Click photo to enlarge
Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of President Barack Obama's key supporters, voiced disappointment Tuesday at his decision to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, even as antiwar activists struggled with a public generally opposed to the plan yet curiously apathetic so far.

Lee, D-Oakland, an early, ardent supporter of Obama's 2008 candidacy, last week staged an Oakland rally in support of her bill to forbid spending any money to expand the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, she said she's pleased that Obama took plenty of time to evaluate the situation, but "I have to respectfully disagree with him. I'm convinced there's no military solution in Afghanistan."

The United States should pursue stronger diplomatic and economic initiatives rather than "a continuation of an eight-year policy that has failed," she said.

Lee called instead for a focus on nuclear nonproliferation and ensuring that Pakistan becomes no more volatile, rather than committing more blood and money to a spreading regional war.

Lee said she'll press House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, for a full debate on the issue, and will keep seeking co-sponsors for her bill.

"I support the president. I think he's done a great job," Lee said. "I just think this is the wrong call to make."

A CBS poll last month found only 32 percent of Americans support a troop increase in Afghanistan, while 39 percent believe the number of troops should be decreased and 20 percent believe troop levels should remain unchanged. That poll also showed 38 percent of Americans approve of how Obama is managing the war, down six points since September and 20 points since April.

Representatives of 34 antiwar groups across the nation delivered an open letter Monday to Obama strongly opposing a troop increase, and some Bay Area activists — including members of CodePink, Iraq Veterans Against the War, American Muslim Voice and the American Friends Service Committee — took to San Francisco's streets in protest Tuesday.

But Jack Citrin, a UC Berkeley, political science professor, said building mainstream opposition to an escalation is different from building opposition to a war's launch.

"You have an ongoing event, and the issues raised in what to do are obviously very much different once you're already there," he said. "There's the whole issue of defeat or perception of defeat, the perception of weakness, the reliability of American commitments."

Afghanistan "is not, in its own way, as visible or large-scale a conflict as the Iraqi conflict, and it was not as unpopular at the outset with as many people," he said. "And the interest groups, the factions, the movements that would be at the forefront of an antiwar movement are to some extent hamstrung by their attachment to Obama."

CodePink organizer Janet Weil, of Concord, acknowledged "it has been harder to mobilize 'non-activist Americans' this year because of Obama's popularity and folks' willingness to 'give him a year.' Also, many folks have been mobilizing around health care and other domestic issues, which overlap but are also different from antiwar organizing."

But people are growing alarmed by this escalation's costs in dollars and in harm to U.S. troops, so activists "are now in a building-the-movement period," she said.

Read the Political Blotter at www.ibabuzz.com/politics