Want to know what Washington’s elected officials think about the president’s speech on Afghanistan troop levels? A few have posted statements on their Web sites. (And while I’m sure both senators and all nine Congressmen have an opinion, I only pulled online statements for posting.)
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma:
“It is clear that we face an enormous and difficult challenge in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups in the region have a complex set of relationships spanning across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and these ideologies pose a grave threat to the United States and our allies. If the Taliban were to regain control of substantial portions of Afghanistan, or recapture the government they would provide al-Qaeda a safe haven from which to operate, and we can not allow this to happen.
“At the same time we face the limitation of what an outside force can accomplish in a nation like Afghanistan, the deficiencies of our current partners in the Afghan Government, and the cost in lives and dollars of our presence in Afghanistan. Ultimately, I believe that we need a strategy to contain the threat in this region. A strategy that recognizes we cannot completely eliminate the Taliban or completely rebuild Afghanistan, but one that focuses on building the capabilities of Afghanistan’s security forces and improves the effectiveness of the Afghan Government. By focusing on these key elements, we can not only contain the threat posed by the Taliban and al-Qaeda but also reduce and eventually eliminate our presence in Afghanistan.
“I believe the President outlined such a plan tonight. It will not be easy, and I will continue to closely monitor the progress of this effort, but I believe the President made a strong case tonight that is worthy of our support.”
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn:
“Concerning our military commitments, I have always said our President needs to listen to the generals he has entrusted to assess what is required to fight and to win,” Reichert said. “With reserved optimism, I am pleased the President has heeded the advice or our military leaders to send additional troops needed to accomplish our mission. This is a complex issue and I believe it is in America’s vital security interest to win.
“While setting an internal schedule and benchmarks is important, publicly establishing a timeline for withdrawal sends the wrong message to our fellow Americans and the rest of the world. It sends the signal that we are not sending these troops to fight, win and provide the security and economic stability the government and people of Afghanistan need, but that we are only biding our time and looking for a way out.
“I look forward to hearing from Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, General McChrystal and the diplomats who will testify before Congress in the days to come, to learn whether they believe the resources committed today are sufficient to complete this mission safely and effectively.
“Additionally, we anticipate this could affect troops based at Ft. Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, and I will be in close contact with both installations regarding the impact this decision could have and how we can best continue to support our troops and the entire military community.”
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens
“Tonight, President Obama outlined a comprehensive strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and reduce security threats to America. The President addressed how we will defeat the Taliban, improve governance for the Afghan people and train Afghan National Security Forces to assume more responsibility for their country’s security.
“The Taliban and al-Qaida have carried out deadly attacks against the Afghans and Americans alike. The President reiterated our commitment to combat terrorists and secure the Afghan population from attack.
“The President also made it clear that stability in Afghanistan also depends on improvements in governance and economic opportunities for the Afghan people. This speech sends a clear message to President Karzai that he must undertake significant, credible reforms to reduce corruption and improve services.
“Afghan security forces must be prepared to sustain improvements in security and stability achieved by the United States and our allies. The President committed to training competent and professional Afghan National Security Forces so they can help secure their own country.
“The President announced that the United States will deploy an additional 30,000 service members to help implement his strategy. Our NATO and non-NATO allies must recognize that Afghanistan-based terrorists present a global threat and increase their deployments to the country as well.
“I recognize that additional deployments of U.S. military and civilian personnel to Afghanistan will place strain on our service members and their families and increase our country’s deficit. I will continue my work on the House Armed Services Committee and House Budget Committee to support military families and improve our fiscal health.
“President Obama made it clear tonight that a secure and stable Afghanistan is in the direct national security interests of the United States. We cannot allow Afghanistan to once again become a safe haven for terrorists to plan attacks against America and our allies. Our operations in Afghanistan must disrupt, dismantle, and destroy al-Qaida and other terrorist groups which threaten the U.S.
“The right strategy and resources in Afghanistan will reduce the national security threat al-Qaida poses to the United States. The goal of the strategy is clear: to deny al-Qaida a safe haven from which they can plan attacks against us.
“To achieve this goal we will need the support and cooperation of the international community, our allies and, most importantly, the Afghan people.”
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle:
“The President’s speech tonight did not convince me that his policy is worth supporting. Last week, I attended a memorial service for seven servicemen from the same striker brigade from Fort Lewis who were killed on the same day in Afghanistan. I will not vote to send another troop to Afghanistan until I’m convinced that this strategy will succeed.
“No matter how many troops we commit, the United States cannot bring about the change necessary to stabilize Afghanistan. This responsibility ultimately falls on the Afghani government and its people, and no outsider can force this change to occur.
“Not only is this war costly in human terms, but it is bleeding our ability to provide for our own people and construct economic recovery and security at home.
“The Bush administration made a fatal mistake when it led us into Iraq and away from finishing the task in Afghanistan, and we have been paying the price ever since. I fear that we are asking our troops to fix a problem of our own making that the military cannot solve alone.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.:
“I appreciate the President’s thoughtful outline of what he believes should be the continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The U.S. now has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, including four thousand currently there from Fort Lewis, Washington.
“While the President’s proposal to send another 30,000 troops comes with a date 18 months from now that specifies the beginning of withdrawal. But there are no guarantees, and it concerns me that our troops could remain long after 2011. There is much work that needs to be done to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan so the region will no longer serve as a stronghold for extremists. But the question is how much of this work can be done by our military versus other political and diplomatic efforts and the Afghans and Pakistanis themselves.
“I believe more needs to be done to stabilize economic development and opportunities throughout Afghanistan and in the tribal regions of Pakistan. My focus in the Senate has been working toward swift passage of the Afghan-Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones legislation. The bill would give the President authority to create duty-free export zones in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan for exports to the United States. The aim is to stimulate economic development and create jobs as alternatives to terrorism and narco-trafficking. Today, extremists are able to recruit insurgent fighters for a few dollars a day. This situation cannot continue.
“I will be looking for more details and specific benchmarks from the President on his plan so that we can measure when success will be attained clearing the way for withdrawal of U.S. troops. During the Supplemental Defense Appropriations process, I will make sure that funds are conditioned on meeting certain benchmarks, particularly benchmarks on political and economic development.”