South Carolina lawmakers voice cautious approval for Obama's plan

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 1, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both parties Tuesday gave President Barack Obama guarded praise for his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but some expressed concern that his timeframe for victory is too short.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a military lawyer who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, voiced regret that the troop buildup is necessary eight years after the United States toppled the South Asia nation's Taliban government following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"I think every American is disappointed that eight years into this thing, we need to send 30,000 more troops," Graham told CNN after Obama's televised address to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican, questioned Obama's assertion that "our troops will begin to come home" 18 months after the buildup begins early next year.

"How will the enemy perceive that?" Graham said. "It's not realistic that we can withdraw a lot of troops in 18 months."

Putting such a short deadline on the mission, Graham said, risks shortchanging it.

"Some of these people are going to meet each other coming and going," he said. "Eighteen months is not a very long time. My question is — have we undercut our efforts before we start?"

Rep. John Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee, also expressed surprise over the 18-month timeframe.

"He's proposing to send 10,000 fewer troops than Gen. (Stanley) McChrystal requested, and to complete the mission in less time than anyone would have thought possible before tonight," Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat, said.

"It's ambitious, for sure, but at least he's saying that we're not making an open-ended commitment or taking on an endless obligation," he said.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville, S.C., Republican, gave Obama his support even as he criticized the president for having taken more than three months to fulfill military commanders' request for more troops in Afghanistan.

"We must win the war on terror to prevent future attacks like the ones on September the 11th," DeMint said. "President Obama is our commander-in-chief, and I hope his new plan will achieve victory in Afghanistan. I'm concerned about the months of delay and the message it has sent to our enemies about our commitment to win this fight."

Rep. Gresham Barrett, a Westminster Republican and South Carolina gubernatorial candidate, also criticized Obama for failing to act sooner.

"For both the armed forces and the American people, this speech has been long overdue," Barrett said. "While I am encouraged by President Obama's decision to deploy more than 30,000 U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan, I have concerns that this deployment may not fully meet the needs of our forces in the region."

Noting his past service in the Army, Barrett objected to Obama's talk of when U.S. troops will start leaving Afghanistan.

"There may be too much emphasis on creating an exit strategy," Barrett said. "Instead of creating arbitrary timelines, our primary purpose should be ensuring that the people of Afghanistan, its surrounding borders and the United States are safe."

Rep. Joe Wilson, a Springdale, S.C., Republican, noted that his four sons currently serve in the military.

"For the sake of our mission, American families at home and our brave men and women in uniform, I hope the president will rally congressional leaders behind his strategy in Afghanistan," Wilson said.

Rep. Henry Brown, a Hanahan, S.C., Republican, said he supported Obama's deployment of more troops, but added that "it is unfortunate that this decision came months after the urgent plea from the on-the-ground commander General McChrystal for more troops."

Rep. Bob Inglis, a Greenville, S.C., Republican, gave a more generous response.

"I appreciate the president thoughtfully considering all the options," he said. "We must be wise and constantly assess our strategies and tactics."

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