Md. liberals express doubts over troop buildup plan

Cardin, Mikulski voice skepticism

December 02, 2009|By Paul West | paul.west@baltsun.com

President Barack Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan met with deep skepticism Tuesday night from some of his staunchest backers: liberal Democratic lawmakers from Maryland.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said he had "serious questions" about Obama's plan to dispatch an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.

He said that Obama was right to focus on training Afghan security forces and target al-Qaida's training networks in the region. But the senator said he was not sure a major American troop buildup would help the U.S. and its allies meet their security goals.

"I come into this with skepticism," Cardin, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview. "I don't think that I am alone in my concern."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said she had "grave reservations about adding more troops to Afghanistan. Our troops are worn out and we are out of money."

Mikulski, a candidate for re-election next year, said in a statement before the speech that there were "no simple answers" or "silver bullets for Afghanistan" and that Obama had "difficult questions to answer."

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, among a bipartisan group of congressional leaders who met with Obama at the White House in late afternoon, acknowledged that there were "great reservations" among House Democrats "about escalating our effort."

But at his weekly news conference, Hoyer pushed back sharply against criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials. He accused them of having "turned tail" in Afghanistan, abandoning "a job that they started but didn't finish."

Hoyer said the Republicans had "left it for this administration to clean up."

Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said he supported Obama's plan "based on what I have seen. We have to move forward."

But the Baltimore County Democrat, who has made three trips to Afghanistan, said he regarded Obama's decision to start drawing down U.S. troops in July 2011 as only "a plan and a goal."

"I don't think that you tell your enemy when you plan to leave," Ruppersberger said.

Cardin said it was too early to predict how much support the president's plan would win in Congress. He said that its success could well turn on how Republicans react.

Several Republican senators and independent Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut issued generally supportive statements.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said that Republicans and Democrats could agree with Obama's troop escalation. But he said the president was "sending the wrong signal" by saying that U.S. forces would start leaving "on an arbitrary date."

Maryland's lone Republican in Washington, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, said through an aide before the speech that he looked forward to testimony this week from military leaders and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

"Congressman Bartlett's skepticism about the effectiveness of U.S. strategy and tactics in Afghanistan predate the current administration," said Lisa Wright, his spokeswoman.

Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele, in a statement, praised Obama's new policy but said it had taken "far too long" to craft.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor added that "sending mixed signals by outlining the exit before these troops even get on the ground undermines their ability to succeed."

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