Liberals ready to strike out at White House over Afghanistan surge

Liberals in Congress, already angry about healthcare reform, are sharpening their swords for a fight with the administration over Afghanistan.

They have opened one front with the White House on a public option for healthcare but are ready to open a second front on Afghanistan, even if it damages a president whose success is dependent on a strong record of accomplishment.

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According to one House Democrat, the calls to end U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan are growing louder and coming from a larger and more diverse crowd.

On the heels of the deadliest month to date for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, liberals are bracing for a report from the top military commanders that could suggest more resources and troops are needed.

And they are increasingly worried that President Barack Obama will find it necessary to ask Congress for just that.

If that’s the case, liberals such as Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), one of the three leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus – which is slowly morphing into the Out of Afghanistan Caucus – said that progressives were prepared to stand in the way of any additional funding in an attempt to force the president’s hand.

“Just because President Obama is our president doesn’t mean we don’t feel the same outrage we felt regarding Iraq in this same time in the Iraq occupation,” Woolsey said. “Our president doesn’t get a pass on this.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who voted against the last Afghanistan supplemental spending bill requested by Obama, said he’s been hearing not just from liberal Democrats but from conservative Republicans as well, who he said are deeply concerned about the direction of the U.S. campaign to root out al-Qaeda.

“Since that vote, I’ve had a lot of members, Democrats and Republicans, come up to me and say, ‘Jeez, I wish I voted with you on that,’” McGovern said.

McGovern toured Afghanistan over the August recess and praised the efforts of the military and the State Department but he questioned whether those efforts were destined to fall short.

“I had the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that we’re getting sucked into an endless war,” McGovern said of his recent trip. “I don’t want to send more troops and countless billions of dollars down a rat hole if it’s not going to produce something in the end.”

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a press conference ahead of the release of the Afghanistan assessment report from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. They told reporters that U.S. forces must work to "turn around" the security situation in Afghanistan in the “limited” time frame of 12 to 18 months.

Neither indicated whether McChrystal would be asking for additional troops, but Gates left open the possibility that more troops would be needed. And he flatly rejected calls to pull troops out.

“I absolutely do not think it is time to get out of Afghanistan,” he said.

Liberal Democrats have already spent a month battling against the possibility that the public option will be stripped from the healthcare bill, and have vowed to derail Obama’s highest priority if that happens.

A host of liberal caucuses within the House are bracing for the possibility that on Wednesday night, during an address to a joint session of Congress, Obama will proclaim that a public option is not a necessary part of a final healthcare bill.

Now many of those same liberal members are gearing up to confront the president over Afghanistan if that’s necessary, as well.

“A lot of us didn’t vote for the last supplemental,” Woolsey said. “But we hadn’t organized, and we will be doing that.”

Prior to that vote, Obama personally called a number of skeptical Democrats to ask for their support, and he got it from enough of them to guarantee the bill's passage.

McGovern suggested that any request for additional troops or resources will play out much differently this time, given the growing uncertainty among both Democrats and Republicans.

“One of the things we’ve never had on Afghanistan is a full debate,” McGovern said. “And I think there needs to be a full debate, a full discussion. We all need to know what we’re doing and what to expect.”

-- Roxana Tiron contributed to this article