Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy Won’t Work
Listen to this segment | the entire program
On Friday, President Barack Obama outlined his administration’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan calling the situation there “perilous.” In a White House address before an audience of troops and diplomats heading for Afghanistan, Obama unequivocally defined the goal of the U.S. as “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and prevent their return to either country in the future.” Warning that the terrorist group was still planning attacks on the U.S. from a haven situated along the border between the two countries, President Obama announced that 4,000 more troops will be sent to Afghanistan in addition to the long-proposed 17,000 troop surge. Their stated objective will be to train and double the size of the Afghan police and army forces. Obama’s speech switching the military focus away from Iraq to Afghanistan prompted numerous and immediate responses. Amid allegations of corruption in his government, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Obama’s strategy “will bring Afghanistan and the international community closer to success.” Not everyone has such optimism, however. Former Democratic Congressman Tom Andrews now National Director of Win Without War, stated that the new course for the U.S. in Afghanistan “takes a significant step toward a perilous quagmire.”
GUESTS: David Harris, former editor at the New York Times Magazine and Rolling Stone, author of severl books including “The Crisis: The President, the Prophet and the Shah — 1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam.” Robert Greenwald, documentary producer, director and founder of Brave New Films
Learn more at www.rethinkafghanistan.com.
Does Obama Have A Strategy for Victory in Afghanistan?
President Obama wants to dial down in Iraq and up the ante in Afghanistan. His plan to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan is meeting increasing resistance from his liberal supporters at home and skepticism from some allies. Is there a better strategy? What alternatives has the President considered? What is the military objective? What is the exit strategy? Does history prove that Afghanistan cannot be tamed? Lawrence O’Donnell guest hosts. Also, the administration calls for expanded oversight power of financial system, and how some of California’s homeless became TV talk show celebrities.
Released on Web, a Film Stays Fresh
By Brian Stelter at New York Times
The activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald has tried for years to speed up the production process for his documentaries. Now, he says, he is creating one he can release almost immediately, in stages.
Mr. Greenwald is showing “Rethink Afghanistan,” a skeptical view of America’s war strategies, in five parts on the Internet, with the implied hope that it will contribute to the foreign policy debate. With the first two parts of the film already online, he arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday to conduct more interviews for what he calls his first “real-time documentary.”
Mr. Greenwald is well known in some progressive circles for his films about war profiteers, Wal-Mart’s corporate practices, and the Fox News Channel. His company, Brave New Films, uses documentary expertise to mount political campaigns, including a YouTube series last year about John McCain and what the company called “the politics of hate.”
Obama on Tricky Ground with Afghan Strategy
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.
Afghanistan Hearings Not Escalation
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.”
Backers Take Obama to Task on Troop Surge
By Joe Garofoli at SF Chronicle
On Thursday, liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald – whose anti-McCain viral videos helped shape the campaign narrative in Obama’s favor – released the first of a series of documentary online videos (www.bravenewfilms .org) that urge Americans to rethink Afghanistan and has called for congressional hearings on the surge. Historian-activist Howard Zinn, a liberal eminence grise, called Obama’s plan to send 17,000 additional troops there “disastrous.”
Obama is expected to announce a 19-month withdrawal Iraq plan today that would leave behind as many as 50,000 of the 142,000 troops currently there, even after August 2010. On the campaign trail, Obama promised that troops would be out of Iraq in 16 months, but compromised after his military commanders suggested a 23-month timetable.
Rethinking Iraq troops
Soon after Obama’s Iraq plan leaked, he began getting objections from the left. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she didn’t see any justification for 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq. Usually supportive MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow said this week that Obama’s plan “looks very much more like a Bush plan than it did like a Barack Obama-the-campaigner plan.”
They are the latest to emerge from the liberal group hug that has embraced Obama since he secured the Democratic nomination last year to now criticize him. While the president has long expressed a desire to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq while bolstering forces in Afghanistan, liberal critics are challenging a president who encourages debate on every issue.
“I don’t expect to agree with my wife on everything let alone with the president of the United States,” Greenwald said Thursday. Noting that many major social movements – like those supporting women and civil rights – sprang up outside the political establishment, he said: “It is critical to build a movement that is not part of the Democratic Party.”
Others are poking at Obama’s military budget, released Thursday. As a candidate, he called for revising military priorities, but his budget proposal includes a $534 billion request for the Pentagon – or $20 billion more than Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2009, said Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank.
If the administration is planning to pull troops out of Iraq, “then what are we spending that money on?” asked Pemberton, who specializes in military affairs. “We’re here to loyally support the administration and keep (Obama) honest and pointed in a direction where we think his heart wants to go.”
Pelosi doubts Iraq numbers
Pelosi questioned what the 50,000 troops would be doing in Iraq, telling MSNBC that a little more than a third, 15,000 or 20,000, would be sufficient.
Two-thirds of respondents to a Washington Post/ABC News survey released Thursday support Obama’s proposed Afghanistan troop surge. Sixty percent said the costs of the Iraq war have outweighed its benefits.
Lieberman, Then and Now
By Kate Phillips at the New York Times
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.
Let Lieberman Live
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.