Press reports have suggested that Administration officials are trying to make Democratic voters forget that the Administration promised to start drawing down troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 by "pivoting" to the "aspirational goal" that "most" U.S. "combat troops" will be withdrawn by 2014. The Administration still says it will withdraw some troops in July 2011, but press reports suggest that the Administration may try to make this a "symbolic" withdrawal, not the "serious drawdown" (as Speaker Pelosi put it) involving "a whole lot of people" (as Vice-President Biden put it) that Democrats were led to expect.
But if these press reports about Administration strategy are correct, Administration political strategists may have another think coming. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg suggests that continued escalation of the war in Afghanistan would be likely to draw a primary challenge, the Christian Science Monitor reports:
As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg was leaving a Monitor breakfast last week, he was asked about the possibility that President Obama might face a Democratic primary challenge in 2012.
Mr. Greenberg's two-word answer: "Watch Afghanistan."
As the Monitor notes, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent of Democrats say US troops should not be in Afghanistan.
The majority of Americans want the Obama Administration to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, CBS News reports. 54% think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, with 41% opposed. Among Democrats, 73% think the U.S. should set a timetable, with 21% opposed; among independents, 54% support a withdrawal timetable, with 40% opposed; among Republicans, 32% support a withdrawal timetable, with 66% opposed.
Two weeks ago today, Members of the House of Representatives were polled on a similar proposition, when the House voted on an amendment introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA], Rep. David Obey [D-WI], and Rep. Walter Jones [R-NC] that would have required the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. That amendment failed, with 153 Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, voting yes, and 98 Democrats voting no; while 9 Republicans voted yes and 162 Republicans voted no. So in the McGovern-Obey-Jones "poll," Democrats in the House were 60%-38% in favor of a withdrawal timetable, while House Republicans were 91%-5% against.
If Democratic and Republican voters in the CBS poll had been allowed to stand in for Democrats and Republicans in the House two weeks ago (ignoring independents, also pro-timetable), the McGovern amendment would have passed 243-171, with 186 Democrats and 57 Republicans voting yes, and 54 Democrats and 117 Republicans voting no.
With the House poised to consider the Pentagon's request for $33 billion for more death in Afghanistan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told the Huffington Post she expects a "serious drawdown" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. The House Rules Committee has now approved an amendment for consideration on the war supplemental that will allow Speaker Pelosi to "put her money where her mouth is."
Some folks in Washington who want the war and occupation in Afghanistan to continue indefinitely are trying to pretend there has been no commitment made for a significant drawdown, or indeed any drawdown at all, in the summer of 2011. Speaker Pelosi is in a unique position to weigh in on this question, since the House could put the drawdown in writing when it considers the war supplemental, by approving an amendment introduced by Representatives McGovern and Obey to try to lock in the drawdown.
In Jonathan Alter's book, The Promise, Vice-President Biden told us that we can "bet" on "a whole lot of people moving out" in July 2011. Under pressure, presumably from people in the Pentagon who want a "serious drawdown" in July 2011 to be hostage to "conditions," Biden's people have tried to walk back this statement by saying it was an "offhand comment" made as Biden was leaving an interview.
But if you actually read Alter's text, "offhand comment" is hard to swallow. Here's the paragraph:
President Obama knows better than to agree to General McChrystal's proposal for military escalation in Afghanistan. He read the book.
On October 7, the Wall Street Journal reported that top officials of the Obama Administration, including President Obama himself, had recently read Gordon Goldstein's book on the path to U.S. military escalation in Vietnam: Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam.
The Journal reported that "For opponents of a major troop increase, led by Biden and Emanuel, "'Lessons in Disaster' ... encapsulates their concerns about accepting military advice unchallenged."
Indeed, a central theme of the book is President Kennedy's willingness, on the question of ground troops in Vietnam, to do what President Obama has not yet done regarding demands for military escalation in Afghanistan: stand up to the U.S. military and say no.
Journalist Seymour Hersh, a close student of the U.S. military since he broke the story of the My Lai massacre, says the U.S. army is "in a war against the White House - and they feel they have Obama boxed in." Hersh says the only way out is for Obama to stand up to the Pentagon. "He's either going to let the Pentagon run him or he has to run the Pentagon," Hersh said. If he doesn't, "this stuff is going to be the ruin of his presidency." The only way for the U.S. to extricate itself from the conflict, Hersh says, is to negotiate with the Taliban. "It's the only way out," he said. "I know that there's a lot of discussion in the White House about this now. But Obama is going to have to take charge, and there's no evidence he's going to do that."
If there were ever a time when the peace movement should be able to have an impact on U.S. foreign policy, that time should be now. If there were ever a time for extraordinary effort to achieve such an impact, that time is now.
The war in Afghanistan is in its ninth year. McChrystal's proposal could continue it for another ten years, at a likely cost of a trillion dollars, and many more lives of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians. The contradiction between domestic needs and endless war was never more apparent. Congress fights over whether we can "afford" to provide every American with quality health care, but every health care reform proposal on the table will likely cost less than McChrystal's endless war. A recent CNN poll says 6 in 10 Americans oppose sending more troops.
Democratic leaders in Congress are deeply skeptical: as far back as June, Rep. Murtha and Rep. Obey voted for Rep. McGovern's amendment demanding an exit strategy, and that was before the Afghan election fiasco, when international forces failed at their key objective of providing security, and before McChrystal demanded a 60% increase in U.S. forces, on top of the 50% increase approved earlier this year. Our troops are "exhausted," Murtha says.
Top Administration officials share the skepticism. Vice-President Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, and Afghan scholar Barnett Rubin, an advisor to Ambassador Holbrooke, have all been arguing against a troop increase: the political people on the grounds that the American people and Congress won't support it; Biden on the grounds that it would be a diversion from Pakistan; Rubin on the grounds that it would be counterproductive to reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Top officials of the Obama Administration are divided on the expected request of the Pentagon for more troops in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports today.
The military's anticipated request for more troops to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan has divided senior advisers to President Obama as they try to determine the proper size and mission of the American effort there, officials said Thursday.
Leading the opposition is Vice-President Biden:
Leading those with doubts is Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has expressed deep reservations about an expanded presence in Afghanistan on the grounds that it may distract from what he considers the more urgent goal of stabilizing Pakistan, officials said.
No-one can plausibly argue that Vice-President Biden has no idea what he's talking about. Remember, this was the guy chosen to balance the ticket with "foreign policy experience," the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Nor is Biden a pacifist or shy about foreign intervention. He voted for the Iraq war in 2002 and promoted U.S. military intervention in the former Yugoslavia.
Secretary of State Clinton has been "vocal" in favor of more troops and some officials said they expected her to be an advocate for a more robust force, the Times says.
But Biden has the wind of public opinion at his back. A number of recent polls show that the majority of Americans - and the overwhelming majority of Democrats - now oppose the Afghan war. But on the question of sending more troops, public opinion is even more clear. They're against it.
McClatchy News reports, citing a recent poll:
56 percent oppose sending any more combat troops to Afghanistan, while 35 percent support sending more troops.