urging their leadership and the president to consider a quicker drawdown in Afghanistan.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank was one of the first to call for reducing troop levels in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death, saying the operation “strengthens the case” to get out. In an interview with the liberal blog Think Progress, Frank suggested that Osama’s death removed the major excuses to stay in the country.

“Look, part of the argument against this reduction is that it was reputational, for staying in Afghanistan,” Frank said. “Well, we just killed Osama bin Laden, and I think that takes a lot of the pressure away — a lot of the punch away from the argument that ‘oh, it will look like we walked away.’”

California Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern introduced a bill Thursday morning that would require the president to outline a firm timeline for when all U.S. military presence will be removed from Afghanistan and provide regular reports on the cost of the mission.

“Now that bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is scattered around the globe, does it really make sense to keep using over 100,000 U.S. troops to occupy Afghanistan and prop up a corrupt government?” McGovern said in a statement. “I don’t think so.”

Titled the “the Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act,” the measure has bipartisan backing. At least seven House Republicans are expected to throw their support behind it.

Escalating the pace of a drawdown also has the backing from the House Progressive Caucus, the chamber’s most liberal group. Members within the caucus sent a letter to Obama this week calling for a reduced American presence, arguing that a drawdown would “unify the nation.”

“In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, now is the time to shift toward the swift, safe, and responsible withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Afghanistan,” the letter, signed by both caucus co-chairmen Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Rep. Keith Ellison of Michigan, read.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that more than 50 percent of self-identifying Democrats want to see an immediate withdrawal from the region, while 43 percent of Republicans agree. Nationally, 45 percent said that the mission has been accomplished.

Despite the bipartisan voices calling for rethinking the nation’s strategy, however, the White House reiterated Thursday that it will continue the pace of the American exit as planned.

“The president’s policy remains unchanged,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Email Chris Moody and follow him on Twitter