The Obama administration is facing new headaches over its war policy with the unauthorized release of tens of thousands of military records painting a dire picture in Afghanistan. But liberal Democrats are hoping the leaks will inject new momentum into their push to reject the $33 billion war supplemental when it comes to a vote this week.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted Monday that the roughly 90,000 records published online by the whistle-blower WikiLeaks do not reveal any new information about the Afghanistan war effort. The documents give detailed accounts of incidents that have taken place over the last six years of the war, including unreported incidents of civilian killings and Pakistani officials working with the Taliban.
“In terms of broad revelations, there aren’t any that we see in these documents,” Gibbs told reporters during a briefing.
He dismissed the idea that the release of the military reports is a setback for the administration’s war effort and defended President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. “We got involved in this region of the world after Sept. 11, and then for years and years and years and years this area was neglected, it was under-resourced, it was underfunded. That’s what led the president to say that what we needed to do was focus on what was going on in Afghanistan. That’s why we’re here,” he said.
But the leaked documents quickly sparked a firestorm on Capitol Hill, where Democrats across the spectrum said the records raise fresh concerns about Obama’s Afghanistan policy.
“However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said the release of the classified records “eerily recalls the Pentagon Papers,” referring to top-secret Defense Department documents tied to the Vietnam War. Those documents were later published and affected Congress’ attitude toward and support for funding the war.
“If past is prologue, clearly these documents are going to have an impact on what I would say is an eroding base of support for our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Connolly said. “It makes the pared-back supplemental that much more problematic on the House floor. Especially since the Senate stripped out domestic funding, it makes it closer and closer to a pure referendum on the war.”
House Democratic leaders may already be sensing trouble ahead for the supplemental. They emerged from a Monday night meeting with plans to bring the measure to the floor as a suspension bill and take it up as soon as Tuesday, a senior Democratic aide confirmed.
[IMGCAP(1)]But liberal Democrats aren’t wasting any time in trying to link the leaked documents to their efforts to kill the war funding bill altogether. A press conference is in the works for Thursday morning, and later that day, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) are planning a briefing on the issue.
“This report is just the latest indication that we are fumbling on all fronts in Afghanistan, from security to development to governance, and reaffirms my call for effective and independent monitoring and evaluation of U.S. presence in Afghanistan,” said Honda, who chairs the Progressive Caucus Afghanistan Taskforce.
“Given my concerns with the supplemental war funding — which puts America further into debt, expands the deficit, increases wasteful government spending, undermines our budgetary process, risks Social Security and solidifies debt that military leaders call our number one national security threat — this report must give Washington pause about how we proceed with this week’s vote,” he said.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich said the release of classified information “will say much about this Congress and whether it has the capacity to respond to new developments concerning the war or whether Congress as an institution suffers from a kind of locked-in syndrome, powerless to act in the face of new evidence.”
The Ohio Democrat is planning to introduce a bipartisan privileged resolution this week that would direct Obama to remove U.S. forces from Pakistan.
Democrats who oversee the nation’s military policy also suggested that the thousands of pages present problems for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, although they gave Obama credit for his new direction in the region.
“These leaked documents, while troubling, appear to support what I was asserting for years: The war in Afghanistan was not going well, and we needed a real strategy for success,” House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton said.
Still, given that the documents date back to 2004, the Missouri Democrat emphasized that it is “critical that we not use outdated reports to paint a picture of the cooperation of Pakistan in our efforts in Afghanistan.”
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said some of the reports show how past efforts in Afghanistan were short of resources. “That’s why President Obama ordered a new strategy in Afghanistan, one that was not in place when the events described in these documents occurred.”
Correction: July 27, 2010
The article misstated from which country a resolution by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) would direct President Barack Obama to withdraw troops. It is Pakistan.