8 a.m. ET: Just as it appeared President Obama might be on the verge of approving a new plan for Afghanistan, a crucial meeting Wednesday and a well-timed leak suggest the administration has gone back to the drawing board.
"Obama won't accept any of the Afghanistan war options before him without changes, a senior administration official said, as concerns soar over the ability of the Afghan government to secure its own country one day," the Associated Press reports. The key problem, as it has been for years, is corruption. The Washington Post writes that Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, "sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise."
The Wall Street Journal says "Eikenberry's concerns come late in the process, and it is unclear how they will ultimately affect Mr. Obama's decision making," adding, "Many of Mr. Eikenberry's concerns about Mr. Karzai have been raised by others involved in the White House deliberations, including by Mr. Obama." Given that much of the coverage before Wednesday's meeting suggested Obama was eyeing a plan -- endorsed by Robert Gates (and opposed by Vice President Biden?) -- to send 30,000-35,000 more troops, the widespread leak of Eikenberry's concerns marks an interesting turn in the internal White House battle.
Obama administration officials are said to be particularly miffed with Karzai's comments in an interview this week on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. But miffed or not, the New York Times asks the central question: "How much leverage does the United States really have over the Afghan leader?" For all of the administration's tough rhetoric toward Karzai, there is no "or else" at the end. Why not? The Times explains that "withdrawing all troops would not serve American interests, officials said; aside from the chaos it could cause in Afghanistan, a pullout could tip the balance in even more volatile Pakistan, where the government is battling Taliban militants." In addition to the question of whether the U.S. should send more troops, the Boston Globe writes that Afghan officials aren't so keen on getting more foreign civilian advisers, "complaining the Americans are often overpaid, underqualified, and unfamiliar with the culture of the country. "
There is no easy answer, and Joel Achenbach observes, "War and tragedy are putting President Obama through the most wrenching period of his young administration. Visibly thinner, admittedly skipping meals, he is learning every day the challenges of a wartime presidency." As for public opinion, Gallup finds that 35 percent support a buildup of 40,000 troops, 7 percent back a smaller increase and 44 percent actually want the U.S. troop presence to decrease. In Kabul, USA Today reports, "U.S. and Afghan officials have agreed on a new nationwide strategy that will funnel millions of dollars in foreign aid to villages that organize 'neighborhood watch'-like programs to help with security." In the midst of the debate, Josh Rogin notes that Afpak czar Richard Holbrooke is headed to Russia, for reasons that remain unclear.
On health care, with most of the focus has been on what is actually in the various health-care bills -- the public option, abortion language, immigrant care -- the debate continues over how to pay for reform. "Harry Reid is considering a plan for higher payroll taxes on the upper-income earners to help finance health care legislation he intends to introduce in the Senate in the next several days, numerous Democratic officials said Wednesday," AP reports. Politico examines another basic question: "Would the sweeping $900 billion overhaul actually lower spiraling insurance premiums for everyone?" The comforting answer: "No one really knows," as "economists remain sharply divided" and estimates are all over the map. The abortion question also remains unresolved, and the New York Times reports on a bitter rift between Patrick Kennedy and the Roman Catholic bishop of Providence over the issue.
Business groups, meanwhile, are redoubling their efforts to slow down the reform train. The Employment Policies Institute is launching what it says will be a $10 million ad campaign urging lawmakers to take their time in crafting a health-care bill. The Wall Street Journal runs down a host of ads running this week coming from groups on all sides of the debate. And the Washington Post shed light on the role of Hispanic advocacy groups, who are belatedly getting involved in the health debate after care for illegal immigrants became a flashpoint. Jonathan Cohn takes a lengthy look at Massachusetts, and concludes that for all the state health program's flaws, "the more significant story about Massachusetts is the one that gets told too rarely: the story of what’s gone right."
On the financial front, The Washington Post writes on the Federal Reserve, saying that "the central bank's activist response to the financial crisis has exposed the Fed to immense political fallout. That will make it more difficult for the Fed to carry out its responsibilities of guiding the national economy out of a recession and withdrawing its emergency support for the economy at just the right time." The Obama administration "is considering setting aside a chunk" of the unspent TARP money for debt reduction, the Wall Street Journal reports. No decisions have been made yet, but "the potential move illustrates how the Obama administration is trying to find any way it can to bring down the deficit, which is turning into a political as well as an economic liability."
November 12, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
Go to full archive for The Rundown »
Please email us to report offensive comments.
The comments to this entry are closed.