The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


The Rundown

At White House and on the Hill, a Growing Focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan

By Ben Pershing
Two weeks ago, David Obey warned that the war in Afghanistan might "devour" President Obama's policy agenda, turning into "a problem that nobody knows how to get out of." Yesterday, the House Appropriations chairman unveiled a $94 billion supplemental bill to pay for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and funnel economic aid to rapidly deteriorating Pakistan.

The measure has funding for other purposes as well, but the "Af-Pak" region -- where Obey said yesterday he was "very dubious" of U.S. prospects for success -- is the bill's primary focus, and "Mr. Obama's war" may well become the primary focus of the president's first term.

Today's Washington Post front page says Taliban forces "tightened their grip" on a key region of Pakistan Monday. The New York Times front says "the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan barely exists for the Taliban," allowing fighters to roam across it at will. The Economist suggests Pakistan's "squandering of America's war-on-terror cash has been an open joke" for years. With fears rising that the Taliban could gain access to Pakistan's nuclear materials, American and Pakistani officials are now in talks to have the U.S. play a bigger part in securing Pakistan's nuclear stockpile.

All of which brings us back to that supplemental spending bill now pending before Congress. How many more will there be? The always-outspoken Obey says he'll give Obama a year to deal with the Af-Pak mess, just as he gave Richard Nixon a year to figure out Vietnam when he arrived at the White House. (Yes, Obey has been in Congress a long time, and no, the Obama administration does not want to see more Democrats mention "Afghanistan" and "Vietnam" together.) With many antiwar Democrats all-but-certain to oppose this funding measure because it doesn't include a firm withdrawal timeline for either Iraq or Afghanistan, Obama will be forced to rely on a bipartisan coalition of supporters to get the money he wants. And he can only hope that the situation looks better in a year, when he comes back to the Hill to ask for more.

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Posted at 8:25 AM ET on May 5, 2009  | Category:  The Rundown
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If Obey is equating the risk to the U.S. from Vietnam with that from a destabilized, nuclear Afghanistan/Pakistan, he has not learned much from his many years in office.

Posted by: nodebris | May 5, 2009 1:14 PM

Mr. Obama: We have Been Here Before...

A special request to POTUS and his key advisers:

Please re-read, and heed, Dwight David Eisenhower's farewell address (re: "Military-Industrial Complex").

Then, please re-read, and heed, George Washington's farewell address (re: "Entangling Alliances").

And please...

...beware of hawks bearing "photo ops."

Posted by: scrivener50 | May 5, 2009 11:07 AM

Afghanistan and Pakistan is not going to turn into a problem that "nobody knows how to get out [in the future]." It IS a problem NOW that nobody knows how to get out! We have invested so much military bravado, so much
superpower ego, and so many billions, but we only have to show a mess for that it is only going to get worse - not better! And the conundrum now is: Do we drop everything now and leave empty handed, and then call Afghans losers for refusing our democratic occupation, or we wade deeper into the boondoggle and hope that at some later point we can get out with our mauled superpower ego intact?

It has become clear by now that after 6 years of failure to occupy Afghanistan and
run it like a banana republic, our occupation plans are in shambles. Worse yet, the western press has started to reveal the truth about our insidious Central Asia misadventures. The British TimesOnline comes today with this headline:
"Mistrust of the West is stronger in Pakistan than fear of the Taliban." Translation: The Pakistanis can tolerate the Taliban, but they cannot tolerate the
running of their country from Washington, D.C.

Can we change the hearts of Pakistanis by continue bombing of their villages with impunity, or by devising schemes with Zardari to keep former prime minister
Nawaz Sharif -who has demanded from U.S. to
stop bombing in Pakistan- our of political office? Certainly not. The U.S. has forced Pakistan to depopulate many villages - to deprive Taliban of local support- and those villagers have become refugees in their own country, living in tents for a U.S. war on terrorism that they
don't really see. And the U.S., rather than trying to mitigate the human suffering, is talking about a stronger focus on the war on terrorism, more bombings, more human displacement, more refugees, and more killings and human suffering. And the only reason is: We cannot afford to swallow another Vietnam Syndrome! Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by: Nikos_Retsos | May 5, 2009 10:18 AM

The prospect of an extremist takeover of Pakistan (and it's nuclear weapons) would appear to be an unacceptable threat to the entire world. I don't understand why the United States must stand alone in this fight. Shouldn't China, Russia, India, Japan and our European allies be stepping up to the plate to deal with this? The Taliban and Al Qaeda in the NW regions of Pakistan have created the greatest risk of nuclear war since 1962, and I would say the risk today is even greater than it was then.

Posted by: thomas777 | May 5, 2009 9:24 AM

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