More Right-Wing Distortion on Afghanistan

One of the right-wing's two biggest anti-Obama arguments on Afghanistan, alongside claiming that exit strategies embolden the enemy, is that he didn't listen to Stanley McChrystal and that he didn't give the Pentagon what it wanted. Marco Rubio - who, as a Senate candidate and member of the Florida state house, is clearly well-versed in both diplomatic affairs and military strategy - said, "While I support the President's call for additional troops, I am concerned it falls short of General McChrystal's specific request." And Red State's Dan Spencer complained that the President "will give Gen. McChrystal only three-quarters of the 40,000 additional troops the general told Obama he needed to achieve victory."

Rubio, Spencer, and many of their comrades on the right are putting words in McChrystal's mouth. Charles posted last night McChrystal's statement on the Afghanistan review, all of it glowing. Secretary of Defense (and Republican) Robert Gates is no doubt equally happy, having asked for 30,000 troops - not 40,000 - in October. McChrystal:

"The Afghanistan-Pakistan review led by the President has provided me with a clear military mission and the resources to accomplish our task. The clarity, commitment and resolve outlined in the President's address are critical steps toward bringing security to Afghanistan and eliminating terrorist safe havens that threaten regional and global security.

And  Politico's Mike Allen on Gates:

It didn't leak, but 30,000 was the final number that Secretary Gates took to President Obama, in mid-October -- a reminder that the Pentagon chief is the most influential member of the Cabinet, bar none. His argument with the president in this regard was dispositive. This gives POTUS an airtight alibi against claims that 30,000 is a triangulated, political number, not based on any specific brigade configuration...  Plus if you'd gone the whole 40,000, you have no leverage over NATO to send more forces. If we said, 'We'll do 40,' then there's not a great incentive for anybody else to do anything.

Say what you will about the actual policy in Afghanistan, but nothing is worth lying over. I would kindly ask the right-wing to stop saying McChrystal is unhappy when he himself tells us he is delighted, and when another top Afghanistan official, the Secretary of Defense, is equally pleased. But I won't hold my breath. This is the same crowd that finds a way to make everything about partisanship and taking down Obama, even when they get what they what. I bet if Obama HAD given McChrystal 40,000 or even 80,000 new troops, the Repubs would have made Ambassador Eikenberry their Af-Pak standard-bearer.

Update [2009-12-2 19:13 EST by Nathan Empsall]: The other big leader in Afghanistan, CENTCOM Commander and hero to the right-wing General David Petraeus, also sounds content, no matter what Repubs like Jon Kyl might say about his wishes. He was on MSNBC's Morning Joe today, as well as CNN's American Morning and Fox News's Fox & Friends:

The top U.S. general in the Mideast region said the president's case for the strategic value of Afghanistan would help hold together the mission there, going forward.

"I think there was a very powerful case made last night for the importance of the mission in Afghanistan," he said. "Our overriding objective, of course, has to do with Al Qaeda."

Asked to respond to the criticism, from officials including former Vice President Dick Cheney, that the Obama administration had been "dithering" over its strategy for the war in Afghanistan, Petraeus praised the White House's deliberative approach.

"This process was actually quite good," Petraeus said. "it was a very substantive discussion. Everybody's assumptions and views were tested. I think out of this have come sharpened objectives, a very good understanding of the challenges and the difficulties and what must be done."

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Politicizing Afghanistan

This post is about the politics of the President's Afghanistan speech and policy. For my take on the policy, see Blue Moose Democrat; I am tepidly supportive.

They used to say that politics stops at the water's edge. That hasn't really been true since at least Bosnia, but at least we've managed to cling to some of its rougher edges. Liberals (rightly) balked when Bush the Younger demanded that we go to war in Iraq on scant evidence, but by and large the country united around a military response to 9/11. It was understood that some things were beyond politics - until now. For months, Repubs have been telling us that they would support President Obama's leadership on Afghanistan if he sent thousands more troops there. Now that he is indeed sending the troops, are they rallying behind him?

Not so much. The President gives them what they want, and they still manage to make criticism the centerpiece of their response. Oh, they voice support for the increased troop levels, but there must have been some sort of talking points memo because every single leader's focus is on opposing the fact that it isn't an open-ended surge.

The Repub Party's most recent presidential nominee and point Senator on Armed Services, John McCain, twice emphasized his support for the new surge to NBC's Brian Williams, but the bulk of his words were critical. I don't have a transcript of that particular interview, but he told the New York Times something similar earlier today:

"Dates for withdrawal are dictated by conditions," Mr. McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill. "The way that you win wars is to break the enemy's will, not to announce dates that you are leaving."...

The military strategy appears to be "modeled on the surge in Iraq," Mr. McCain said, which he added, "I think will succeed." Mr. McCain said the United States "should have a goal of being out the day after tomorrow - a goal." But not, he said, a date as specific as July 2011.

The President has not set a date for our withdrawal, merely the beginning of a timeframe. But that didn't stop Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Lamar Alexander, and even the usually reasonable Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) from all saying nearly the same thing (even if our generals and foreign partners haven't). And of course you know RNC Chair Michael Steele was in on the talking points memo. When has he ever pass up a chance to politicize such an event?

"If the president remains committed to this crucial fight, Republicans and the American people will stand with him. But sending mixed signals by outlining the exit before these troops even get on the ground undermines their ability to succeed."

So Michael Steele thinks going to war with an exit strategy already in mind is a bad thing. No wonder he backed Iraq. And you can bet the right-wing blogosphere is and will be even more unhinged than the stately senators. Red State's Erick Erickson:

Barack Obama spoke at West Point tonight on the issue of Afghanistan. In 4608 words, he did not once mention the word "victory" and the closest he came to using the word "win" was those three letters appearing in the word "withdrawing."..

Proving yet again that he is a rank amateur, Obama intends to have a surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, but concurrently announce the timeline for their withdrawal. This is akin to announcing to burglars exactly the time at which you intend to depart your house and also announcing you intend to turn off the burglar alarm. Al Qaeda will just wait us out. They'll only need to wait a year. The men who spent years planning 9/11 are more patient than this President who wants instant gratification in a never ending campaign.

Al Qaeda will just wait us out? All 100 of them? Booga Booga! Here's hoping Erickson has managed to find his inhaler in the hours since making that post. But for all that blathering and bloviating, I don't think the right-wing attacks on Obama's speech will amount to much political hay in the long-run.

A Gallup poll out earlier today showed that Obama now has a 35% approval rating on Afghanistan and a 55% disapproval, a mirror image of his July numbers. I expect to see that 35% rise dramatically in next few days, for three reasons. First, his numbers almost always seem to rise after a big speech. Second, although this will tick off a large part of the base (see Jerome's post about Feingold and Grayson earlier today), many more are supportive. Though it's hardly scientific, a Daily Kos reader poll currently registers 44% support for the President's surge and 16% undecided with just 37% opposed. Third, I believe much of the 32% Independent approval and 16% Repub approval was based on the perceived "dithering" of the president (because apparently we learned nothing from Bush's disgust for facts). People wanted a decision. Now that they have one, their minds will change.

McChrystal thinks that with more troops, he can bring more stability. I don't know if he's right, but it didn't fail in Iraq. If Afghanistan is anywhere near the appearance of stable next November, this decision will not harm the Democrats in the midterms, and by 2012, we will hopefully be out or mostly out and this should again be a non-issue. Afghanistan hasn't been a huge electoral factor since 2002, and I don't think it's going to become one now.

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How Obama Can Win Utah (Without a 20% National Victory)

By: Inoljt,


Democratic candidates in Utah must feel as if they're facing an impossible task. The state is often considered the most far-right Republican stronghold in the United States. Winning Utah is akin to slaying a mighty dragon with only a bow as one's chosen weapon.

Like all dragons, however, Utah has a weak spot. The year 2012 may be a ripe time for Obama to shoot an arrow through it.

The majority of Utah's voters are Mormon; the religion is a heavy influence on daily life in the state. The vast majority of Mormons are also conservative, because Mormonism is an inherently conservative beast. In every presidential election so far, Mormons have proved to be strongly Republican.

Mormons like to think of themselves as average, normal Americans. They're good people. They help with the community. They love their children and teach them traditional values. Nobody cares if they have a different religion.

Except many people do care very much indeed, especially the type of person who tends to vote Republican. Many would never vote for a Mormon.

Imagine the following scenario, below the flip.

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Erick Erickson: Carter Is History's Greatest Monster

Tuesday evening, the distinguished city council member from Macon, Georgia posed a question to the readers of Red  

Yesterday, Erick Erickson --the 69th most influential conservative in America-- asked, "Does Anyone Really Care That History's Greatest Monster is No Longer a Southern Baptist?"

The question presented by Erickson was directed towards former President Jimmy Carter who, in 2000, left the Southern Baptist Convention after that body declared its opposition to women as pastors and called for wives to be submissive to their husbands [Sengupta, Somini (October 21, 2000).  Carter Sadly Turns Back On National Baptist Body.  The New York Times.].

Now let us dismiss for a second the fact that Erick Erickson is reacting to a nine year old story.  Erickson proclaimed our nation's thirty-ninth president, and one of only two Georgians to win the Nobel Peace Prize,  "history's greatest monster." Regrettably, the freshman city council member from Macon didn't provide a lick of evidence to support his audacious claim.

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Red California Death Watch

In 2007, right-wing political operatives tried to place a measure on the June 2008 ballot that - if successful - would have awarded California's electoral votes by Congressional District.  Democrats and progressives strongly opposed it, because everyone assumed it would give the G.O.P. presidential nominee an extra 19 votes.  California is a deep blue state, but parts of Orange County and the Central Valley are still reliably Republican.  New data from last November's election, however, suggests that "Red California" is becoming less and less relevant.  Barack Obama carried eight Congressional Districts that had long voted for Republican presidential candidates, and John McCain came close to losing three more.  All these districts are currently represented in Congress by Republicans, but a few incumbents came close last year to losing to Democratic challengers.  It's only a matter of time before some of these districts will eventually flip.  None of this is a surprise, however, because the state's Republican base is older, whiter and shrinking in size.  But the rate of this change is quite staggering, which explains why Republicans in the state legislature have clung to the "two-thirds rule" for passing a budget.  After all, it's the only reason they have any power left in the state.

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