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Obama and European Affairs Subcommittee

Q: Does Obama chair a Senate subcommittee that oversees the war in Afghanistan?

A: He chairs the Senate’s Subcommittee on European Affairs, which has some oversight in Afghanistan through NATO.


John McCain claims that Barack Obama chairs a Senate subcommittee that oversees the war in Afghanistan. Is McCain correct?


At a town hall meeting in late May in Reno, Nev., Sen. John McCain accused Sen. Barack Obama of not doing more for Afghanistan through his position on a Senate subcommittee:

John McCain, May 28: Senator Obama is the chairman of an important subcommittee that has the oversight of what’s going on in Afghanistan. He has not held one single hearing on Afghanistan, where young Americans are in harm’s way as we speak.

Obama is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s 11-member Subcommittee on European Affairs. That subcommittee doesn’t have direct oversight of Afghanistan, as the McCain statement suggests. But the committee’s jurisdiction includes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has been providing military support to Afghanistan since it assumed authority for the International Security Assistance Force mission in 2003. According to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ membership and jurisdiction guide, Afghanistan would fall under the authority of another committee:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee (section on Subcommittee on European Affairs): The subcommittee deals with all matters concerning U.S. relations with the countries on the continent of Europe (except the states of Central Asia that are within the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs), and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Matters relating to Greenland and the northern polar region are also the responsibility of this subcommittee. This subcommittee’s responsibilities include all matters within the geographic region relating to: (1) terrorism and non-proliferation; (2) crime and illicit narcotics; (3) U.S. foreign assistance programs; and (4) the promotion of U.S. trade and exports.

As subcommittee chairman, Obama could have held hearings pertaining to the role of NATO in the war in Afghanistan, but he has not. At a Democratic debate in February, he said he "became chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign," so the committee hadn’t held such hearings. But Obama has presided over subcommittee hearings to consider the nominations of ambassadors to several nations and the U.S. permanent representative to the NATO council. He also has previously spoken out about the role of NATO in Afghanistan, saying that he supports a greater presence of troops in the country.

As of June 3, the International Security Assistance Force estimates that there are nearly 53,000 troops representing 40 nations in Afghanistan. The U.S. has supplied roughly 24,000 of them.

– D’Angelo Gore


"ICYMI: John McCain On Senator Obama And National Security Leadership." Press Release, JohnMcCain.com, 28 May 2008.

"McCain: Obama needs to ‘Listen and Learn.’" ABCNews.com, 28 May 2008.

United States Senate. Membership and Jurisdiction of Subcommittees of the Committee on Foreign Relation, Jan. 2007.

"Transcript: Democratic Debate in Cleveland." The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2008.

Hemming, Jon. "New US general takes command of Afghan NATO force." Reuters, 3 June 2008.

"ISAF Regional Commands and PRT Locations; ISAF Expansion." International Security Assistance Force, Power Point Presentation, 3 June 2008.

"Hearing on Nominations." U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 8 April 2008, accessed 5 June 2008.

Wolf, Z. Byron. "Obama in Spotlight before Petraeus’ Crocker Moment." ABC News Blog, 7 April 2008.

Miller, Sunlen. "Obama Campaign Pushback on Subcommittee Hearings and Commander in Chief Preparedness." ABC News Blog, 4 Mar. 2008.