The Big Question: Will Afghan troop funding debate divide Dems?

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:

Will the effort to fund a troop surge in Afghanistan divide the Democratic Party?

Armstrong WilliamsPundits Blog contributor, said:

The President's increase of 35,000 troops to Afghanistan will certainly not only further divide the already seemingly fragmented Democrats, but tear them asunder. Progressives are growing increasingly frustrated with President Obama’s domestic policies; a troop increase will only further enflame his international policies with disgust. The President's official announcement tonight will exasperate democrats growing frustration.


These are not ideal times politically for the White House. The president’s decision on Afghanistan will definitely land heaviest among his allies on Capitol Hill, especially the House and Senate leadership, who are considered far more liberal than their rank-and-file followers.


What remains for the President now is what policies can he offer early in 2010 to placate that progressive wing of his caucus. I expect a more concerted, personal effort by him on health care reform, followed by some activity to help his union friends (perhaps easing off on the so called ‘Cadillac’ health plans big unions have come to enjoy), perhaps even more crackdowns on international offshore tax havens and trade policies in general, and other sundry items.


The bottom line is his foreign policy stances will have repercussions with the president’s domestic agenda well until the end of his first term. Even candidate Obama was strident in his rhetoric surrounding the war against terrorism, especially in Iraq. His speech tonight will sound eerily similar to the arguments Bush made for entering Iraq, and that causes all sorts of political heartburn for Pelosi and her ultra liberal faction.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said: 

There's that potential, but I don't think anyone should take a hard and fast stand against or for it until we've engaged in the diligence the president did.  Some of us have that already -- I've done plenty of it.  We need to do that in a more focused way.  We've been focused on 'what if the President proposes this,' and now we will have very specific outlines of a strategy that needs to be tested and debated for a number of weeks before Democrats weigh in.  But some will weigh in before that.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said: 

There will always be the far left in the party that don't want to support any war or offshore effort. I think that's very shortsighted because they came to our shores to kill 3,000 people. I think you can probably criticize some on the far right too.  But it's not extreme to be going after al-Qaeda and doing our best to solidify a better form of government in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've been successful in Iraq so far. If we have more troops, the counterinsurgency will work in Afghanistan. I do support a troop surge. We should support our military advisers; I don't think we can undermine them, and that's what the left is doing.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said:

As a former legislator, the President's been very good about trying to find a balance [in the Democratic Party]. We need to use a metric system and set benchmarks to understand what we have to do. You need goals and objectives, or else you have a situation where the Vice President [Cheney] saying we're winning the war in Iraq, and Senator Hagel saying we're losing, and they're both from the same party, same set of facts, but different opinions.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said:

Not if the president clearly states the facts and has a exit strategy.

Ronald Goldfarb, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

How could it not? It will divide Congress and, most importantly, the American public. This war effort is a big mistake and will be costly to everyone involved.

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

Yes, it will divide progressives, but the additional funding will pass. Conservatives, on the other hand, won't agonize all that much over spending more borrowed money — the label "fiscal conservative" no longer applies after the previous administration.

It was on the watch of the Bush administration, working in coordination with a conservative-controlled Congress, that America embarked on a disastrous approach of spending nearly a trillion dollars of mostly borrowed money on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and this ultimately undermined America's position in the world.

It'll take years to dig ourselves out of the hole, but asking tough questions about funding the next steps in Afghanistan is vital for getting our national security strategy back on track.

Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:

Not really. Oh, sure, the more “progressive” types may make noises about a “war surtax,” but this only underscores their capitulation to the War Party on the basic question of U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan and the region: If they were really opposed to the war, on principle, they would vote to eliminate the funding rather than impose a new tax during a recession.

Whatever opposition arises to this war from the Democratic side of the aisle has so far been couched in the language of economics: We can’t afford it, it competes with funding for domestic programs, etc. etc. There is very little opposition grounded in skepticism that we can — or should — try to intervene in the life of a nation thousands of miles from our shores. Everyone seems to be swallowing the dubious line, put out by the Obama-ites, that this is a “war of necessity” because al Qaeda and/or the Taliban will carve out “safe havens” and then — well, then what? Do we really have to fear a bunch of half-starved insurgents sitting around in a cave somewhere? The only “safe haven” the 9/11 hijackers had was an apartment in South Florida, and one in Hamburg, Germany.

A few Democratic members of Congress will register their dissent, but for the most part the party leadership will go along with the Obama administration for the simple reason that the Obama-ites have their hands on the money spigot, which can be turned on as a reward for cooperation — or turned off as punishment for non-cooperation. You’ll recall that when the Democrats took control of Congress, while Bush was still in the White House, they continued to vote for funding the Iraq and Afghan wars, increasing the war budget — in spite of the demonstrable fact that voters had put them in office to put an end to both wars. There was heavy pressure put on dissident Democrats, like my congresswoman, Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), to vote for war appropriations — with the threat of withholding government subsidies (“stimulus”) from those districts whose representatives were so bold as to vote “no.” There is little reason to believe this won’t occur again.

The War Party controls both “major” parties: That’s what Obama’s speech tonight will underscore for the umpteenth time. That’s why, in spite of the fact that the American people oppose these wars, they continue — because the game is rigged. And the American people are the losers.

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

The way forward in Afghanistan will create a dilemma for Democrats and fracture party unity by pushing for a major increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan. Already, Speaker Pelosi has expressed her reluctance to support a troop increase and so have key senators, such as Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Many liberal Democrats seem to have forgotten that then-candidate Obama made Afghanistan a priority when campaigning while candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) focused on Iraq. What the president will more likely than not say tonight should come as no surprise to Democrats. Nevertheless, it is clear that many see a continued war effort as a drag on their ability to pursue costly domestic priorities, since more troops will require more money, a big problem given the already record high levels of debt.  Democratic policymakers recognize the dangers and political implications of escalating the war. Democrats -- by pursuing big government health care legislation, passing a massive, expensive spending bill, and pushing forward on cap-and-trade legislation -- have already alienated many Independents and "Obamacans." This move will discourage the Democrats' core liberal base, a base that will be particularly important in November.
 
It's no wonder the president has been so reluctant to make a decision on this issue.

A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, said:

The war in Afghanistan has already divided the Democratic Party and so has the decision by President Barack Obama to try to "finish the job" with another 30,000 more troops. But differences between liberals and conservatives in the Democratic Party have yet to be exposed in the dramatic way that they will when the question of funding arises.
 
At this point it appears members of Congress won't be voting on the issue of funding additional troops for Afghanistan until the spring, in a supplemental bill. The thinking is the Defense spending bills are making their way through the system and wouldn't be the vehicle for this contentious and costly increase in force.
 
If the funding vote were to come up in the Congress tomorrow it would likely pass with most Republicans and enough Democrats, save the anti-war liberals. That could be the same scenario next spring, though technically there is still time to persuade some hesitant Democrats that the new strategy is worth their vote. Sure looks doubtful. 

John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

Anything that will divide the Democratic Party would be helpful to America.  This party has, in general, become the socialist party of America and many of its members have been linked with the organization known as the Democratic Socialists of America.  Socialism is, of course, the antithesis of Americanism.  It was practiced in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and in the National Socialist (Nazi) Party in Germany. It would be wonderful for America if many of the Democrats in Congress would begin to honor their oath to the U.S. Constitution and work for less government, not more