Murtha: Obama will get his surge money
President Obama is likely to get all the money he needs to carry out his "surge" of U.S. forces to Afghanistan, despite widespread skepticism among the Democratic congressional leadership, the top House defense appropriator said Wednesday. John Murtha, D-PA, who chairs the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he was not convinced that an increased American ...
President Obama is likely to get all the money he needs to carry out his "surge" of U.S. forces to Afghanistan, despite widespread skepticism among the Democratic congressional leadership, the top House defense appropriator said Wednesday.
John Murtha, D-PA, who chairs the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he was not convinced that an increased American commitment to Afghanistan was wise — he referred to the options facing the president as "a real son-of-a-gun" and "horrendous" — but predicted that the Democrat-led Congress would give Obama the money anyway.
"I don’t see any circumstances under which the president would lose the battle over the money this year," said Murtha, who traveled to Afghanistan at the end of last month. "If we’re going to stop the deployment … we’d have to not only vote against the funding but also have a resolution and that’s not likely."
President Obama promised to work with Congress to figure out a way to pay for the troop increase, but Murtha stands at the crux of that process and he isn’t sure that will be as easy as the president seems to think.
Contradicting House leadership, Murtha said there would need to be a supplemental war-spending bill of at least $40 billion just to account for war operations in fiscal 2010. "Believe me, there will be a supplemental," he said, noting that even without the added troops there would have a need for war funding above what the administration has already asked for.
And even though the administration is planning to request new war funds in the coming weeks, the supplemental bill will probably come in the May-June timeframe, Murtha said, well after most of the new troops are already deployed. The Appropriations Committee chairmen, Rep. David Obey, D-WI, and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI, have agreed not to fund the extra troops in the regular defense bill for 2010, which has also not been passed yet, he added.
On a more fundamental level, Murtha doesn’t believe that that Obama’s Afghanistan surge strategy will necessarily work and he pushed back against Obama’s basic premise that the international mission in Afghanistan is vital to American interests.
"I’m not sure there’s a threat to our national security," Murtha said, arguing that al Qaeda can train from anywhere and adding that there is no precedent for successful military campaigns by foreign forces in Afghanistan. "I’m not sure there’s a goal here that can be achieved."
"Historically this is a tough call," Murtha continued, referencing failed occupations in Afghanistan from the Russians to Alexander the Great. "This is a real son-of-a-gun. This is horrendous."
Murtha will chair two hearings next week on the issue, one early next week with Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, and one Dec. 10 with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.
He acknowledged once again that Obey’s idea to pass a war surtax bill was unlikely to happen.
Overall, despite a good speech from the president, Murtha said several of his subcommittee members remain ambiguous or opposed to the new strategy.
"Obama says ‘You’ve got to be with us,’ and maybe we will be with him, but I’m still not convinced."
Murtha gave a Obama a book by historian Paul Kennedy entitled The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which he said was a relevant warning about how great powers decline after overextending themselves due to war expenditures.
"The more I look at it, the more I see how it fits in exactly with what’s happening today."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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