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Key Democrats divided over Afghan war strategy

The Democratic Party has never been known for unity or message control. But as President Obama and his advisors continue to deliberate over their next move in Afghanistan, the stark difference between the top Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees shows just how far apart party leaders are on the war. Ike ...

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WASHINGTON - APRIL 09: House Armed Services Committe Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) questions U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, Commander of American forces in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker during a hearing about the ongoing Iraq war on Capitol Hill April 9, 2008 in Washington, DC. Petraeus told Congress that he does not recommend lowering the number of U.S. troops in Iraq below 140,000 before mid-September. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Democratic Party has never been known for unity or message control. But as President Obama and his advisors continue to deliberate over their next move in Afghanistan, the stark difference between the top Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees shows just how far apart party leaders are on the war.

Ike Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who heads the House committee, gave directly the opposite message that is being put forth by his Senate counterpart Carl Levin, D-MI, who is calling for President Obama to only add trainers and hold off on sending more U.S. combat troops to that theater. In an interview with The Cable, Skelton called on the administration to fully resource the troop and equipment request of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

“I will support General McChrystal because he’s the commander on the ground like Roosevelt supported Dwight Eisenhower on D-Day,” Skelton said. “This is very, very serious. American security is at stake. So whatever General McChrystal thinks he can do, whatever he wants we’ll give him.”

Practically, Skelton’s tactic is to continue his push for McChrystal to testify in open session at his first availability. He has an outstanding request for just that, but the White House has not responded.

“I don’t want to bring him back just for this specific purpose. I want him to stay there and fight the war,” Skelton said. “But if he’s coming back here for business, we want him.”

Skelton is not the only senior Democrat to come out publicly in favor of McChrystal’s call for increased troop levels. Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, said as much on ABC’s This Week Sunday.

“I don’t know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as General McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you’re not going to pull out,” Feinstein said.

But Skelton was out in front in calling for Obama to support McChrystal and made his views known in last week’s congressional meeting at the White House on Afghanistan.

He is also not shy about criticizing the strategy put forth by Levin. When asked directly why the Michigan senator’s approach was faulty, he responded: “And then what would happen, we let the Taliban take over? I don’t think so.”

Skelton is also gearing up for a tougher fight than he usually faces for his seat, which Republicans are targeting in 2010.

File photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Democratic Party has never been known for unity or message control. But as President Obama and his advisors continue to deliberate over their next move in Afghanistan, the stark difference between the top Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees shows just how far apart party leaders are on the war.

Ike Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who heads the House committee, gave directly the opposite message that is being put forth by his Senate counterpart Carl Levin, D-MI, who is calling for President Obama to only add trainers and hold off on sending more U.S. combat troops to that theater. In an interview with The Cable, Skelton called on the administration to fully resource the troop and equipment request of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

“I will support General McChrystal because he’s the commander on the ground like Roosevelt supported Dwight Eisenhower on D-Day,” Skelton said. “This is very, very serious. American security is at stake. So whatever General McChrystal thinks he can do, whatever he wants we’ll give him.”

Practically, Skelton’s tactic is to continue his push for McChrystal to testify in open session at his first availability. He has an outstanding request for just that, but the White House has not responded.

“I don’t want to bring him back just for this specific purpose. I want him to stay there and fight the war,” Skelton said. “But if he’s coming back here for business, we want him.”

Skelton is not the only senior Democrat to come out publicly in favor of McChrystal’s call for increased troop levels. Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, said as much on ABC’s This Week Sunday.

“I don’t know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as General McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you’re not going to pull out,” Feinstein said.

But Skelton was out in front in calling for Obama to support McChrystal and made his views known in last week’s congressional meeting at the White House on Afghanistan.

He is also not shy about criticizing the strategy put forth by Levin. When asked directly why the Michigan senator’s approach was faulty, he responded: “And then what would happen, we let the Taliban take over? I don’t think so.”

Skelton is also gearing up for a tougher fight than he usually faces for his seat, which Republicans are targeting in 2010.

File photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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