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Posted at 08:39 PM ET, 06/22/2011

Capitol Hill reaction to Obama’s Afghanistan address swift, varied


(BAZ RATNER - REUTERS)

President Obama on Wednesday night delivered his highly-anticipated address on the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the reaction from members of Congress was swift and varied. Below is a cross-section of statements from Capitol Hill to Obama’s announcement that 33,000 surge troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of next year.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio):

“Succeeding in Afghanistan – and preventing al Qaeda and the Taliban from using the country as a safe haven from which to launch attacks on the U.S. and our allies – is critically important to the safety and security of our country. While the conditions remain difficult, the counterinsurgency strategy implemented by General Petraeus has made significant improvements in security on the ground and allowed the Afghan government to start making progress in meeting the needs of the Afghan people. We all want to bring our troops home as quickly as possible, but we must ensure that the gains we’ve made are not jeopardized.”

“I am pleased the President recognizes that success in Afghanistan is paramount. Continuing to degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities in Afghanistan and the surrounding region must take priority over any calendar dates. It’s important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant. It is my hope that the President will continue to listen to our commanders on the ground as we move forward. Congress will hold the Administration accountable for ensuring that the pace and scope of the drawdown does not undermine the progress we’ve made thus far.”

“There is no doubt this conflict has tested the resolve of our nation, and I want to express gratitude to the American people for their faithful commitment to our troops and their mission. As this operation enters its next phase, it is imperative that our Commander-in-Chief continues to explain why seeing it through to a successful conclusion is vital to our national interests. Lastly, I want to reiterate how much we appreciate the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform, our diplomats, and their families are making every day. We can never forget their service to our country.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

“The President’s plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is a critical step in the right direction. I commend the many brave members of our Armed Forces who have served there and thank them for their sacrifice. I look forward to the day when all of our courageous fighting men and women are safely home. Under the President’s leadership we have made substantial progress toward achieving many of our major strategic goals in the region, including bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and significantly weakening al Qaeda’s terrorist capabilities.”

“We have also helped put the Afghan government in a position to begin to take responsibility for its own security in a growing number of key areas. As we withdraw our troops, the Afghans must continue to step up and take responsibility for their own country. In the meantime, we must capitalize on the progress we’ve made in Afghanistan to finish the job and ensure al Qaeda’s long-term, strategic defeat. The President’s plan will allow us to do that, while beginning the important transfer of security and governance responsibilities to the Afghan people.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):

“Tonight, President Obama made it clear: we are now beginning the process of bringing our troops home and ending the war in Afghanistan. It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the President laid out – and we will continue to press for a better outcome. Concluding this war will enable us to reduce the deficit and focus fuller attention on the priorities of the American people: creating jobs and investing in our nation’s future by building a strong, thriving economy for our children.”

“Congress will continue to perform the oversight responsibilities critical to ensuring a successful withdrawal as soon as possible. We will maintain our commitment and gratitude to our men and women in uniform and their families, who have done everything asked of them with courage and patriotism.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):

“I am concerned that the withdrawal plan that President Obama announced tonight poses an unnecessary risk to the hard-won gains that our troops have made thus far in Afghanistan and to the decisive progress that must still be made. This is not the ‘modest’ withdrawal that I and others had hoped for and advocated.”

“Though we have been fighting in Afghanistan for a decade, it has only been in the past 18 months that we have had the right leadership, the right strategy, and the right level of resources. As a result, our brave men and women in uniform are taking strategically important territory away from the enemy. They are decimating Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And they are training Afghan security forces that are increasingly capable of leading this fight on their own. President Obama deserves a lot of credit for our recent progress in Afghanistan, but as our military commanders have repeatedly said, this progress remains fragile.”

“Though I disagree with the President’s withdrawal plan, I nonetheless believe that America’s interests in Afghanistan are far too important for us to give up the fight and walk away, as many in Congress and elsewhere now advocate. I know that Americans are war-weary and fed up with our unsustainable national debt. But what our country can least afford is the cost of failure in Afghanistan. It remains a vital national interest for the United States to succeed.”

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.):

“The President’s announcement that we will withdraw 30,000 of our 100,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer is a step towards the end of this long war. We invaded Afghanistan to end al Qaeda and with the killing of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, we have accomplished our goal. Over the coming months, I’ll continue to press for a swift and substantial withdrawal of our combat forces from Afghanistan. Ten years, hundreds of billions of dollars and the loss of over 1,600 American service members later, it’s time for our fighting men and women to come home.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.):

“The president’s decision represents a positive development, although in my view the conditions on the ground justify an even larger drawdown of U.S. troops this year than the president announced tonight. I will continue to advocate for an accelerated drawdown in the months ahead, and for enhanced training and partnering with Afghan forces, because only they can provide durable security for their nation. The conditions justifying a larger drawdown include the progress U.S. and Afghan troops and our allies have made to improve security in Afghanistan; the faster than expected growth of the Afghan security forces; the death of Osama bin Laden and the decreasing number of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan; and the need to transition as quickly as possible to Afghan responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to increase the chances for long-term success of the mission there.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.):

“America has been an exceptional force for good in this world and we should never apologize for it. At the same time, we are running a $1.5 trillion deficit, and we must re-think our spending in all areas. We have to re-evaluate, but we have to do it in a sensible manner. What gains have been made in Afghanistan – as tenuous as they may be – have been paid with a very high price, in terms of the sacrifice of the finest among us. We have to make sure those gains are consolidated, and not lost. The Afghan people are like folks everywhere. They want peace. They want freedom. At some point, they have to fight for it, and I am very encouraged that so many are willing to do so.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.):

“For almost a decade, American troops have served bravely in Afghanistan. Their efforts have helped lead to the death of Osama bin Laden and the destruction, to a great degree, of al-Qaeda’s capability to plan and launch attacks against Americans from Afghanistan. These were our original objectives in Afghanistan, and they have been largely achieved. Our struggle against terrorists who would do Americans harm is certainly not over. But now is a time to consider how the threats against Americans have changed, and how we can most effectively defeat the terrorists behind those threats. That’s why this matter needs to be under continuing review as we work toward the Afghan people and government taking responsibility for their nation’s security and stability. It is crucial that we fight global terrorism both smarter and harder, and I will continue to advocate for an Afghanistan policy that helps us do so.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.):

“Many of us had high expectations for the President’s speech tonight. I had hoped he would clearly explain to the American people his long-term strategy for success in Afghanistan, and remind all of us why this mission is deserving of the sacrifice in American blood and treasure. Instead, he seems preoccupied with troop levels and when to start his withdrawal based on political considerations and not what will best serve U.S. national security. I am increasingly concerned by the lagging public support for the mission, and it was disappointing that the President failed to bring more clarity to the situation.”

Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.):

“On March 16, 2011, the four Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Task Force on Peace and Security and 76 other Members of Congress sent a letter to the President asking him to move swiftly to end America’s longest war, the war in Afghanistan.”

“Since then, the Co-Chairs have continued to call on the Administration to move towards a significant, swift and sizeable reduction in our troops in Afghanistan, meeting or exceeding the number of troops on the ground before the escalation. Similarly, the Democratic National Committee called for a ‘sizeable and significant’ drawdown beginning in July. This week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called for an end to the Afghanistan war. In poll after poll, the majority of Americans are consistently calling for an end to this war. ... The Co-Chairs of the CPC Task Force on Peace and Security believe that a significant, swift and sizeable troop reduction in Afghanistan is necessary. Anything less hurts our nation’s future and is unacceptable.”

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.):

“It’s time to bring the surge troops home, and I wish the president had laid out a more aggressive plan today. After discussing this issue at length with senior military leaders, diplomats, and many experts with years of service in Afghanistan, I think we could safely withdraw 15,000 troops this year without jeopardizing the gains that our men and women in uniform have achieved.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):

“Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It is about the bigger fight against Al Qaeda and radical Islamic terrorism. After a decade of fighting, the American people are weary of war. Facing massive unemployment and a growing national debt, they are weary of the effort’s cost. So am I. But the answer to a bad situation is not to make it worse. And I have always believed that a troop withdrawal plan based not on progress towards our ultimate goal, but rather on a desire to hit certain numbers, would be a tragic mistake. Yes, American troops need to leave Afghanistan, but they should do so pursuant to a plan that accomplishes our vital goal. I hope that in the days to come, the President will more clearly articulate how his troop withdrawal plan does that.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.):

“I want to thank President Obama for speaking directly to the American people tonight about the ongoing war in Afghanistan. However, I believe that we must step back and review our Afghanistan policy in the context of our overall national security. Shifting brigades alone is not the answer.”

“Ending the surge in 2012 with a disappointing 10,000 combat troops coming home this year is not good enough. As I have advocated for months, it is time to shift course in Afghanistan to a counter-terrorism mission, with an aggressive drawdown of combat troops. In the decade since the start of this war, al Qaeda has metastasized, expanding and strengthening its influence across the globe. We have seen that counter-terrorism works best in countering al Qaeda.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee:

“President Obama made it clear early on in his campaign for the Presidency that he understood the severity of the threat emanating from Afghanistan. Upon taking office, he acted on his campaign pledge and made Afghanistan a priority. That focus has since paid dividends and we have seen significant progress over the last year and a half. The gains we have seen are real and substantial and the men and women of our Armed Forces should be commended for these achievements. However, the cost of our efforts in Afghanistan – in terms of money and lives – is a significant strain on our nation and we must begin to responsibly reduce our commitments.”

“Leading up to the President’s speech tonight I believe there is one certainty: our men and women in uniform have bravely implemented a strategy that has yielded significant progress and we can now begin to bring them home. I look forward to hearing more from the President this evening.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.):

“I want to commend President Obama. Over the last 18 months we’ve had some great successes in the war on terror - capped with the truly historic mission that succeeded in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice - that now allow us to begin drawing our operations in Afghanistan to a close. While I recognize that it is in our own best interest to ensure that the region remains stable, after nearly a decade, with thousands of American lives and billions of dollars invested, it’s time to ask the Afghan government to stand on its own. We have too many important issues to address here at home to do anything less.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.):

“The counterinsurgency strategy implemented by General David Petraeus and other military leadership continues to show results in Afghanistan. Marines and service members have performed remarkably to advance the mission under difficult circumstances. I applaud their efforts and look forward to their safe return home.”

“Like many Americans, I want to see the prompt return of our troops and the successful completion of their mission. Unfortunately, their progress is being undermined by corruption in Kabul. We have yet to see the necessary leadership from President Karzai and from President Obama to address this pervasive problem within the Afghan government. Establishing the confidence of the Afghan people in their government is an essential component in achieving our objective of handing over a stable and secure Afghanistan. President Obama could do far more to advance our ultimate success and timely return of our forces by engaging President Karzai to root out corruption in the Kabul government. I hope that the speech tonight is not more lip service and that President Obama commits himself to the task.”

By  |  08:39 PM ET, 06/22/2011

 
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