For Many Republicans, Afghanistan Is A Budget Issue

Obama administration has been cautious on Afghanistan timeline.

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It would be dangerous, Donnelly says, for the United States and other allies to pull back too quickly and give up the success already gained against terrorist groups in Afghanistan like al Qaeda, not to mention the Taliban. Donnelly also says that U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan offer important leverage against insurgent groups in Pakistan to the south.

For all the renewed emphasis on the bottom line, any action to change or speed up the Obama administration's policy would still face challenges politically. The Republican leadership hasn't appeared ready to speed up withdrawal, making attempts to force a timeline tough for House members. Also, although many Democrats oppose the war, it's unlikely that the president's own party would split with him legislatively on such a divisive issue during his reelection campaign. "The president has an immense amount of flexibility here," Donnelly says. "I can't imagine that the Democrats would so undercut a Democratic president. It would be politically suicidal, regardless of what they think about the war." [See a slide show of 10 issues driving Obama's reelection campaign.]

Chaffetz says that he'll keep pushing the issue in resolutions and amendments moving forward. He may have a chance to do so soon with the defense appropriations bill for 2012 now under consideration. The bill already includes $39 billion in savings from last year "due to drawdown of U.S. forces overseas." However, according to a top aide on the appropriations committee, those savings account for the expected withdrawal in Iraq, not in Afghanistan.

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