Barack Obama is talking a good game about Afghanistan on the campaign trail, but he’s been neglecting his oversight duties for the country as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs.
In the run-up to a planned trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Democratic presidential candidate expressed his willingness to withdraw troops from Iraq by the year 2010 and devote more U.S. resources to Afghanistan.
Obama blames President Bush’s decision to send a “surge” of additional troops to Iraq in January 2007 for a recent increase in Afghanistan casualties. “In the 18 months since the surge began, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated,” Obama said in a major foreign policy address from Washington on Tuesday. He also proposed sending two additional combat brigades to the country and increasing non-military assistance by $1 billion.
Obama’s Senate counterpart on the European Affairs Committee, ranking member Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) would like to see Obama spend more time in the Senate discussing Afghanistan than he does on the campaign trail. DeMint sent Obama a letter Tuesday that said, “I am concerned our subcommittee has not held any hearings on these issues over the last two years.”
Obama’s former Democratic presidential rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) similarly criticized Obama for not fulfilling these senatorial oversight duties. “I also have heard Senator Obama refer continually to Afghanistan, and he references being on the Foreign Relations Committee,” Clinton said during a Democratic debate last February. “He chairs the Subcommittee on Europe. It has jurisdiction over NATO. NATO is critical to our mission in Afghanistan. He’s held not one substantive hearing to do oversight, to figure out what we can do to actually have a stronger presence with NATO in Afghanistan."
Obama responded to Clinton by saying he only became chairman of the committee in January 2007. That was the same month he announced his candidacy for president.
In a conference call with reporters arranged by GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign, DeMint said, “There's been a lot of talk about leadership in Congress and in the presidential election, and I think one good indication of real leadership is what we've actually done with the responsibility and authority that we have. And here in Congress, we have the opportunity to use hearings, to provide oversight, develop policies and also bring a lot of issues to the public light that might not come out of the Administration.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tenn.), communications chairman of the House’s Republican Study Committee, told Townhall in a phone interview it was “interesting there have not been oversight hearings on Afghanistan if there is interest in that issue for Senator Obama.”
Blackburn, who has visited both Iraq and Afghanistan, also said she has concerns about Obama’s upcoming trips to those countries. “If Senator Obama has his mind made up, if he has those pre-conceptions of what is taking place over there, obviously he has his mind made up and he is planning to stick to that opinion and not wanting to find out differently, I would have great concerns about that,” Blackburn said.
Obama’s upcoming trip will mark his first visit to Afghanistan and his second to Iraq.