WASHINGTON – Barack Obama built his career on opposing the Iraq war but now, as president, is poised for a politically perilous effort to pitch the United States deeper into another conflict, in Afghanistan.
Beset by the worst economic crisis in generations and rising diplomatic challenges, Obama is set within days to unveil an overhaul of strategy for a war that has no end in sight after seven years.
Expected plans to boost civilian aid to Afghanistan, woo moderate insurgents and expand the Afghan army will likely attract strong political support.
But the question of sending more troops to war is more controversial and the public’s long-term backing may depend on Obama making the sale.
“I am not opposed to all wars, I’m opposed to dumb wars,” Obama said in his famous 2002 speech against the looming Iraq war.
To convince all Americans that the Afghan conflict is a smart war, he must make the case that the conflict remains vital to US security and establish clear combat goals.
Americans are weary of the six-year war in Iraq, and Obama’s campaign vow to bring troops home was a significant factor in his defeat of Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and Republican foe John McCain last year.
Polls show Obama’s current popularity gives him the leverage to increase US involvement in Afghanistan, but reveal that support for the war may be soft and prone to erosion if the new strategy fails.
Sixty-three percent of those questioned last month in a CNN/Opinion Research poll supported sending more troops to Afghanistan.
But only 47 percent supported the war and 51 percent were against.
In a USA Today/Gallup poll, this month, 42 percent said it had been a mistake to send US forces to Afghanistan to chase Al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the September 11 attacks in 2001, up from 30 percent a month ago.
A Quinnipiac University poll found significant support — 62-31 percent for Obama’s recent decision to sign off on a 17,000 troop increase in Afghanistan, but the idea of sending 13,000 more only drew 47 to 43 percent support.
“It is reasonable to say that support for an increased build up for Afghanistan is soft,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute.
Pollsters say Obama’s personal popularity may be inflating backing for his Afghan strategy, and support for the war may flag should the president’s approval ratings diminish.
Despite what most of the mainstream media would have you believe, a recent CBS News/New York Times poll revealed that more Americans want troop levels in Afghanistan to remain the same or decrease rather than to grow. It’s time for Congress do its job representing the people by taking a hard look at this war before committing more treasure and lives to it — and before President Obama’s ambitious progressive agenda at home is sacrificed to another quagmire.
With President Obama already announcing his intention to send 17,000 more troops — even before his review of Afghanistan is complete — this is a moment when we need public hearings in order to change course and focus on diplomacy, an international rather than NATO-led effort, and rebuilding Afghanistan. At a time when we face historic economic challenges at home and the need to repair our tarnished image abroad, there are some encouraging signs that — this time around — members of Congress won’t simply follow the drumbeat for war.
One of those signs is the new Congressional Progressive Caucus Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force initiated by caucus Co-Chair Raúl M. Grijalva. Beginning this month, the task force will host a series of six forums that address the many issues involved in Afghanistan policy, including: Afghan history; US strategic interests; regional and international influences; role of the military; and a comprehensive plan. Although topics will be explored from a progressive perspective “each panel or forum is about education, about laying out a range of options; not promoting a predetermined agenda.” The task force will use these forums — which will be open to the public — to craft a policy recommendation for the entire caucus (the largest caucus in Congress). Stay tuned for a detailed schedule by the end of next week.
Also, CPC member Rep. John Tierney has already taken the initiative to raise tough questions as Chair of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. Tierney held a hearing on “Afghanistan and Pakistan: Understanding a Complex Threat Environment” which included testimony from Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia. (You might recall Pillar for shedding light on cherry-picked intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War.) Tierney and Pillar both asked whether it’s in our national security interest to send more troops to Afghanistan to prevent a safe haven for Al Qaeda when it already has one in Pakistan and could easily establish them in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Algiers, etc.?
Senator Russ Feingold has also been clear and outspoken in laying out why we must not repeat the mistake of rushing to escalate in Afghanistan. Recently, he e-mailed campaign supporters to again express his concern. He linked to his strong Christian Science Monitor op-ed in which he writes: “Few people seem willing to ask whether the main solution that’s being talked about– sending more troops to Afghanistan – will actually work.”
On Tuesday, Democratic Senators will decide the political fate of Joe Lieberman. For the past several years, Lieberman has been a persistent thorn in their side–a relentless critic of Democratic attempts to end the war in Iraq and a no-less-vocal advocate of President Bush’s surge strategy. Relations have grown considerably worse since he endorsed John McCain for President last December and delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention this fall. Now that the Democrats have picked up at least six additional seats in the Senate, liberal activists are calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to strip Lieberman of his chairmanship over the Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee, revoke his seniority, and possibly evict him from the Democratic caucus altogether. But to do so would send the wrong message to the country, needlessly divide the Democratic Party, and betray the principles Barack Obama stressed so eloquently in his campaign.
To his credit, Obama has sent signals that he wants Lieberman to stay in the caucus, and perhaps even as chair of the committee. “We don’t hold any grudges,” Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter emailed Talking Points Memo’s Greg Sargent on Monday. And, indeed, allowing Lieberman to stay–however obnoxious liberals might have found his dissidence–wouldn’t just be a sign of non-partisan, post-election magnanimity; it’d also be in the long-term political interests of Obama and his fellow Democrats. Because if the Democratic Party wants to maintain control of Congress and the White House, it will have to reconcile its liberal and moderate wings. Punishing Lieberman could complicate these efforts.
First, just in terms of policy, those calling for the axe ignore that Lieberman has been a reliable Democrat. Last week, Reid said that “Lieberman is not some right wing nut case,” and, in fact, Lieberman has secured a higher party loyalty voting record than 14 of his Democratic colleagues. He’s also been a fine chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. He sponsored the legislation that first created the department, and under his leadership, the committee has achieved some legitimate successes: Lieberman helped alter the formula by which homeland security funding is dispersed so that the localities most at risk receive more aid, and he crafted legislation to mandate the inspection of all air and sea cargo within three years. He has also sponsored good, progressive legislation, like a bill extending domestic partner benefits to gay federal employees.
Yes, Lieberman’s frequent and vocal complaints about the Democratic Party have irked his colleagues. But, in terms of policy, has he really damaged liberal aims more than the other Democratic congressmen and Senators who have not toed the party leadership’s line? Senator Robert Byrd, for instance, has been one of the coal industry’s greatest friends in Congress, angering environmentalists for decades with his attempts to block measures that would reduce pollution. As Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he has been one of the most powerful men in the Senate, and it’s not unreasonable to say that his position on the issue over the years has done more harm to the progressive cause writ large than Lieberman has.
ST. PAUL — Senator Joseph I. Lieberman’s speech tonight will likely be a testament to his deep alliance and friendship with Senator John McCain, but it also will likely fray even further — if not sever — his longstanding affiliation with the Democratic Party.
The Democrat-turned-independent senator from Connecticut had continued to caucus with Democrats in their most recent session before the summer break. And just last week Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he was still resistant to the clamor from Democrats and liberal bloggers at sites like Liebermanmustgo.com to kick Mr. Lieberman out of his Democratic Senate positions.
“All my close votes, he’s always with me, whether it’s the budget or energy issues,” Mr. Reidsaid in the interview. “No matter what it is, he’s always with us. He just does not vote right on Iraq. … Why would I want to throw away a good vote?”
Since Mr. Reid’s remarks, however, Mr. Lieberman almost became Senator John McCain’s running mate on the Republican ticket. And Mr. Lieberman’s votes in the Senate may not be so critical next year, given that the Democrats are likely to increase their slim 51-49 margin advantage because six or seven Republican seats are highly vulnerable this fall.
In the meantime, Mr. Lieberman’s staunch defense of Mr. McCain — not to mention tonight’s high-profile speaking role — continues to anger leading Democrats.
(Senator Lindsey Graham seemed to suggest today that Mr. Lieberman might steal the show tonight from President Bush’s video. What does that mean? Remember that not long ago Mr. Lieberman wouldn’t rule out switching his party affiliation to Republican, and he has continued to blast Democrats for their positions on the Iraq war. Last year, he went so far as to call the liberal base of the party “politically paranoid, hyper-partisan.”)
But despite much upset on the part of Democrats over Mr. Lieberman’s decision to play turncoat on some issues, there remains a sense of weirdness about his appearance here at the R.N.C. Just eight years ago, the Connecticut senator was the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
His speech at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles is replete with references to major divides between the two parties on nearly every issue. In fact, he said, “We see everything through a different set of eyes.”
In one of the segments, Mr. Lieberman mentions Senator McCain as a friend, but borrows the “straight talk” line to castigate Republicans. (Mr. McCain had just undergone major surgery for melanoma — that’s what prompted Mr. Lieberman to say he was thinking of him.
By St. Petersburg Times
Sen. John McCain sat in a stately looking office, addressing a national TV audience.
“Good evening, my fellow Americans,” he said. “I ask you: What should we be looking for in our next president? Certainly, someone who is very, very, very old.”
It was all a joke, played on Saturday Night Live. Yet despite self-deprecating attempts to disarm questions about his age, the Republican presidential nominee faces ongoing scrutiny.
The latest sign: More than 90 doctors in Florida have signed a national petition calling on McCain to fully release his medical records, suggesting that more about his bouts with skin cancer needs to be disclosed.
“If you still want to vote for the guy, that’s fine. But you should know about it,” said Dr. Max B. Rubin, a dermatologist in Delray Beach.
“I don’t want to look to see if he’s taking Viagra,” said Tallahassee orthopedic surgeon Ray Bellamy. “I want to see if there’s strong evidence he’s in good health or not.”
McCain, 72, would be the oldest president to take office if elected in November. His campaign dismissed the petition (which has nearly 2,900 signatures) as a stunt and noted it’s driven by a group with ties to the liberal Moveon.org.
Health questions in campaigns are nothing new. In 1995, Republican nominee Bob Dole pre-empted questions by releasing records showing him in fine shape. It was the 73-year-old Dole who was pressuring a younger and less willing President Bill Clinton to do the same.
The Florida doctors — many who acknowledge they favor Democrat Barack Obama — say they are raising concerns because if something were to happen to McCain, Sarah Palin would take over.
Not so long ago, those breaks during TV shows used to try to get you to buy things like cars and mattresses. These days it feels like the only thing for sale is your vote.
Studies show most people don’t believe what they see and hear in political ads; journalists and others constantly undermine them with truth-squadding analysis…and yet…
TRACEY: It’s still the weapon of choice for political campaigns.
Evan Tracey runs the Virginia-based Campaign Media Analysis Group. That means he spends a lot of time tracking = political ads around the country, and he says Ohio is a cash cow political ad-makers this year. These days, the McCain campaign is dropping about $150,000 a day in the state. The Obama campaign—not bound by public financing—is laying out more than twice that amount. And, Tracey says it’s only going up.
TRACEY: I think you’re going to see a steady ascent on spending. If you look at Obama’s spending patterns over the last four weeks, they’ve risen over 20% a week.
So, what are they spending all their money on? Obama’s ads here are hammering home his health care plan—and what he thinks is wrong with McCain’s.
OBAMA AD: On health care, John McCain promises a tax credit, but here’s what he won’t tell you. McCain would impose a new tax on health benefits, taxing your health care for the first time ever.
Meanwhile, McCain’s ads are spending a lot time asking this question:
McCAIN AD: Who is Barack Obama?
McCAIN AD: Who is Barack Obama? Senator Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes. 94 times!
And for all people say they’re tired of campaign ads and negative attacks, Oberlin College Professor Michael Parkin says there’s a simple reason the campaigns still blanket the airwaves.
PARKIN: Just the repetition of these ads..over and over and over again. Sooner or later, that message is going to get into your psyche. And, of course, you can counter-argue these ads, which is often done by people who have already made up their minds. But for undecided voters, the repetition of these ads and particularly some of these negative accusations, they tend to stick fairly well.
So, the idea is if you repeat something often enough, people start to believe it, even if they didn’t at first. That’s the strategy behind many ads produced and paid for by independent groups. These so-called 527 groups—named after the portion of the tax code they operate under—are happy to tread into territory the candidates’ campaigns won’t.
A group called Brave New PAC—run by liberal film-maker Robert Greenwald—is running this spot.
BRAVE NEW PAC AD: Another bout of cancer for John McCain, while he’s president of the United States, would profoundly impact his ability to lead.
And this from a conservative group calling itself The American Issues Project.
AMERICAN ISSUES PROJECT AD: Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?
Ad analyst Evan Tracey says the American Issues Project group has spent about $800,000 running that one-minute ad—the Obama campaign, meanwhile, has spent nearly as much responding to those ads.
The McCain campaign declined to comment for this story on their ad or counter-ad strategy.
Michael Parkin of Oberlin College says the attacks from outside groups on both sides could be a lot harsher closer to Election Day.
PARKIN: They may be waiting right until the last minute to kind of generate some October surprise where they bring out some new information, or at least make some claims that resonate with people.
Negative ads may not carry their usual punch, with the public so focused on the teetering economy.
Two third-party liberal groups have teamed up to run this TV ad seeming to imply that Sen. John McCain , R-Ariz., will die in office.
Showing pictures of McCain’s cancer scar, the script is as follows:
Text on screen: John McCain is 72 years old and had cancer 4 times .
Dr. Michael Frakin: The relevance of knowing the details of his course with melanoma are very important. Another bout of cancer for John McCain while he is president of the United States would profoundly impact his capacity to lead.
Noah Craft, Ph.D.: Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers and the chances of survival, if you have melanoma spread through your body, are very, very slim.
Text on screen: Why won’t John McCain release his Medical Records?
Announcer: Brave New PAC and Democracy For America are responsible for the content of this advertising.
Another Brave New PAC TV ad features former POW Phillip Butler saying of McCain, “he would blow up and go off like a Roman candle. John McCain is not somebody that I would like to see with his finger near the red button,”
These ads are more what is called “flares” — with little-to-no presence on TV, but a big internet presence that the groups are trying to use to get free media attention.
Republicans are insinuating that the Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign has something to do with them. Obama told Democratic contributors to refrain from contributing to these independent groups, but The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reported this month that “after a year of telling donors not to contribute to 527 groups, of encouraging strategists not to form them and of suggesting that outside messaging efforts would not be welcome in Obama’s Democratic Party, Obama’s strategists have changed their approach. An Obama adviser privy to the campaign’s internal thinking on the matter says that, with less than two months before the election and with the realization that Republicans have achieved financial parity with Democrats, they hope that Democratic allies — what another campaign aide termed ‘the cavalry’ — will come to Obama’s aid.”
Two liberal groups – one of them directed by a brother of the Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean – will begin running a graphic attack advertisement Thursday morning raising questions about Senator John McCain’s health. Showing vivid and unflattering images of the fresh scar that appeared on Senator McCain’s face immediately after his last operation for melanoma skin cancer eight years ago, the commercial ends with a screen headline that reads, “Why won’t John McCain release his medical records?” (Mr. McCain, 72, did invite a limited group of reporters to inspect more than 1,100 pages of his medical records in May, though he gave them only a three-hour window in which to review the documents.)
The commercial is among the harshest to run against Mr. McCain yet, seeking to exploit the sensitive issues of health and age. Officials with the groups running the ad, Brave New PAC and Democracy for America, said they were only showing the spot initially on MSNBC over the next few days, a limited run intended to draw news media attention on a network that has increasingly catered to liberal tastes.
Officials at the groups, both of which are political action committees that rely on individual donors, said they hoped to show the spot on stations in battleground states in the coming weeks as well. But it is unclear if individual stations will accept the spot: Leighton Akio Woodhouse, a spokesman for Brave New PAC, said late Wednesday that CNN declined to accept the commercial after reviewing its contents this week.
The ad comes from the same two groups that recently released an advertisement questioning whether Mr. McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam adversely affected his ability to lead.
Democracy for America has as its chairman Howard Dean’s brother, James H. Dean. Federal rules prohibit coordination between outside groups and campaigns or parties.
Daniel Medress, a spokesman for Democracy for America, said James Dean has not spoken with his brother about his activities at the group, which Howard Dean started in 2004. “We don’t coordinate with them,’’ Mr. Medress said of the Democratic National Committee, adding that at family dinners the Dean brothers, “sit there and make small talk, because they can’t talk about their jobs.”
Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said Howard Dean carefully follows all rules and regulations.
Brave New PAC is affiliated with California-based filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who runs several entities out of his “Brave New” office complex in Culver City; one of them, Brave New Foundation, a non-profit group that runs social issues campaigns, has as the chairman of its board Lawrence Lessig, a prominent Stanford Law School professor who has served as an informal adviser to Mr. Obama on technology policy issues.
Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, said the campaign had nothing to do with the spots and that Mr. Lessig had only advised Mr. Obama during the primaries, not in the general election. Mr. Woodhouse, the spokesman for Brave New PAC, said that Mr. Lessig is only affiliated with the Brave New Foundation, which operates in isolation from the political action committee. “There’s a fire wall there,’’ he said. “He has no relation to any of the projects we’re doing through the PAC.”
Danny Diaz, a Republican National Committee spokesman, said, “The fact that Howard Dean’s brother and an adviser to the Obama campaign are behind despicable and cheap smear ads against Senator McCain is deeply disappointing, but in no way surprising. Barack Obama has promised Americans an elevated debate offering nothing but gutter, Chicago-style politics.”
The spot opens with a photograph of Mr. McCain sporting a band aid over the scar on the left side of his face that caused by his surgery to remove the skin cancer in 2000, and the words, “John McCain is 72 and had cancer four times.”
By Amy Harder at The National Journal
John McCain has had cancer four times and would be the oldest president ever elected, yet, according to two left-leaning groups, the 72-year-old GOP nominee hasn’t been open enough with the public about his medical records.
In a new ad (subscription) scheduled to begin running nationwide Thursday, Democracy for America and Brave New PAC pairs doctors’ grim diagnosis of melanoma patients with unflattering images of McCain’s cancer scars. “The relevance of knowing the details of his course with melanoma are very important,” says Dr. Michael Frakin, a palliative care specialist from Eureka, Calif., in the ad. “Another bout of cancer for John McCain while he is president of the United States would profoundly impact his capacity to lead.” Another doctor outlines the severity of melanoma. “Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers and the chances of survival, if you have melanoma spread through your body, are very, very slim,” warns Dr. Noah Craft, a melanoma specialist from Los Angeles. The ad concludes with text on screen asking “Why won’t John McCain release his Medical Records?”
According to Democracy for America communications director Daniel Medress, the groups are pushing for McCain to release his medical records more openly and exhaustively than his campaign did in May. Medress reiterated what some in the media complained about at the time — that not enough reporters were given ample time to review the documents. “Because of all the very real medical risks that are present with John McCain, a free vibrant, press needs to be able to report these matters,” Medress said.
The McCain campaign has a policy of not commenting on third-party ads, and a spokesperson from the Republican National Committee could not be reached for comment.
The ad’s release comes fresh on the heels of a new poll that suggests McCain’s age, more so than Barack Obama’s race or Sarah Palin’s gender, could be a factor with voters. Thirty-six percent of respondents to a Harris poll released today said it would be a bad thing if someone older than 70 years were elected president — three times the number who said the same of a qualified black or female candidate.
Along with the ad, the groups have circulated a letter that more than 2,300 doctors from around the country have signed, urging McCain to offer “full, public disclosure of all his medical records.” None of the doctors have specifically examined McCain as a patient, but according to Medress, that, in “many ways, is the point.”
“This is an incredibly important issue that’s not being discussed,” Medress said. “The folks who are featured in the ad and signed on to the letter are experts in this. This is not some sort of partisan hitch-job.”