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8 a.m. ET: For all the recent focus on the troop pullback in Iraq and post-election unrest in Iran, the fulcrum of the administration's foreign policy is Afghanistan, where "Obama's War" (think they like that label at the White House?) shifted into a new phase in the early hours of this morning.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes that U.S. Marines are today "mounting an operation that represents the first large-scale test of the U.S. military's new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan." The Wall Street Journal similarly calls the push "the first significant operation" since Obama switched commanders there, and cites unnamed American officers who have doubts about the effectiveness of the new strategy. But the Los Angeles Times says American commanders "believe a greater concentration of U.S. and Afghan troops ... is beginning to change the equation," particularly in the previously lawless region along the Pakistani border.
Will voters back home also have doubts? A New York Times poll taken in mid-June showed that 30 percent of respondents thought the war in Afghanistan was going well, while 55 percent thought it was going badly. Those numbers don't necessarily reflect poorly on Obama -- they were similar last summer, when it was still "Bush's War" -- but today's offensive will likely help cement in the public mind the idea that Obama is in charge of Afghanistan now and making proactive decisions there, not just following or cleaning up after his predecessor's orders. He owns this conflict now, whether the headlines get better or -- as in the case of this morning's reported abduction of a U.S. soldier -- worse.
Writing not about Afghanistan but domestic policy, The Financial Times today says "Obama is gearing up for the most decisive phase of his presidency when the fate of his core legislative proposals will show whether he is capable of taming Washington or whether Washington will tame him." Obviously, the president knows the stakes, which is why he held a health care town hall meeting in Annandale yesterday (he took a question via Twitter! OMG!) and will likely continue to get out of the White House and talk up the need for action. At the same time in Phoenix, former foe John McCain was making a different case, saying of Obama's plan: "This is a step to a government-run, single-payer system that controls prices and leads to rationing care." McCain hasn't been particularly outspoken on health care in recent weeks. Is that about to change? Who will be the Senate's face of opposition?
Helping Obama's cause will be Sen. Al Franken -- used to that yet? -- who yesterday vowed to continue the legacy of the late Paul Wellstone. It will help Franken that he visited the Senate several times and did plenty of studying during the Minnesota recount. But as the media is pointing out this morning, the simple fact that Democrats now have 60 seats (if you include the ailing Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd) is no guarantee of success. As Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times, "Indeed, becoming the first party in 30 years to reach the fabled plateau of 60 could create as many political problems as it solves, raising expectations sky high and potentially causing a backlash should Democrats falter on energy or health care."
In South Carolina, today's edition of "As the Governor Turns" -- obviously, it's an Argentinian telenovela -- brings this headline from The State: "Sanford's mental state questioned." Politics 101: It's never good when your local newspaper is openly wondering whether you're mentally stable. Two more unhelpful headlines in the same paper: "39 trips for Sanford with no security in '09" and "Americans not explicit when defining what sex is." Sanford keeps repeating that he's not going to resign, but that won't stop the drumbeat. Friday evenings are the traditional time for dumping bad news, particularly before a holiday weekend, so watch the governor's mansion closely tomorrow.
July 2, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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