Thursday, December 03, 2009

On Both Left and Right, Obama's Afghan Plan Has Something for Everyone to Hate

As Expected, President's Plan to Send Up to 30,000 Additional Troops Draws Flak From Both Anti-War Activists as 'Too High a Price to Pay' in American Blood and From Conservatives as 'Sending Wrong Message to the Enemy' on Withdrawal Timetable

President Obama outlines his plan to send up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to an in-person audience of Army cadets -- and to the nation as a whole -- during his first prime-time televised address Tuesday night at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. The president's long-awaited strategy on Afghanistan, as expected, drew sharp criticism from both anti-war activists and liberal Democrats on the left and from conservative commentators and Republican lawmakers on the right. (Photo: Jim Young/Reuters)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, December 3, 2009)


President Obama's long-awaited unveiling of his new strategy in Afghanistan Tuesday night to deploy up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to the war-ravaged country -- with a timetable to begin a phased withdrawal a year and a half from now -- has, as expected, drawn sharply negative reviews from both anti-war activists who supported his candidacy last year and right-wing critics who have dogged him since he took office nearly a year ago.

A coalition of up to 100 anti-war activists has called for a mass protest in Washington on December 12 to demand an end to all U.S. military action in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, reported Wednesday.

The activists, under the name "End U.S. Wars," posted an open letter to the president on the coalition's Web site, in which they pledged to support only anti-war candidates in the 2010 midterm election -- and warned that they will "seriously consider backing an explicitly anti-war primary candidate to challenge you during the Democratic primaries [in 2012]."

On the other side, right-wing radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday branded the president's address "incoherent" and blasted his new Afghanistan strategy as "the policy of a left-wing politician, not a serious commander-in-chief who leaves the strategies to the experts."

Limbaugh tore into the president's address as being "all about placating as many sides of the political spectrum as there are. The last thing it was about was military victory . . . He didn't talk about victory because, remember, he's uncomfortable with the concept of victory."


Anticipating much of the criticism against his strategy, the president sought to refute them head-on in his Tuesday-night address. He rejected comparisons to Vietnam, insisting that, unlike that war, Washington leads a coalition of 43 nations and is not facing a "broad-based popular insurgency."

"To abandon this area now -- and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaida from a distance -- would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaida, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland," Obama said.

To those who have argued against increasing U.S. troop levels, the president insisted that "the status quo is not sustainable" due to continuing gains by the Taliban.

To Republican objections that he failed to follow the recommendations of General Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in the region, for a greater and more open-ended escalation, Obama was dismissive. "I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests," he said.


On Wednesday, members of Code Pink, an anti-war women's group, staged a protest outside the Capitol Building in Washington as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary William Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The protesters called on Clinton and Mullen not to make "an epic mistake."

As Clinton arrived, Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin shouted out,
"Hillary! You know better!" Her fellow protesters then called out at Mullen, "Mike! That's a peaceful name!" briefly catching Mullen's eye. "We can't afford this escalation or this war!"

Benjamin then chimed in, "You do realize this is a misadventure. The Afghans don't need more troops, they need more economic development, jobs." She warned of "an endless cycle of violence" if the troop buildup goes forward.


Reaction on Capitol Hill was more muted, but still reflected sharp divisions in both parties toward Obama's new Afghanistan strategy. Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made a qualified endorsement Tuesday night, giving the president high marks for "defining a narrower mission, not an open-ended nation-building exercise."

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who later opposed that conflict, made it clear, however, that his support for sending additional troops to Afghanistan is based on a "strict understanding of the need to transfer and build as well as partner with Afghans," and he warned that unless authority is quickly handed over to the Afghan government, it "will end in failure, no matter how many troops we send [there]."

But Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) said he opposes the troop buildup in Afghanistan because it's a misguided mission.

"Many believe, and I'm one of them, that this could push more extremists into Pakistan and destabilize a country that's much more dangerous," Feingold told Wausau television station WAOW-TV on Wednesday. "So when the President says we need to do this to finish the job, I say, 'What job?' Al-Qaida is not based in Afghanistan anymore and to the extent they're there, we can handle it without putting hundreds of thousands of troops."


For their part, Republicans on Tuesday for the most part expressed support for Obama's decision, but they also expressed deep displeasure with his pledge to draw down forces in a year and a half.

Even before Obama delivered his address, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), the president's opponent in last year's election, made clear his opposition to the timetable. "Dates for withdrawal are dictated by conditions,” McCain told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill. "The way that you win wars is to break the enemy’s will, not to announce dates that you are leaving."

At a White House meeting with Obama late Tuesday, McCain and other leading Republicans were assured by the president and other administration officials that he would indeed let the progress of the war determine the pace of the drawdown.

Nonethelss, the president's decision did not mollify many of his Republican critics, who, like Limbaugh, accused Obama of trying to appeal to those who oppose escalation of the war even as he called for a troop increase.

Representative Howard McKeon (R-California) the ranking minority member on the House Armed Services Committee, told Reuters he was disturbed by the president's exit timetable. "I don't like having a deadline," said McKeon. "You can have one in mind, but why tell the enemy?"


The reaction in Afghanistan to Obama's address was just as divided as that in this country.

"The U.S. president's speech was very important," Foreign Minister Dadfar Rangin Spanta was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse on Wednesday. "Mr. Obama said that the United States will take the necessary steps to help Afghanistan."

But other Afghan officials said that they opposed the "surge," citing past influxes of troops that failed to push back the insurgency.

"We couldn't solve the Afghanistan problem in eight years, but now the U.S. wants to solve it in 18 months? I don't see how it could be done," Segbatullah Sanjar, chief policy adviser for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told The Wall Street Journal.

The Taliban insurgents, however, issued a dismissive communique that the U.S. troop increase would only strengthen their movement. "However many more troops the enemy sends against our Afghan muhejedeen, they are committed to increasing the number of muhejedeen and strengthen their resistance," the Taliban's communique said, warning that more U.S. soldiers "will die because of it."

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Volume IV, Number 91
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama Faces 'Moment of Truth' With TV Address to Nation on War in Afghanistan

President Said Repeatedly During '08 Campaign That Bush's War in Iraq Was a Distraction From the 'Real War on Terror' in Afghanistan and Is Shifting U.S. Resources Accordingly -- But He Risks Alienating His Hard-Core Anti-War Supporters Who Voted for Him Amid Sharp Divisions in Public Sentiment on Whether to Send In More Troops

President Obama meets on Afghanistan with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Situation Room at the White House on Friday.

President Obama speaks to members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III (to the president's left) and Vice President Joe Biden (back to camera) take notes during a recent meeting at the White House Situation Room. After weeks of deliberations with his military chiefs and national security advisers, the president is scheduled to deliver his first prime-time televised address to the nation tomorrow night (Tuesday), during which he will announce a significant increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. While the number of troops to be deployed is reported to be fewer than the 40,000 requested by General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander there, the buildup comes amid declining public support for the war effort. (Photo: Pete Souza/The White House)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, November 30, 2009)
(Updated 11:30 a.m. EST Monday, November 30, 2009)


Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama said repeatedly that President George W. Bush's war in Iraq was a distraction from "the real war on terror" in Afghanistan. "We took our eye off Afghanistan and fought the wrong war in Iraq," Obama said at every opportunity on the stump.

Now, more than six-and-a-half years after Bush sent nearly a quarter-million United States troops to Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and nearly a year into his own presidency, Obama is about make good on his campaign promise to shift America's focus back to Afghanistan.

After weeks of meetings and deliberations with his top military officers and national security advisers, the president is scheduled to deliver his first prime-time televised address to the nation tomorrow night (Tuesday) to announce a significant increase in the number of American forces in Afghanistan.



Top military and diplomatic officials got their marching orders Sunday night from President Obama ahead of a planned speech Tuesday in which he's expected to outline his new Afghanistan war strategy and call for about 30,000 more U.S. troops to be sent to the war zone, the White House announced Monday.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama issued the orders during a meeting in the Oval Office Sunday night. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were in attendance.

Gibbs said Obama is discussing his decision Monday with a number of international leaders, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.


The commander-in-chief will deliver his address before an assembly of Army cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The president said last week that, more than eight years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, "it is still in America's vital national interest to dismantle and destroy" al-Qaida and its extremist allies.

For Obama, tomorrow night's speech is a "moment of truth" that -- like Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and both George Bushes, father and son, before him -- will ultimately make or break his presidency.

Obama won last year's election in large part because millions of Americans who had grown tired of the Iraq War voted for Obama on the strength of his outspoken opposition to that conflict. Now he risks incurring the wrath of many of his supporters who thought they voted in a president who would end both wars and bring U.S. troops home.


And the president is about the announce his decision amid sharply conflicting sentiment on the war effort among the American public overall. A November 17 Washington Post/ABC News Poll found that the percentage of Americans in favor of maintaining the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan fell to 44 percent, with 52 percent saying that the effort there wasn't worth it.

However, a USA Today/Gallup Poll released last week found that, even as public support for the war has fallen dramatically, Americans nonetheless remain sharply divided on whether to send in more troops or to start bringing them home.

The poll found a slight uptick in the percentage of Americans supporting an increase in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, with 47 percent in favor of adding troops and 39 percent preferring a cutback. Just two weeks ago, the USA Today/Gallup Poll found the public almost evenly split, with 37 percent favoring an increase, while the percentage favoring a reduction remained unchanged at 39 percent.


With Obama expected to announce that anywhere from 30,000 to 35,000 more U.S. troops will be deployed to Afghanistan -- fewer than the 40,000 that General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of American forces, had asked for -- he is likely to face a reversal of political fortune: Even as Democrats rebel against him, the president is drawing support from the opposition Republicans.

The new USA Today/Gallup Poll found that a solid 57 percent of Democrats favor a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, while only 29 percent favor a buildup. In sharp contrast, an overwhelming 72 percent of Republicans favor a troop increase, while only 17 percent favor a pullout.

Independents -- those mostly moderate-to-conservative voters who are absolutely vital to the Democrats keeping control of Congress in 2010 and to the president winning a second term in 2012 -- were almost evenly split, with 46 percent supporting a troop increase and 45 percent favoring a cutback.

"Republicans agree that a strategic review of the current situation in Afghanistan is warranted, and we will work to ensure that our commanders on the ground have all the additional troops they have requested," said Representative John Boehner (R -Ohio), the House minority leader.

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Obama's opponent in last year's election, has been pressing the president for months for a buildup in American forces in Afghanistan. Attending a international security forum in Canada on November 20, McCain told reporters that a hike in the number of U.S. troops to Afghanistan would bring on a more successful outcome of the war effort there, similar to Bush's highly controversial "surge" of troops in Iraq.

"I even am bold enough to predict that within a year or 18 months, you will see success if the effort is sufficiently resourced and there is a commitment to get the job done before setting a date to leave the region," McCain said.


For the millions of anti-war voters who cast their ballots for Obama in the belief that he would be an anti-war president and bring all American troops home from both Iraq and Afghanistan, the president's televised address on Tuesday night is likely to be seen by many of them as a betrayal -- and a repeat of history.

On April 30, 1970, then-President Richard Nixon, in a televised Oval Office address to the nation, announced an incursion of U.S. troops into Cambodia during the Vietnam War to disrupt what Nixon called North Vietnamese "sanctuaries."

This led to massive protests by as many as four million young people on college campuses and even high schools across the nation, many of whom felt Nixon had betrayed them -- and at the same time were openly fearful that they would end up on the battlefield, as military service back then was compulsory for able-bodied American men aged 18 to 26.

Forty years before Obama's historic run for the White House, Nixon had campaigned for the presidency in 1968 on a promise to bring "an honorable end to the war in Vietnam," declaring that "Never has so much power been used so ineffectively as in Vietnam" -- a direct slap at his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson.

Congress abolished the draft in 1973, just as Nixon began withdrawing American forces from Vietnam. However, all American males aged 18 to 25 are still required to register with the Selective Service System -- even though there's been no real political will in Congress to reinstate the draft since the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 with the passage in 1971 of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution.


Political analysts inside and outside Washington warn that if Obama can’t convince his party to support a troop increase, the consequences could prove hazardous for Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.

“I think it threatens his domestic agenda pretty substantially, unless he takes the people along with him,” Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at the University of Texas, told “That’s what a lot of other Democrats like [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi are worried about right now…..He risks alienating large chunks of the Democratic Party.”

Already, Obama has lost the support of anti-war firebrand Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who denounced the planned buildup as an "indefensible" escalation of the war, in defense of a "corrupt" government in Afghanistan. "We can't afford this war," Kucinich insisted. "We've got to start focusing of things that matter to people here [in America] and what matters to people in the United States is not expanding the war in Afghanistan.

"We've got to get out of there," Kucinich said.

Kucinich was one of only a handful of Democrats who in October voted against a must-pass $680 billion defense authorization bill -- which included $130 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- despite the attachment of a measure long sought after by gay rights advocates to expand the federal hate crimes law to includes cases of bias-motivated crimes against gays.

“Every thinking person wants to take a stand against hate crimes, but isn’t war the most offensive of hate crimes?” asked Kucinich. “To have people have to make a choice, or contemplate the hierarchy of hate crimes, is cynical. I don’t vote to fund wars, period. If you are opposed to war, you don’t vote to authorize or appropriate money for it."


But in a commentary published by the World Politics Review in September, Thomas Barnett, a contributing editor and online columnist for Esquire magazine, warned that the U.S. was making a big mistake in failing to take into account the fact that the war in Afghanistan is an international effort.

"What's especially odd about this debate is its stunningly self-centered tone," Barnett wrote. "What are America's national interests? How long can America last? How much will America be forced to spend in blood and treasure? What will happen to America's standing if we withdraw? The whole conversation feels like a neurotic superpower talking to its therapist.

"We continue to debate our involvement as though this is 'America's war' alone," Barnett continued, "when it is nothing of the sort and never has been, even if its triggering tragedy -- the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- is."

About 55,000 NATO troops are in Afghanistan now, about half of whom are Americans. The president's decision will enlarge the total U.S. force by more than 50 percent.

Then there is the warning issued on Veterans Day by Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, in which he wrote in is a series of diplomatic cables to Washington that sending in more troops would be unwise because of "rampant corruption" in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the envoy said is undermining its legitimacy.

Eikenberry, a retired Army general and former commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan under Bush, wrote that it would be "unwise" to send in more troops at a time when the domestic political situation in Afghanistan in the face of a still-disputed presidential election remained unsettled, despite Karzai's apparent re-election victory.

For their part, Afghan officials insist the training of local security forces needs to be given top priority, so that their own troops can lead the fight against Taliban and other anti-government insurgents. But Western military advisers remain skeptical that this can be achieved anytime soon.


Regardless of the war's ultimate outcome, one thing is clear: Any increase in the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is sure to raise the specter of increased American casualties, according to John Mueller, a professor of political science at Ohio State University.

“If [Obama’s] going to be more aggressive militarily, it means more Americans are going to die and that’s the thing that moves public opinion more than anything else,” Mueller told, adding that with public opinion already on the brink of turning against the war, the president risks facing the same political fate with Afghanistan that befell Johnson and Nixon over Vietnam and Bush over Iraq.

“Once people are turned off on a war they tend to stay turned off,” Mueller said. "Even when it became clear that the war was decidedly going better, the numbers of people who supported it didn’t move much.”

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Volume IV, Number 90
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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