Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, came out Tuesday in strong agreement with the Afghanistan assessment put forth by General Stanley McChrystal and promised to fully fund any forthcoming troop increase there.
The stance of the powerful Hawaii lawmaker is the opposite of his House counterpart, Wisconsin Democrat David Obey. Inouye is also taking a starkly different tone from the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, who has said he opposes sending more combat troops there.
But after returning from a weekend trip to the region, Inouye said that his meetings with troops, officials, and military leaders convinced him that the mission in Afghanistan is not only winnable, but should be pursued under the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal has called for, which is necessarily troop intensive.
“At this time, I believe General McChrystal’s assessment of the current situation and his conclusions, including his assessment that coalition forces must have more daily contact with the people of Afghanistan, is correct and is what is needed if we are to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan,” Inouye said.
He also promised to use his chairmanship to fully fund any new strategy the administration submitted to Congress, but declined to say exactly what his position on specific troops increase options would be.
“I will make certain that our men and women in uniform have everything they need to accomplish their mission,” he said, “If, after further consultation and deliberation we decide we need 40,000 more troops or 50,000 more troops in Afghanistan, that’s what we’ll send but much more discussion has to take place before a final decision on troop levels can be made.”
Obey, who has threatened to cut off troop funding if progress isn’t made in one year’s time, argued the position exactly opposite Inouye Tuesday in a speech in Wisconsin. The House funding chief repeated his often expressed aversion to any escalation in Afghanistan.
"The Taliban is a god-awful operation. But if we're looking at our own national interests, our interest is in hemming in al-Qaida," Obey said. "If we're going to try and take on the Taliban all across Afghanistan, it's going to require hundreds of thousands of American, Pakistani and Afghani troops, and I just don't believe that this country wants to see that happen."
Obey also referred, as he often does, to the cost of military operations in Afghanistan, something Inouye acknowledged.
The two senior lawmakers, although having the same job in their respective chambers, could not be more different in terms of their backgrounds and motivations. Obey represents the liberal wing of the House Democrats, dozens of whom are calling on their party leaders to take a stronger stance against Obama’s war policies.
Inouye hails from a state that benefits hugely from military spending, mostly dispersed by Inouye himself. His state also raised Obama, and Inouye has been clear that he will defend and support his president.
In the end, Inouye also works in a chamber that tilts more toward the right on national security matters due to the presence of several powerful moderate Democrats. If the Iraq war debates of the mid-decade are any guide, the money will get dispersed in the end, because a leading fear of many Senate Democrats is being tarred as weak on defense.
Inouye’s voice carries weight, especially since he can’t be attacked as being weak on defense. In fact, he referred to his own military service as part of the psychological prism he factored his analysis through.
“Having served as an enlisted man and junior officer in World War II, I know what they’re going through,” he said, “I’ve tasted it.”
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.