The outlines of President Obama’s reelection strategy are becoming more distinct. He’ll bet that the faltering recovery has enough momentum to sell, particularly to college-educated suburban independents. He’ll find a way to cut a deal with Republicans on deficits that doesn’t completely derail the recovery.
At the same time, he’ll draw bright lines to defend largely social issues that appeal to both his base and to independents — ending “don’t ask, don’t tell”; defending Planned Parenthood and family planning; protecting the environment. He’ll contrast Republican promises for more tax cuts to the rich with his plan to invest in areas vital to our future — education, innovation, infrastructure.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.
But in addition to the economy, the disastrous war in Afghanistan threatens to upend this game plan.
Afghanistan is the “good war” that has gone bad. Obama bought into the fantasies of Gen. David Petraeus and the new generation of counterinsurgency mavens, who argued that we could fend off the Taliban, hunt the remnants of al-Qaeda, and build an operating nation in Afghanistan, with a government that could provide minimum security for its people. The president added his own caution: we’d have a surge but begin to withdraw U.S. forces in July of this year.
But it all went bad. The Karzai government was more corrupt and more incompetent than the generals admitted. The Taliban proved more resourceful; the tribal relations more indecipherable. The new generation of counterinsurgency mavens proved no wiser than the Vietnam generation. Defense Secretary Robert Gates concluded that any future Pentagon secretary who advises a president to fight wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan “should have his head examined.”
The White House started pointing to 2014 as the time when U.S. troops would depart, quietly planning to extend what is already America’s longest war. “Unless the people force this issue from the grass roots, sources in the Pentagon tell me we’re looking at a token 10,000-12,000 troop withdrawal [in July 2011] with a sketchy timeline — 2014 or even longer — for our continued military presence,” said Matthew Hoh, a former Marine who resigned his Afghanistan post in protest and now serves as director of the Afghanistan Study Group.
Antiwar sentiment is at the heart of Obama’s base — and also of his appeal to independent voters. His 2008 candidacy was defined as that of the one leader who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and who pledged to bring it to a close. Buoyed by his election and his commitment to draw down troops from Iraq, liberals largely gave Obama a pass on the Afghanistan surge, placated by his commitment to a time certain to begin getting troops out.
Antiwar sentiment didn’t disappear, however, it just went mainstream. As the Great Recession exposed the breadth of America’s problems and the war continued to waste lives and resources, support eroded steadily. A January Gallup poll reported that 72 percent of American voters want to “speed up” the withdrawal of troops from the 2014 date. Eighty-six percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans favored a more rapid withdrawal.