East Bay congressional delegates voiced disappointment and even consternation Wednesday after President Barack Obama's announcement that he plans to pull 10,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan this year and 23,000 more by next summer.
Obama's plan will leave about 70,000 troops in Afghanistan as of next summer, more than twice the number serving there when he took office in 2009, with more withdrawals through 2014. "The tide of war is receding," he said Wednesday.
But Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said it is not receding fast enough, or with the proper focus.
"The president is in a very, very difficult situation and I have great respect for him but I find this very disappointing," Garamendi said minutes after the speech, noting Obama is sticking to "a strategy of nation building, a strategy of supporting the central government -- there is no recognition that we are caught in the middle of a five-way civil war."
Afghanistan's total gross national product is about $16 billion, while it would take about $12 billion to support the military and police forces needed to preserve national security -- an untenable situation, Garamendi said. Although glad some troops are coming home, he said more should be withdrawn and those that remain should be radically refocused. "We really must have a different strategy, we have to focus on terrorists, wherever they are in this world, like a laser."
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said the withdrawal is "not significant nor is it sizable," and so she will offer defense appropriations amendments to cut all funding for combat operations as well as to redirect a $5 billion Pentagon "slush fund." It is time to concentrate on diplomatic and political efforts because "history shows there is no military solution in Afghanistan," she said.
"We've got to engage with the Taliban and engage with those in the region to find some stability," Lee said. "Believe you me, the American people are not going to be with the president on this. We've got to end this and we've got to end it quickly. "... We're revving up our efforts to take this to the (House) floor."
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, said he heard "a lot of backtracking" in the president's speech.
"He's just backing off and, I think, kowtowing to the military and whoever else. I think the House will give him what-for tomorrow," Stark said. "He's going to get his comeuppance from the House of Representatives if he doesn't from the American public."
Stark said he had wanted to hear the president say "that there's no reason to be there, that we've killed thousands of innocent Americans and thousands of civilians and spent billions of dollars and we have nothing to show for it. "... If you can look at the results over the past years, there's no peace there, there's no government taking over and there's no sense in trying to involve ourselves."
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, was not available by phone Wednesday evening but issued a statement.
"President Obama's redeployment announcement is a welcome beginning, but it is insufficient. It is good news that tens of thousands of our men and women in uniform will be coming home out of harm's way, but the president's announced withdrawal is too small and the timetable is too long," he said. "It is clear that what our nation truly needs is to bring all of our troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible and concentrate on counter-intelligence operations in the region, not boots on the ground."
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., issued a similar statement. "I am glad this war is ending, but it's ending at far too slow a pace. We need a swifter turnover of responsibility to the nearly 300,000 Afghan forces we have trained, which would allow our brave military men and women to come home sooner."
A staffer for Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said the lawmaker would be unavailable for comment Wednesday evening.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement saying "we all want to bring our troops home as quickly as possible, but we must ensure that the gains we've made are not jeopardized."
He said he is pleased that the President "recognizes that success in Afghanistan is paramount.
"Continuing to degrade al-Qaida's capabilities in Afghanistan and the surrounding region must take priority over any calendar dates," he said.
"It's important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant.
It is my hope that the president will continue to listen to our commanders on the ground as we move forward. Congress will hold the administration accountable for ensuring that the pace and scope of the drawdown does not undermine the progress we've made thus far."