Almost 10 years after American troops first landed in Afghanistan, President Obama is facing bipartisan war fatigue that could force him to curtail two different military missions.
As Obama finalizes plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a group of members, both Republican and Democrat, are pressing him to call for a substantial withdrawal of tens of thousands of the more than 100,000 Americans there. Meanwhile, a coalition of lawmakers that spans the political right (Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.) center (Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.) and left (Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio) is criticizing Obama’s policy for Libya, which includes the use of American drones to attack Libyan targets.
Mayors from both parties are expected Monday to approve a resolution calling for reduced involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, freeing up more money to be spent on job creation and the other needs of American cities.
The developments have tangled traditional political alliances. Paul and Kucinich, who hardly agree on anything, are both blasting Obama for not getting a formal approval from Congress before intervening in Libya. The president, whose political rise came in part because of his early opposition to the Iraq war, finds himself joined on his Libya policy with two of the chief proponents of that war: Senators Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.)
The tensions reflect an American public no longer as committed to having troops abroad, even to fight terrorism, as it once was; and more attentive to the struggling economy than foreign affairs. In 2004, President Bush based virtually his entire campaign on protecting the nation from terrorism; seven years later, Obama’s “bounce” in poll numbers from capturing and killing Osama Bin Laden has already come and gone.
Polls shows declining support among Americans for keeping troops in Afghanistan, and the majority of the public never embraced the Libya mission.
An anti-war faction has long existed among Democrats; many of them opposed Bush sending troops into Iraq. But over the last year, the faction has expanded to include more and more Republicans, both in the party’s grassroots and on Capitol Hill.
Up-and-coming Republicans allied with ”tea party” activists, from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to Paul, have joined those questioning the aims of the American interventions, as has former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, one of the Republicans weighing a run for the party’s presidential nomination.
Obama has approached each conflict individually. He has wound down the war in Iraq, says he will do the same in Afghanistan and tried to downplay the role of U.S. forces in Libya. But Graham, McCain and some other Republicans in the “national security wing” of the party say they are worried about “isolationism” within their party, a term that would never have been used to describe the GOP during the Bush years.
This shift in lawmaker sentiment could push Obama in two ways. First, he may be forced to reduce the already limited U.S. role in Libya. Congressional calls for Obama to get approval for the war, and the president’s reluctance, suggests that a vote in Congress on Libya may not find support for Obama’s position.
On Afghanistan, while the president and his team have said they will play down domestic political concerns, Obama still must consider them.
Increasingly, Democrats in particular are framing spending in Afghanistan in a zero-sum way; arguing any dollar spent abroad is one not spent on helping improve the American economy. (It’s not clear this claim is true, as congressional Republicans would likely not support another large stimulus bill even if the U.S. wound down the war in Afghanistan.)
Whenever Obama announces his Afghanistan plan, he will have to explain how he plans to balance spending there with his broader vision for the American economic recovery.
The president will meet with the mayors at the White House and attend two campaign fundraisers in Washington.