8 a.m. ET: As President Obama's decision nears on how to proceed in Afghanistan, the dangers there for American forces appear to be multiplying.
October has been the deadliest month yet for U.S. troops in the Afghanistan war, a story that is dominating the morning headlines. The Associated Press notes that the death toll reached "a record level for the third time in four months," and the Wall Street Journal reports that "Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have grown in sophistication in recent months, causing a spike in coalition deaths." Another attack hit Wednesday morning, with a half-dozen UN personnel reportedly being killed by gunmen in Kabul. Violence has also flared up in Pakistan, where Hillary Clinton arrived for an unannounced visit Wednesday just as a bombing killed more than 80 people in Peshawar.
The New York Times has a pair of Afghan-related scoops on its front. The first: The brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai is on the CIA payroll, ties which"raise significant questions about America’s war strategy" and "have created deep divisions within the Obama administration." The second: Obama's "advisers are focusing on a strategy for Afghanistan aimed at protecting about 10 top population centers," as "the debate is no longer over whether to send more troops, but how many more will be needed." (Jake Tapper reported Monday that Obama was likely to approve fewer than 40,000 troops, and that he would likely announce it between Nov. 7 and 11.) One official describes the likely strategy to the Times as "McChrystal for the city, Biden for the country,” which sounds like a line from a men's clothing catalogue. The Los Angeles Times writes that Obama's relationship with McChrystal is much more conventional than the one President Bush forged with David Petraeus.
Tom Friedman argues that a troop buildup is a bad idea: "We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan." Doyle McManus says that the number of troops Obama decides to send is far less important than the goals they're given to achieve. It's widely accepted that public sentiment has turned against the war, but the picture isn't that simple. The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll "finds that a plurality of Americans now backs a troop increase, and a strong majority supports waiting on a decision until after the country conducts its presidential runoff election next month." The survey showed 47 percent support for a buildup and 43 percent opposition, a shift from the 44-51 result the same poll found in September.
In the health-care debate, the liberal giddiness Monday following Harry Reid's announcement on the public option gave way to sober realism Tuesday that the reform fight still has a ways to go. (Or perhaps a stir-crazy press corps is just overreporting both the highs and the lows.) Joe Lieberman further endeared himself to the left by saying that he was inclined to vote against cloture if the Senate bill includes a public option, and other moderates in the chamber sounded skeptical notes about Reid's "opt-out" plan. Can Reid get 60 votes? "I don't know," Max Baucus says repeatedly. Politico runs down the toughest votes left for Reid to get.
In the House, Greg Sargent writes that a House Democratic whip count "has tallied up less than 200 likely Yes votes in support of a health care reform bill with a robust public option." Mike Allen reports, with liberal use of CAPS: "The House plans to launch its blended bill with a SPLASHY CEREMONY ON THE WEST FRONT OF THE CAPITOL, EMPHASIZING BENEFITS FOR CONSUMERS, SENIORS AND SMALL BUSINESS. Bill will include MODERATE public option – not the votes for robust. House Democratic leaders will now work to convince progressives that’s the best they’re going to get, and moderates that the bill is now right for them." The Hill writes that "House Democrats are days, if not hours, away from introducing the healthcare bill that will make it to the floor," and Nov. 6 remains the most likely date for a House vote. Roll Call reports the House's moderate public option "is sure to anger some leading liberals ... [b]ut it comes after leaders determined through a rigorous, weeklong whipping effort that the approach fell far short of gathering the support it needed."
Jonathan Cohn pauses to remind everyone: "There's more to reform than the public plan. ... And it's something worth remembering in the coming days, if -- as I expect -- the public option becomes an all-consuming preoccupation." That NBC/WSJ survey showed Obama's numbers on health care holding steady, with 43 percent approval of how he has handled the issue, roughly the same as that number has been since July. The poll also found that 48 percent favored "a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies," while 42 percent were opposed. Over the past year, USA Today/Gallup polls find, "the tidal wave of hope that swept Obama into office has ebbed and some perceptions of the president have changed. ... He's seen more as a down-the-line liberal, less as someone who can bridge partisan divides."
October 28, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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