8 a.m. ET: Does President Obama have a good option in Afghanistan?
In a week that will be dominated by White House deliberations over the way forward in the war effort, the debates both inside and outside the administration seem centered on deciding which is the least bad strategy: Add thousands more troops, and become more bogged down in a country with an unreliable government and an increasingly hostile population. Leave altogether, and let the Taliban resume control and rebuild a base for international terrorism. Choose a middle ground, and anger both sides with no endgame in sight.
Perhaps Obama's coterie of advisers have a better idea, but the president's top brass hope not to read about it in the newspaper. One day after James Jones sent a message to Stanley McChrystal by saying military advice should "come up through the chain of command," Robert Gates made the same point in blunter terms. The Defense secretary said everyone involved in the decision-making process should "provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately." (Walter Pincus argues that anyone who suggests McChrystal "is pressuring the White House to accept his ideas or else didn't pay close attention to his remarks last week in London," which included several qualifiers.)
The Los Angeles Times writes,"The exchanges suggested some disarray in the Obama administration's attempts to forge a new policy on Afghanistan and underscored wide differences among top officials over the correct approach." Gates -- who said in an interview with CNN Monday that "the Taliban now have the momentum" -- appears to be on the fence about whether to send more troops to Afghanistan or endorse the narrower mission reportedly being advocated by Vice President Biden, Rahm Emanuel and others within the administration. The New York Times reports that the White House (the Biden wing?) is promoting the effectiveness of recent "surgical strikes" against al-Qaeda figures, perhaps making the case that a strictly defined counterterrorism mission can work.
The views of the various staff factions are clear, but what about Obama himself? In a stinging column, Richard Cohen writes that "the ultimate in realism is for the president to gauge himself and who he is: Does he have the stomach and commitment for what is likely to continue to be an unpopular war? Will he send additional troops, but hedge by not sending enough -- so that the dying will be in vain? What does he believe, and will he ask Americans to die for it?" Brent Scowcroft told the Washington Times that Obama deserved high marks so far for foreign policy overall but warned that leaving Afghanistan would be "catastrophic for the United States." Henry Kissinger writes that "a serious diplomatic effort is needed to address the major anomaly of the Afghan war" -- the fact that neighboring countries like Russia, China and India haven't done more to aid the U.S., even though they have a clear vested interest in the outcome.
This uncertainty comes amid yet more evidence that the public is souring on the war. A new survey from Clarus Research Group finds that 55 percent of respondents believe the war effort has been unsuccessful, and that only 20 percent believe the U.S. will "eventually win" the fight. A full 68 percent said there would be "no clear resolution," while 6 percent said the U.S. would lose. The poll also found notable age and gender gaps -- older voters and men were more supportive of sending additional troops to Afghanistan, while women and voters under 30 were less supportive.
Afghanistan makes the fight over health-care look relatively clear, right? The Senate Finance Committee's vote on its reform bill will have to wait at least a couple more days, and perhaps until next week, as the Congressional Budget Office works its mysterious will on the package's price tag. That will give various interest groups more time to lobby for additional changes. The Wall Street Journal reports, "Hospitals and insurance companies are pushing back against changes to the latest Senate health-care bill that ease the penalties for Americans who don't carry health insurance." The White House is touting the fact that more Republicans off the Hill are sounding positive noises about reform, with Tommy Thompson and Michael Bloomberg adding their voices to Bill Frist's Monday. None of them have votes in the Senate but Olympia Snowe does, and Roll Call reports that some Democrats are frustrated that she hasn't tipped her hand yet. Politico wonders: "When it comes to health care, does the House even matter?" The paper reports that House members worry that whatever bill they craft in their chamber will get trumped in conference by the Senate bill. What else is new?
October 6, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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