In some of the strongest terms she has used to date, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared last Friday that the United States will see "a serious drawdown" of forces in Afghanistan by July 2011 and that the House may use the power of the purse to ensure the drawdown takes place.
In an exclusive interview with the Huffington Post, Pelosi made clear that while recent talk has hinted that the administration's stated goal of a June 2011 start date for a troop drawdown may be open to change, her commitment to it remains firm.
"I think we'll have a serious drawdown, I don't think it'll be, as [the president] said, turning out the lights," said Pelosi.
Asked point-blank whether she thinks troops will be pulled out of the country in July 2011, Pelosi replied: "I do. And everything I saw there before, for all the bad things there that I saw in terms of [corruption and money wasted] ... I did consistently hear that the timetable was on schedule to have serious drawdown."
The remarks from the House Speaker will undoubtedly be welcomed by those Democrats and Republicans who have grown increasingly wary of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. With the replacement of General Stanley McChrystal by General David Petraeus as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the insistence on a strict adherence to the 2011 drawdown timeline has loosened. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cali.) said on Sunday that if Petraeus requests more troops for Afghanistan, the request should "absolutely" be granted. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered much the same during an appearance on "Meet The Press".
The timeframe for troop presence in the country, however, depends in large part on Congress's willingness to cut the check. And in her sit-down with the HuffPost, Pelosi hinted quite strongly that she may not have the votes to pass war appropriations without conditions attached for paring down U.S. military operations.
"I don't know how many votes there are in the caucus, even condition-based, for the war, hands down. I just don't. We'll see what the shape of it is the day of the vote," she said.
On Monday, two of the caucus's more liberal members took their own steps to altering the debate around the upcoming $33 billion supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a letter to the White House, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Me), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Cali.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged that a fuller plan be laid out for exactly how troops will be deployed and called back from the war.
"Mr. President, we believe that it is imperative for you to provide Congress and the American people with a clear commitment and plan to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan," the letter reads. "This should include not only a date certain for the initiation of this withdrawal but a date for its completion and a strategy to achieve it."
For its part, the White House has become increasingly frustrated by the pressure it's received from both sides of the Afghanistan debate. During a news conference this weekend at the G20 summit in Toronto, President Obama lamented how the July 2011 date has become an "obsession," urging people to maintain focus on whether military and political progress is being made on the ground.
Pelosi, likewise, said that the president should be afforded the time and support to see his plan through, though her insistence on seeing some troops withdrawn in July 2011 suggests that she views the drawdown as part of the plan. The issue at hand, she notes, is not simply whether it made smart military policy to keep a troop presence in Afghanistan, but also if it was economically feasible for the United States to do so.
"It just can't be that we have a domestic agenda that is half the size of the defense budget," she said. "If you take away entitlements, the domestic discretionary non-defense budget is about half the defense budget, and maybe that's what we need to protect the American people. But in terms of the war now in Afghanistan, which is a growing part of it, that we have to say how can we carry this and can we carry this on the backs of children's nutrition. I'm not even talking about unemployment, there's so much else that is at stake."
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