For Obama’s War, Reid Says: ‘Stay The Course’

Majority Leader Harry Reid went to the Senate floor to fume at the commander-in-chief.

Reid complained of the long deployments troops had to endure, and of the high costs to the American taxpayer, for a war that continued to drag on, seemingly without end.

“The President still doesn’t understand that America’s limited resources cannot support his limitless war,” the Nevada Democrat lamented.

Reid gave that speech on April 10, 2008, and it wasn’t for the first time that he castigated the man who occupied the Oval Office over the way the president was conducting the war. The war that Reid was railing against was in Iraq, and the commander-in-chief the senator berated as clueless was George W. Bush.

But two years later, Reid has changed his tune, warning that when it comes to war today, “now is not the time to change course.”

The former war critic Thursday found himself in the position of directly opposing legislation from a fellow Democrat, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, for the sake of continuing another lengthy armed conflict drawing U.S. blood and treasure.

The difference is that today the war Reid seeks to keep going is, instead, in Afghanistan, and the commander-in-chief Reid went to bat for was Barack Obama.

It is was with no apparent sense of irony that Reid led the Senate to defeat Feingold’s proposal that would have called on Obama to provide a timetable to end U.S. operations in Afghanistan, which have been ongoing since 2002.

Feingold tried unsuccessfully to attach his measure as an amendment to the war spending bill that was before the Senate this week, the same week that saw the solemn occasion of the 1,000th U.S. fatality in the Afghanistan conflict. The Senate defeated the Feingold amendment on a lopsided vote in which just 18 senators supported the requirement of a timetable.

“While I am disappointed it did not pass, I am encouraged by the support my Afghanistan timetable amendment received, particularly by most of the Senate Democratic leadership,” Feingold says, referring to the votes of Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Democratic Caucus Chair Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in favor of his proposal. “This amendment would have given the American people the information they deserve on when our massive, open-ended military operation in Afghanistan will end. Now, however, this supplemental will add some $30 billion more to the nearly $300 billion we’ve already spent in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. This cannot go on and is yet another reason why a flexible timetable for drawing down our troops in Afghanistan is necessary and appropriate.

“This amendment is the first attempt in the Senate to get an idea of when this nine-year war in Afghanistan will end,” Feingold adds. “Only 13 senators supported my original attempt to require a timetable for Iraq, and today, a timetable is exactly what is in place in Iraq. I am confident that, over time, more and more members will listen to their constituents and support my efforts to require a flexible timeline for ending the Afghan war.”

Defending his decision to torpedo the Feingold amendment, Reid argued that Obama had “articulated a sound strategy” to continue the war, deploying 30,000 additional American troops to the conflict while also having announced a goal to withdraw U.S. forces in July 2011.

“I have always believed that our commitment in Afghanistan should not be open-ended, which is why I continue to support the President’s plan,” Reid says. “We have begun to reverse the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan and weakened al Qaeda’s operations, safe havens and leadership in the region. Our troops will continue to defeat those terrorist networks and others like it and we will continue to press the Afghan government to end corruption and take responsibility for governing the country. But, as the President’s plan makes clear, these troops have a clear task in place: to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and to begin returning home next July.

“In light of the President’s strategy and the recent progress, now is not the time to change course,” he adds.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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