House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave her qualified support on Monday to President Obama's escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan, announced while she and key Democrats were visiting the war-ravaged nation. Pelosi and the Democrats on her delegation, however, made clear that that support was not unlimited and Pelosi resisted referring to the troop increase as an "escalation."
With members of his own party, Obama may have the least room to maneuver when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, which many Democrats have grown weary of after nearly eight years of fighting.
After returning from a trip to see the war from the ground, Pelosi, a California Democrat, was asked by a reporter if she had any "concerns or misgivings" about Obama's decision to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan.
"No," she said.
"None at all?" the reporter followed up.
"Well, let me say this," she responded, clarifying that her support of more troops comes "within the context of the review we will be receiving." Obama has ordered a review of regional policy to accompany the troop increase.
Pelosi said that the troop increase came before the review was finished "to address the spring fighting season, which is coming upon us, and also the elections that will be in August."
"The impression that I have from Admiral [Mike] Mullen is that this is not the beginning of an escalation," Pelosi said, noting that General David McKiernan had only called for an increase of 10,000 troops.
"So obviously they're having a debate in the military about what it is, but it's all in the same ballpark," said Pelosi.
"For myself, I'm prepared to defer to the president at this point," said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), a close friend of Pelosi's and a powerful Democrat. He added, however, "I want to see the review. I want to see the rationales and the context for our continuing involvement in Afghanistan before I make a determination about that."
"Going forward, we do need a strategy," concurred Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA).
Pelosi was asked if she was concerned that Afghanistan could drift into a Vietnam-style quagmire, as it did for the Soviet Union and a long list of empires before it.
She responded with an anecdote involving U.S. and Vietnamese war planners who met years after the end of the war. "We said, 'How did this happen? The U.S. and South Vietnamese forces won every battle.' And the response from the [North Vietnamese] general was, 'Yes, but that was irrelevant.' Well, what President Obama is going to do in Afghanistan is not going to be irrelevant. It's going to be decisive and it's going to get the job done," said Pelosi. "I for one have long supported our going back to Afghanistan and getting the job done."
"Again, all of this will depend on the report that the president receives," Pelosi qualified. "They may not need all of those troops."
Rep. John Larson (D-CT), also back from the trip, painted a picture of a coming intense investment in Afghanistan on the part of the United States. "Every single military official that we met with, including our NATO allies, all emphasized, over and over again, unlike Vietnam, that this cannot be won militarily," he said. "And they emphasized the need for us to make sure that along with providing the security, that there be a follow-on for everything from schools to hospitals to the kind of aid and training and standing up of the police forces and security divisions."
Several members of the delegation had strong words for Pakistan, which played a major role in the creation of the Taliban and has ceded large swaths of territory to it. "In Pakistan, we can no longer suffer the duplicity of that government in sort of fighting-and-not-fighting and supporting-and-not-supporting and the dual roles that many in the intelligence services have played in the past," said Miller. "That must change if we're going to continue sacrificing American lives and treasure."