A Democratic Hawk Bolts With Obama on Afghanistan, Citing 'Eerie Echoes of Vietnam'

As a sign of just how tough a job President Obama has tonight selling his plans to send more troops to Afghanistan, consider Rep. Jane Harman.

A veteran California Democrat (and longtime national-security hawk), Harman voted for President Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2002 and consistently backed the war in Afghanistan until this year.

But today, Harman declared she was opposed to President Obama's plans to expand "our military footprint" in Afghanistan, saying the move to send more than 30,000 new troops evoked "eerie echoes of Vietnam."

Harman told Declassified that her "evolution" of thinking on Afghanistan resulted from two trips to the country this year—including one last month—in which she was "appalled and horrified by the depth of corruption of the Karzai government." While there are parts of Obama's new strategy she likes—like his plans to "work around" Karzai by funneling U.S. aid to the provinces—adding more troops "is not a sustainable strategy" and one the country can't afford without simply "printing money."

Harman's surprising statement—in which she quoted from a 1965 memo to President Johnson about Vietnam warning that "the situation is deteriorating"—is only the latest sign of unease in Congress over what may be the biggest decision of Obama's presidency.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an early and strong supporter of the president and a member of the House intelligence committee, garnered headlines Tuesday saying she was "unlikely" to back Obama's troop buildup. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, another opponent, plans to push for Obama to submit a supplemental funding bill to pay for the troop increase—before the troops are actually deployed (even though Obama has already ordered the deployment). The idea is to force a vote before the additional troops are in harm's way, not afterward when members would get criticized—as they did during the Bush years—for "not supporting the troops" if they voted against appropriations bills to pay for troop increases in Iraq, said McGovern spokesman Michael Mershon.

And it's not just Democrats either. About a half dozen Republicans—such as Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas (both opponents of the war in Iraq)—are already on record opposing more troops. Their ranks were joined this week by another Republican: Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah who, in a speech on Monday, declared his opposition to "nation building," said: "Mr. President, it is time to bring our troops home."

So how much support does the anti-troop-buildup position have at this point? It is hard to say. But Mershon notes that when McGovern pushed a floor amendment last June to force the administration to develop "an exit strategy" for Afghanistan, it got 138 votes—including 131 Democrats, a majority of the party caucus. There would be more votes now, says Mershon, but much is unknowable at this point. Harman said that in recent conversations with members on both sides of the aisle, "I sense a deep discomfort with a troop escalation." But is she prepared to vote against funding one? Harman said she's not sure. "I'm waiting to hear what Obama says about how he's going to pay" for it, she says.