[Marxism] More on Bush's third term

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 3 07:24:40 MDT 2009

NY Times, September 3, 2009
G.O.P. Support May Be Vital to Obama on Afghan War

WASHINGTON — As President Obama prepares to decide whether to send 
additional troops to Afghanistan, the political climate appears 
increasingly challenging for him, leaving him in the awkward position of 
relying on the Republican Party, and not his own, for support.

The simple political narrative of the Afghanistan war — that this was 
the good war, in which the United States would hunt down the 
perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks — has faded over time, with popular 
support ebbing, American casualties rising and confidence in the Afghan 
government declining. In addition, Afghanistan’s disputed election, and 
the attendant fraud charges that have been lodged against President 
Hamid Karzai, are contributing further to the erosion of public support.

A CBS News poll released on Tuesday reports that 41 percent of those 
polled wanted troop levels in Afghanistan decreased, compared with 33 
percent in April. Far fewer people — 25 percent — wanted troop levels 
increased, compared with 39 percent in April. And Mr. Obama’s approval 
rating for his handling of Afghanistan has dropped eight points since 
April, to 48 percent.

Congressional Democrats, particularly those on the left, report 
increasing disenchantment among constituents with the idea of a long and 
possibly escalating conflict in Afghanistan, especially as the American 
strategy comes to resemble a long-term nation-building approach rather 
than a counterterrorism operation.

“I and the American people cannot tolerate more troops without some 
commitment about when this perceived occupation will end,” Senator Russ 
Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said Wednesday in an interview. He said 
he had been to 60 town hall meetings in his state so far this year. 
During the first half of the year, he said, there were no comments about 
Afghanistan or Iraq. But in the past two months, that has changed, with 
more people focused on troop losses in Afghanistan.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of international relations and history 
at Boston University, said, “There was a time, back in 2003 and 2004, 
when it was possible to drum up popular support for the war by attaching 
to the argument claims that the United States of America was eliminating 
evil and advancing democracy and women’s rights.

“But this is many years later, with the economy in shambles, 5,000 
American soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those notions are no 
longer as compelling as they might have been. War exhaustion sets in,” 
said Professor Bacevich, author of “The Limits of Power: The End of 
American Exceptionalism.”

Even one strain of conservative thinking has turned negative on the war. 
The syndicated columnist George F. Will wrote in a column published 
Tuesday that the United States should substantially reduce its presence 
in Afghanistan.

But despite Mr. Will’s argument, national security hawks in the 
Republican Party — not Mr. Obama’s most natural support base — still 
back the president on Afghanistan.

“So far, to their credit, they’ve either remained silent or they’ve been 
supportive, guys like McCain and Graham,” said Matt Bennett, vice 
president of Third Way, a moderately left-wing think tank, referring to 
Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South 
Carolina, both Republicans.

At the moment, Mr. Obama appears to still have the support of Democratic 
leaders in the Senate and the House, including Senator Harry Reid of 
Nevada and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California. Representative 
Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who is chairman of the House 
Foreign Affairs Committee, indicated on Wednesday that he was not ready 
to jump ship. But he was not sounding a ringing endorsement, either.

“I was O.K. with the president’s efforts and goals in Afghanistan,” he 
said in a phone interview. “At the same time, I’m open to hearing 
whether those are achievable, and as we debate that, we also need to 
think about what are the costs of reversing course.”

But it was the Republican National Committee, and not the Democrats, 
that was sounding more solidly behind the president on Afghanistan. 
After Mr. Will’s abdication on Tuesday, the Republican National 
Committee quickly sent out an e-mail message and posted a statement, 
“Stand Strong, Mr. President,” on its Web site to take issue with the 
conservative columnist.

“We agree with President Obama that ‘we have to win’ in Afghanistan and 
make sure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and 
resources they need,” the committee chairman, Michael Steele, said in 
the statement. He urged Mr. Obama to “stand strong and speak out for why 
we are fighting there,” adding that Mr. Obama has said too little so far 
“about why the voices of defeat are wrong.”

Similarly, Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, said he would 
continue to back Mr. Obama “as long as we’re making progress.”

Senator Graham, for his part, was in Afghanistan last week, putting in a 
stint as Colonel Graham as he served out his Air Force Reserves duty 
rotation. He met with military officials and soldiers, and talked to 
Obama administration officials in Kabul, the capital, as well, and is 
supporting Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan strategy.

Afghanistan, Mr. Graham said Tuesday in an interview, “is where 9/11 was 
planned and executed.

“This is not Vietnam.”

He said he would support a push for more troops in Afghanistan, but 
added that Mr. Obama would have to make a public case for it to convince 
wavering people on both the right and the left.

“The president needs to be more aggressive about taking ownership of 
this strategy, and reinforcing to this country the consequences of 
Afghanistan being lost and becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda,” Mr. 
Graham said.

The debate over Afghanistan will play out in the coming weeks, as the 
military decides whether to ask for more troops; commanders in 
Afghanistan have already said their forces are insufficient to get the 
job done. Mr. Obama himself must decide whether to make a more public 
push for a deeper United States commitment. Administration officials say 
privately that they believe that they have 12 months to show significant 
progress in Afghanistan before they totally lose public support.

One danger for Mr. Obama is that he may be forced to abandon his own 
party on Afghanistan for the right, which could put him in a perilous 
position if Republicans at any point decide they do not want to support 
a Democratic president on the issue.

“Some people on the right think Afghanistan is hopeless, some people 
think this is Obama’s war and want to do to Obama the same thing the 
left did to Bush with Iraq,” Mr. Graham said.

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