WASHINGTON, June 30, 2010 -- The ease of Gen. David Petraeus' confirmation by the Senate to succeed Gen. Stanely McChrystal and lead American and NATO forces in Afghanistan belies the very real problems that President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan faces on Capitol Hill.
"There is unease in our caucus, as you well know, about the situation in Afghanistan," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters last week, perhaps understating things. "I don't think that the change in command affects that."
House Democrats are uneasy voting to pay the $33 billion tab on the surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. The bill is due this month, according to the Pentagon, just as the war in Afghanistan stretches into its 104th month -- longer than any other war in U.S. history.
When Congress authorized President George W. Bush to order U.S. forces to invade Afghanistan in 2001, all but one member of Congress supported the move. Nine years later, the appetite for that conflict in Congress among Democrats and a few Republicans has clearly waned.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., was the lone lawmaker to vote against invading Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
She and 18 other Democrats co-signed a letter to Obama Tuesday, pledging not vote for the war funding bill without a clearer vision of when and how the United States will pull out of Afghanistan.
The letter points to statements from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the vast majority of forces will not leave in 2011. And Sen. John McCain and other Republicans in the Senate have said that another surge, with even more American troops, could be required to attain stability in Afghanistan.
"The lack of clarity on when and how the U.S. will end its military commitment to Afghanistan has created confusion amongst U.S. service members and the public," the Democrats wrote.
Petraeus Says Afghan War Conditions Will Dictate Withdrawal in 2011
Petraeus told senators Tuesday at his confirmation hearing that a clear and definable timetable for full withdrawal would be unwise. He wants to make withdrawal of forces contingent on favorable conditions.
"It would undercut our whole policy, which is conditions-based," said Petraeus.
In March, 65 lawmakers -- including five Republicans -- voted to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan this year.
It is clear that Democrats will need Republican support for the war funding bill to pass it this week. But nearly all Republicans have rejected Democrats' pereferred version of the bill because it includes, among other things, $24 billion in non-defense spending, most of which would go to help local governments avert teacher layoffs.
House Democrats have scrapped their proposal to fund the war and save teacher jobs and instead are trying to craft a bill that will get enough Democrats and Republicans voting for it to pass.
A Senate-passed bill did not include that funding and on Tuesday House Minority Leader John Boehner said Republicans would vote for a Senate bill that funds the war, but does not help avert the teacher layoffs.
"I offered to the president two months ago the willingness of Republicans to work with Democrats to pass a clean supplemental to fund our troops. We could do it, we could do it in five minutes," Boehner told reporters Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that House Democrats are likely to drop the teacher funding and consider the Senate-passed bill. The House would then perhaps also vote on a separate bill for the teacher funding and either meld the two bills together with some legislative creativity or allow the jobs portion to die in the Senate, where it is unlikely to get 60 votes.
There is little doubt on Capitol Hill that lawmakers will ultimately find a way to fund the troops this week, before they head off to Fourth of July parades in their home districts.But doing so will unearth the growing divide in their caucus on how loudly they should protest Obama's strategy in Afghanistan.