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Democrats Deeply Divided Over Afghan War

  • Cindy Saine

A vote by the House of Representatives on emergency funding for the war in Afghanistan has revealed eroding support for President Barack Obama's war policy among members of his own Democratic Party. On Wednesday, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan sought to defend U.S. civilian operations in Afghanistan before a largely skeptical House panel.

The U.S. Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, joined President Obama and other U.S. officials in condemning the leaks of tens of thousands of secret U.S. military documents on the Afghan war by the WikiLeaks website.

"I just find it inexplicable that people who would take the oath of office to the United States would violate it in such an extraordinary way," said Richard Holbrooke.

At the same time, Holbrooke joined others in stressing that the leaks did not offer any revelations. The Obama administration has been concerned about documents that suggest Pakistan's intelligence service has been aiding the Taliban.

At a hearing by the House Committee on Appropriations concerning civilian operations in Afghanistan, Democratic Representative Steven Rothman of New Jersey asked Holbrooke about the allegations of Pakistan helping U.S. and international forces as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"Can you comment on the allegations of the Pakistani dual game?" asked Rothman.

That question led to this tense exchange between Holbrooke and Rothman.

HOLBROOKE: "We are engaged in a very intense dialogue with the Pakistani military, with their intelligence service. I myself have met with General . . ."

ROTHMAN: "Are we making progress in that regard?"

HOLBROOKE: "We are absolutely making . . ."

ROTHMAN: "Then I must ask you my last . . ."

HOLBROOKE: "But not enough."

ROTHMAN: "Before my time is up."

During the hearing, Holbrooke and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, faced numerous questions from skeptical Democrats and Republicans about political corruption in Afghanistan and how well U.S. taxpayer money is being spent there.

Holbrooke reminded the panel why the United States is in Afghanistan.

"I don't want to waste time going back to 9/11 [September 11, 2001], but that is why we are there," said Holbrooke. "We would not be choosing to fight on the most remote and difficult terrain in the world if we had not been attacked on September 11, 2001."

Representative James Moran of Virginia told Ambassador Holbrooke that he is one of many Democrats who originally supported the war effort in Afghanistan, but that he voted against providing emergency funding for U.S. forces on Tuesday.

"I don't disagree with any of the facts you have shared with us," said James Moran. "I do disagree with your conclusions, though. You have lost me, for whatever it is worth, in terms of the viability of this mission. And I voted accordingly yesterday."

This week's vote revealed how deeply the Democratic Party is divided over the war, with more than 100 House Democrats voting against emergency funding for sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan that President Obama requested in February.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey said he had to bring the funding bill to the floor, but that he could not bring himself to vote for it.

"Military experts tell us that it could take up to 10 more years to achieve any acceptable outcome in Afghanistan; we have already been there nine years," said David Obey. "I believe that is too high a price to pay. Now to those who say we must pay it because we are going after al-Qaida, I would note that Afghanistan is where al-Qaida used to be."

It was left to Republican lawmakers to speak up in support of funding the war, as did Republican Representative Jerry Lewis of California.

"Our first job as members of Congress is to support our troops - the men and women who are in harm's way, protecting our country," said Jerry Lewis. "It has been six months since the president sent the supplemental funding request to the Congress."

The vote on the war supplemental funding was 308 in favor to 114 against. Only 12 Republicans voted against it.

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