PA Politicos Respond to President’s Afghanistan Speech

Compiled by Jared Edgerton, Contributing Writer

President Barack Obama delivered a speech last night outlining his plan to withdraw armed forces from Afghanistan saying that he will pull out 10,000 this year, 30,000 troops by 2012 and Afghanistan will be self governed by 2014.

The tone of responses, for the most part, has been tepidly supportive of the President.

Here is how the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation (and a few other PA politicos) responded:

Senator Bob Casey Jr. expressed his support for President Obama:

“Progress made in Afghanistan should allow us to lighten our footprint in the country, accelerate the shift in responsibility to Afghan forces and drawdown a significant number of U.S. troops from the country.   After nearly ten years and a high cost to our troops, their families and the federal budget, the U.S. should shift its role in Afghanistan from a strategy of counterinsurgency towards an increased focus on counterterrorism.”

Casey went on to express some concern over unanswered questions writing:

“I have particular concerns about the specifics of the President’s plan including whether this is the right balance to responsibly bring our troops home as fast as militarily feasible. I will raise these issues tomorrow morning in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary Clinton and in conversations with military commanders and our civilian leadership when I visit the region later this year.”

Jim Gerlach (R-6):

“Decisions about troop levels in Afghanistan need to be made according to conditions on the ground, recommendations of our military commanders and a clear advancement of our national security interests. Great care must be taken to ensure that decisions are based on military strategy, not political calculations. The President correctly noted that even though a portion of our American forces will be coming home, we are not retreating from our central mission of crippling al-Qaida and preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist safe haven where radicals can launch attacks against America and our allies.

After a decade of valiant sacrifice by our troops and their families, it is absolutely appropriate to expect the Afghans to accept greater responsibility for their security. Congress will continue to support our troops with all the resources required to build on their hard-won success in Afghanistan and monitor how this drawdown will affect the brave men and women still in the field.”

Bill Shuster (R-9). Statement issued prior to the speech:

“It is my continued belief, especially after my most recent trip to Afghanistan last month, that any decision to remove American forces from Afghanistan should be based on the conditions on the ground, consistent with recommendations from military commanders.

Last year, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to winning the war in Afghanistan.  Today, just hours before the President addresses the nation on the war, I have deep concerns that President Obama will announce a strategy for Afghanistan that is focused on political expediency rather than military victory.

I am interested in hearing the details of the President’s strategy tonight; however it is critical that any redeployment of forces from Afghanistan must not diminish our ability to continue combat operations against al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.  Doing so will not improve security for the Afghan people, will squander the gains we have made against our enemy and destabilize a region critical to our national security.”

Tom Marino (R-10):

Marino expressed serious concerns Wednesday night after President Obama announced plans to withdraw 30,000 surge forces from Afghanistan within the next 15 months.

Marino said his biggest objection was that the decision seemed to be based on growing discontent with the near decade-old conflict – and not on a clear military strategy.

“If the military leaders on the ground say that this is the right thing to do, then I will accept that,” Marino said. “But I don’t think that’s the case, especially after having spent time with the troops and military leaders just a few months ago.”

Marino’s March trip to Afghanistan and his work on the House committees on Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs convinced him that the war on terror was being won and that a responsible transfer of security was within sight.

“I saw the success our surge forces have made and the progress our troops have made in training the Afghan forces,” Marino said. “But it will all be for naught if we pull out our troops prematurely.

“No matter what you feel about the war, we are there. And we’ve got to be in it to win.”

Marino said that Afghanistan is a strategic imperative for the United States because the Taliban protected the al-Qaeda terrorists who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Allyson Schwartz (D-13):

“I support the President’s decision to transition Afghan security responsibility to the Afghan people through a clear strategy for reduction in U.S. troops over the next year and a half.  As our troops come home, the Afghan security forces will assume responsibility for their nation.  I commend President Obama for the planned, deliberate, and timely withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“We should all be proud of the talent, dedication, and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform who have served our nation and the Afghan people so admirably.  President Obama’s announcement tonight honors their service, acknowledges that it is time to withdraw the “surge” troops and makes it clear that the American commitment is not open-ended.

“I hope that we can look forward to continued strong alliance with a democratic Afghanistan that will work towards economic opportunity, rule of law, and freedom for its people.”

Representative Joe Pitts (R-17) said:

“I support President Obama’s decision to begin making the Afghan people more responsible for their own security this year. Our troops have fought hard and with honor. The job they have done eliminating Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s safe havens has made our country safer and saved American lives at home and abroad. I know that we will all be glad to see them return home over the coming years.”

Rick Santorum:

“President Obama speaks of winding down our engagement in Afghanistan, but he does not emphasize the need for victory,” said Senator Santorum.  “Every American wants our brave men and women home safely, but we cannot let those who’ve given the last full measure die in vain by abandoning the gains we’ve made thus far.  We must be squarely focused on succeeding in Afghanistan rather than on politically motivated troop withdrawals.  Sadly, President Obama doesn’t seem to share that commitment.”

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter also waded into the Afghanistan issue two days ago during The United States Conference of Mayors. The Conference passed a resolution urging President Obama to end the Afghanistan War. Nutter, the Vice President of the Conference, explained the resolution as not, “a quote-unquote war resolution. We actually consider it to be an economic policy resolution.” In the past Nutter has described the funneling of tax dollars into Afghanistan as, “the great retreat from the federal government.” And argued that the resolution mirrored the sentiment of the American people.

Nutter’s explanation for the resolution touches on similar themes held by some of the Congressional Republicans. Traditionally the Republicans have favored a hard-line approach to fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, but during the budget crunching era, some Republicans, have started to show tepid support for a timely strategic withdrawal (a stance the Democrats have long held) as a cost saving measure. It also helps that 64 percent of Americans support decreasing US troop levels in Afghanistan.

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