Liberal Dems slam Obama's Afghanistan timeline

Liberal Democrats are lining up in staunch opposition to President Obama's plan to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The lawmakers — including leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), members of the Armed Services Committee, and at least one prominent voice in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) — say the administration's timeline is far too protracted, putting American lives at risk and wasting precious taxpayer dollars much better spent at home.

The Democrats are calling for a quicker withdrawal of all U.S. troops and a shift of war resources to domestic services.

"We cannot afford to spend trillions of dollars on wars, while working families here at home are forced to get by without unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance," Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the heads of the CPC, said in a statement. "A troop presence in Afghanistan could last indefinitely, which would mean fewer resources for investments in infrastructure, education, and sustainable jobs for the middle class here at home."

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Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), former head of the CBC, amplified the point, saying that, after 13 years of fighting, "enough is enough."

“It’s obvious that there is no military solution in Afghanistan and it is far past time to end the war and bring all of our troops home now," she said in a statement.  

"At the very least, Congress should debate and vote on this agreement that will keep our troops in Afghanistan for years to come and will cost billions more in spending."

The criticism of the president’s plan could also be rooted in a more general sense of liberal disappointment with his war record.

Obama was first elected in part because of his opposition to another war, in Iraq, and his decision to back a “troop surge” in Afghanistan during his first term dismayed many on the left. Other progressives are unimpressed by the administration’s record on civil liberties and the failure to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, as promised. 

Democratic Reps. John Garamendi (Calif.) and Colleen Hanabusa (Hawaii), both liberal members of the House Armed Services Committee, also criticized the president's strategy. Garamendi said he's "deeply concerned about the scope and length" of Obama's new plan, while Hanabusa conveyed "disappointment" that the mission "has stretched to the end of 2016."

"My position is and always has been that we should remove all troops as quickly and safely as possible," Hanabusa said. "I believe we can and should achieve the goal of bringing our troops home and drawing down to a standard diplomatic presence in Afghanistan sooner than the President’s timeline proposes.”

Announced Tuesday, Obama's plan for leaving Afghanistan would cut the number of troops from 32,000 to 9,800 by the end of 2014, when the combat mission ends, with those Americans playing only "an advisory role" to the Afghan forces, the president said. 

By the end of 2015, only half of that number would remain, Obama said, with those forces consolidated in Kabul and on the Bagram Air Force base. By the end of 2016, only "a normal embassy presence" and "a security assistance component" would be left.

"The bottom line is, it’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," Obama said in a speech from the Rose Garden.

The announcement was cheered by many leading Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, who said the plan strikes the right balance between ending the 13-year-old conflict and protecting against future terrorist attacks.

"We cannot and should not continue to maintain a large presence in Afghanistan forever," Smith said in a statement, "but we also cannot overlook our national security interest in the region."

The liberal Democrats have another view, with some going so far as to suggest that Obama simply isn't making good on his vow to end the war at the end of the year. 

"We are glad the original combat mission in Afghanistan is coming to a close, but keeping a residual force of 9,800 in the country after 2014 is not ending the war,” Grijalva and Ellison said.

Vivian Hughbanks contributed.