Vietnam War veteran Rep. Walt Minnick sat in the auditorium at West Point on Tuesday surrounded by men and women in cadet gray uniforms being told by a president they could lose their lives in another Asian country.
“It was an honor to be here, a generation later,” said Minnick, 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.”
The Idaho Democrat said Obama articulated the need for 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.”
Minnick said 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 extremists in Afghanistan got bipartisan support after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Obama’s call Tuesday for more troops earned bipartisan support in the Washington and Idaho delegations, although there may be questions 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 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; that’s the only reason to send American troops anywhere, Crapo said. He agrees military commanders should get the additional troops they’ve requested, although he said 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 said. But majorities of both parties will likely support Obama, Crapo said 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 finish the mission in Afghanistan and keep the Taliban from setting up “an infrastructure hospitable to al-Qaida.”
“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.