The Big Question: Will Congress fund a troop surge in Afghanistan?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

If President Barack Obama calls for tens of thousands of additional troops in Afghanistan, will the Democratic-led Congress fund this effort?

Ronald Goldfarb, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

One hopes Congress will exercise its constitutional power to control war decisions. But I doubt it will. Sadly, peace, non-war, positions are rare with politicians. We hear constant complaints about too much spending when it concerns healthcare, but none when it comes to killing and maiming our young men and women in the military.

How can we afford this war, politically, economically, morally? No one has made the case that our engagements in Afghanistan will make America safer, or immune from attack. So why are we there?

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:

The American people are ready for smart, serious decisions about the use of our military, and the Democratic party will support that.

Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said:

Congress will fund the effort, but it will do it kicking and screaming and after asking a lot of tough questions.  Rightly so.  After about eight years of insufficient oversight, when Congress was complicit in the Bush administration’s strategy-less, no accountability and no end in sight way of fighting wars, we are seeing more scrutiny on this administration’s national security decisions.
 
Congress will hold a series of hearings, ask questions that are aimed at sharpening policies, and perhaps even set clear conditions for additional funding dependent on outcome.  That would be a good thing.  Though President Obama was right to take the time to deliberate on options, his team still hasn’t provided sufficient answers to key questions – like what precise conditions are they setting on assistance to Afghan authorities, how much Pakistan and other key countries are willing to play a more constructive role in advancing stability, and how to pay for the war without passing the costs onto our grandchildren.  The metrics for to measure progress developed by the Obama administration are still an unclear mess, and simply saying “we’ll know it when we see it” is too glib of an answer when we’re sending more Americans into harm’s way and spending taxpayers’ money.

Michelle D. Bernard, president and CEO of Independent Women's Forum, said:

Congressional Democrats will be in a tough spot if the president calls for additional troops for Afghanistan: They don't want to alienate the far left wing of their base, but also cannot afford to further lose the support of Independents and "Obamacans" and give new life to the image of undisciplined Democrats unwilling to wage a war that the Commander-in-Chief believes saves the national security interests of our nation.

Ultimately, it seems most likely that enough Democrats will join with Republicans (who are most likely to support the president's call for additional troops and funding). They cannot abandon our nation's commander-in-chief.

Paul Kawika Martin, policy and political director of Peace Action, said:

If you were a gambler, you would have to bet the the Democrats will ultimately fund more troops for President Obama.  Remember that the Democrats didn't even come close to mustering enough votes to stop the Bush Administration's folly in Iraq, even after finding out that they were lied to and a near-super majority of Americans wanted troops to come home.

Most Democrats in Congress have ceded the debate to the neo-cons that your not supporting the troops if you vote against war funding. This is ludicrous, of course. It's the utmost support of our troops to exercise democracy and vote for policy beliefs. It's the utmost support to vote for the troops to come home. Certainly, during the debate on Iraq, you heard Republican cries of "Where's your patriotism?" to those that voted against funding the war in Iraq. Then, this year, the Republicans voted en masse against supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because they opposed money for the World Bank.

There are a few courageous Republicans that will most likely vote against funding, including Rep. Walter Jones. He will vote his thought-out policy beliefs, rather than join the Republican Party line that if you don't support more troops than you are weak, unpatriotic and "dithering." Many Republican's will play the worn out partisan card that the Democrats are "weak on defense." And many Democrats haven't figured out that to trump that argument, you need to discuss all of the tools in America's tool box, including economics, aid, development and diplomacy.  Reps. Barbara Lee and Jim McGovern have made that wise argument and will vote against war funding.

Chairmen Obey and Murtha provide an interesting twist. Both have said that if we do fund more troops then we must pay for them now, not put the deficit burden on our grandchildren. So far, the near trillion dollars the United States spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been nearly all borrowed from other countries, namely China and Japan. Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes claims that if you include interest on debt, veterans benefits and other costs to society, then the total costs for the wars could top a staggering $5 trillion to $7 trillion.

Of course, I hope I lose my bet and that enough courageous Democrats and Republicans vote against funding more troops and instead use that money to pay Afghan security forces a livable wage so they are less susceptible to Taliban bribes; to fully fund the National Solidarity Project that helps bring Afghans out of poverty (a root cause of violent extremism); and to increase funding for Afghan-led aid and development that will tackle the 40 percent unemployment rate and 30 percent literacy rate.  Lastly, without a comprehensive peace process -- that includes all internal and regional actors like the Taliban, Iran, India, Pakistan and China -- Afghanistan will continue to suffer the brunt of proxy wars and instability.