Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., blamed President Obama for falling public support of the war in Afghanistan. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
The House’s top Republican on defense issues blamed President Obama for falling public support of the war in Afghanistan, saying the commander in chief doesn’t talk about the war enough.
“If the troops fight for the mission abroad, the president better fight for their mission here at home,” Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in remarks at the National Press Club on Monday. “Anything less is a dereliction of duty.”
In a Gallup Poll earlier this month, for the first time since U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in October 2001, more survey respondents called the war “a mistake” than agreed with the need for U.S. military intervention there.
McKeon put the blame for that on Obama.
“He has talked about Afghanistan only a handful of times during his presidency,” he said. “And each time, President Obama praised his run for the exits or pitied our wounded, instead of lauding the accomplishments of our troops and the importance of the mission they were given to fight.”
White House officials did not offer an immediate response to McKeon’s charges. Obama has faced similar criticism from Republican lawmakers and conservative groups in recent months, and pushed back against that narrative.
Administration officials have insisted they are working with Afghan leaders to make sure their country is prepared to take over security responsibilities in coming months and prevent a resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaida.
McKeon praised progress being made with Afghan military forces, but said the fact that “American people are sick and tired of this war” shows that the White House hasn’t spent enough time explaining the importance of the ongoing work in Afghanistan.
Without continued American intervention, those security gains could be imperiled, McKeon said, adding that Obama needs a clear, public strategy as well as a finalized bilateral security agreement to allow some U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan past the end of 2014.
“We went into Afghanistan to do a job,” he said. “Americans don’t like starting things we don’t intend to finish, no matter how hard it may be.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign a pending security agreement which would leave several thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan past Dec. 31, for counterterrorism and training efforts.
McKeon said that Afghan society has improved in the last 13 years — especially in terms of human rights — but added that those advances are not publicized enough by the president.
“Our young people need to be told why they are fighting, what their mission is,” he said. “The cause is just.”