Video: GOP's wall of support for Afghanistan war beginning to crack

Sen. Richard Lugar notes that the GOP's renewed focus on the deficit – and the huge costs of the Afghanistan war – mean that many conservatives are starting to question the endeavor.

Cracks are beginning to form in President Obama’s formerly solid support among Republicans for the war in Afghanistan – with one prominent Republican senator predicting a tough road in the coming months for the war’s funding.

“We are moving toward a critical juncture,” says Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He predicts that both Washington’s cost-cutting mood and disappointments among the American people over the results of the nine-year-old war effort will weigh heavily as Congress considers the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the coming weeks.

Appearing at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with Washington reporters, Senator Lugar said that polls showing nearly half of Americans “are prepared to cut off the Afghanistan war” would form the backdrop of debate. Both the Afghanistan war’s costs and the size of the partial drawdown of troops the president says will begin in July will be at issue.

Just over a year ago, Mr. Obama’s talk of starting a US withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was “roundly criticized by Republicans,” Lugar said. But the picture has shifted. “Some had said defense should be exempt” from the overall effort to tackle the deficit,” he said. “But that has been pushed off the table.”

Evidence is mounting of a growing divide among conservatives over the Afghanistan war.

Last week, a new national poll found that self-described conservatives cite the Afghanistan war’s cost – about $119 billion in fiscal year 2011 – as a key concern for the mounting debt. Only 28 percent of tea party supporters said the US should maintain current troop levels in Afghanistan, while a nearly equal number (27 percent) said the US should begin a drawdown toward leaving altogether.

The poll – commissioned by the Afghan Study Group, a Washington organization advocating a new Afghanistan policy with less emphasis on a US military presence – found that more than two-thirds of conservatives have particular worries about the war’s high financial cost.

The poll’s findings found an echo in comments last week by prominent conservative spending watchdog Grover Norquist. He said it was time for conservatives to start a serious debate on the costs of the Afghanistan war.

“I’m confident about where that conversation would go,” said Mr. Norquist in comments at a discussion with Washington policymakers and journalists sponsored by the New America Foundation. “I think the people who are against that conversation know where it would go, too."

Days before, however, two conservative-leaning Washington organizations supporting the current Afghanistan strategy released reports finding significant areas of success a year after Obama adopted the current war strategy and increased resources to implement it.

The study, by American Enterprise Institute's Frederick Kagan and Institute for the Study of War's Kimberly Kagan, finds that while US and other international forces “have done unprecedented damage to the insurgency within Afghanistan in 2010” and Afghans’ security has improved in some cases, “progress on the political front has been much more halting.”

Lugar suggested Tuesday that this mixed picture does not appear to be going away despite nine years of war. Any drawdown by the US, even partial, is going to require an acceptance of “certain conditions” on the ground. While that may offer hope of a basic stability, it might not meet everyone’s vision of an Afghanistan with modern services such as education for all, a Western-inspired judicial system, and full adherence to human rights.

“And that’s going to be disappointing,” he added, “to the world, to us, and to many in Afghanistan.”

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