A generation after serving in Vietnam, Rep. Walt Minnick sat in the auditorium at West Point Tuesday surrounded by men and women in cadet gray uniforms being told by a president their lives could be sacrificed in another Asian country.
“It was an honor to be here, a generation later,” said Minnick, an Army veteran who was one of seven members of Congress asked to attend President Barack Obama’s speech on raising troop levels in Afghanistan. “There was rapt attention in that room. Their futures are on the line.”
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The Idaho Democrat said Obama intelligently articulated the need to send more troops to Afghanistan, with clear but limited objectives and a specific timetable: “I think he made it very clear that this is different from Vietnam.”
He expects Obama’s plan will get support from both parties in Congress, just as President George W. Bush’s initial plan to go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan got bipartisan support after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Tuesday night, Obama’s call for more troops was getting bipartisan support in the Washington and Idaho delegations, although there may be questions down the road on the timelines, the cost and other details.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Obama “laid out a clear goal”, is working with allies and set down a timeline. She wants more information about the costs in lives and dollars, not only for the troops now but the care and benefits of veterans returning home.
“While I still have many questions about the specifics, the president made a compelling and responsible case for redoubling the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan to protect the American people and bring our troops home,” she said in a prepared statement.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R- Idaho, said he agrees with Obama that U.S. security is on the line in Afghanistan and that’s the only reason to send American troops anywhere. He agrees with giving military commanders extra troops they’ve requested, although he thinks announcing a timetable for withdrawal could be dangerous: “The enemy can sit tight and just wait you out.”
The proposal could receive some opposition in Congress, Crapo predicted. Some Democrats who opposed the war in Iraq will argue the United States should just pull out of Afghanistan, but they’ll probably be muted because it’s a Democratic president calling for more troops; they may try to undercut the strategy by demanding a tax increase to pay for the increases. Some Republicans will argue that 30,000 troops aren’t enough because the military commanders initially asked for 40,000, or disagree with setting a timeline, or complain the president took 90 days to make a decision.
But majorities of both parties will likely support Obama, Crapo said in an interview after the speech.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, an Eastern Washington Republican who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said she agreed with Obama’s decision to take the advice of military commanders to send more troops to finish the mission in Afghanistan and keep the Taliban from setting up “an infrastructure hospitable to Al Qaeda.”
“When other countries occupied Afghanistan, they left behind destruction and military fortifications; we will be leaving behind schools and hospitals,” McMorris Rodgers said in a prepared statement.