By Sam Youngman - 07/26/10 10:45 PM EDT
The White House on Monday sought to contain new doubts about the Afghanistan war sparked by the release of classified documents that suggest the United States is losing the fight.
The 93,000 documents posted on Wikileaks.org were largely old news that included no new “broad revelations,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing.
He criticized the leak as a “potential national security concern” but disputed any comparisons with the Pentagon Papers that increased opposition to the Vietnam War.
“I don’t see how, in any way, they’re really comparable,” said Gibbs, who described the Pentagon Papers as policy documents and the Wikileaks postings as “on-the-ground reporting” of events.
Gibbs and some Democrats in Congress noted that the classified documents leaked to Wikileaks covered reports from the ground before President Obama announced his Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy on Dec. 1, 2009.
“These leaked reports predate our new strategy in Afghanistan and should not be used as a measure of success or a determining factor in our continued mission there,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The reports suggested intelligence officials in Pakistan had helped to plan and carry out Taliban attacks on U.S. troops, but Skelton said Pakistan has significantly stepped up its fight against Afghan insurgents since the reports were written.
Republican lawmakers also offered support for the fight in Afghanistan while criticizing Wikileaks for releasing the classified reports.
“It is shocking that any American, much less someone in the Pentagon, would betray his country and possibly put our soldiers at risk by leaking information on the ongoing war in Afghanistan,” Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) struck a dissonant note in a statement that said the documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
“Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent,” Kerry said.
Polls continue to show that the war in Afghanistan is unpopular. A CBS survey released earlier this month found 62 percent of respondents believed the war was going badly, up from 49 percent in May.
Kerry’s comments reflect the concerns of many Democrats in Congress, where lawmakers are struggling to agree to supplemental funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Congressional sources said the leaked documents would at a minimum color the debate when the House picks up a war funding bill this week, and that it could peel off some votes for the legislation.
The House will bring up the Senate’s $58.8 billion version of the war funding bill on the suspension calendar on Tuesday, according to a Democratic leadership aide. The Senate had rejected a measure already approved by the House that included domestic spending opposed by Republican senators.
Pentagon leaders have pleaded with Congress to pass the war funding before lawmakers head for their August recess so that the Defense Department does not have to curtail defense operations and stop paying its civilian employees and some members of the military in order to pay for the wars.
The president’s monthly Afghanistan/Pakistan meeting in the White House Situation Room is scheduled for this Thursday.
Gibbs said the White House began informing key members of Congress about the leak on Sunday. The president was made aware that the leaks would be published on Thursday.
Gibbs said Kerry is right that the policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan needs to be consistently reviewed and changed to ensure that the strategy is working.
“Nobody’s here to declare ‘mission accomplished,’ ” Gibbs said. “You’ve not heard that phrase uttered or emitted by us as a way of saying that everything is going well.”
James Carafano, director of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, said the White House is correct that the information in the documents is old news.
But Carafano said the leaks do undermine the war effort, and he criticized Kerry’s comments. “[Kerry is] undercutting his own president,” Carafano said.
“These documents provide a fuller picture of what we have long known about Afghanistan: The war is going badly,” Kucinich said in a statement Monday. “Now we want to further expand drone attacks and the presence of U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan? Congress must act to nip in the bud any attempt to expand the war across the border into Pakistan.”
The House Rules Committee was slated to decide on the structure of the floor debate for Kucinich’s resolution after press time on Monday. Debate could occur as early as Tuesday.
—Roxana Tiron contributed to this report.