Feingold, who has proposed setting a flexible timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, says that the administration must listen to advisers like Biden who favor shifting course in Afghanistan. "If they do not, if they refuse to, then we in Congress have to start proposing our own timetables, just as we did when we were stonewalled by the Bush administration," Feingold says. "I'm prepared to take whatever steps I need to, in consultation with other members of Congress, to make those proposals if necessary."
Other Democrats have also expressed doubts about appropriating more money for the conflict. Monthly spending on the war is rising rapidly — from $2 billion in October 2008 to $6.7 billion in June 2009 — and Obama has requested a total of $65 billion for 2010, even without another troop surge. "I don't think there is a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has declared his preference for sending trainers to Afghanistan to build that country's armed forces, instead of U.S. combat troops. And Rep. Jim McGovern recently got 138 votes for an amendment that would have required the administration to declare its exit strategy. "The further we get sucked into this war, the harder it will be to get out of it," McGovern says. "What the hell is the objective? Tell me how this has a happy ending. Tell me how we win this. How do we measure success?"
Given the political pressure from both sides, Obama appears to favor sidestepping the issue. At a meeting with congressional leaders from both parties at the White House on October 6th, the president said he won't significantly reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan, as many Democrats had hoped — but he also seemed unlikely to endorse the major troop buildup proposed by McChrystal. While that approach may quell the Pentagon's insurrection for now, it only prolongs the conflict in Afghanistan, postponing what many see as an inevitable withdrawal. Wilkerson, the former aide to Colin Powell, hopes Obama will follow the example of President Kennedy, who faced down his generals during the Cuban Missile Crisis. "It's going to take John Kennedy-type courage to turn to his Curtis LeMay and say, 'No, we're not going to bomb Cuba,'" Wilkerson says. "It took a lot of courage on Kennedy's part to defy the Pentagon, defy the military — and do the right thing."
This article originally appeared in RS 1090 from October 29, 2009. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via All Access, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full issue. Not a member? Click here to learn more about All Access.
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