Why the Debate Over Afghanistan Makes the White House really Nervous ??

Forget health-care reform. Is President Obama on the verge of an even bigger political fight when it comes to Afghanistan? For more than a week, Obama has been weighing a classified report from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, reviewing current U.S. strategy in the region. While it’s reportedly not included in the review, McChrystal is expected to ask that additional troops be deployed to Afghanistan on top of the 62,000 U.S. soldiers already there. Not unlike the first debate over Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy this past spring, there are reportedly internal divisions at the White House over what to do in the region. For one, Vice President Joe Biden is said to have concerns about an expanding U.S. footprint in the area. But that dispute may be nothing compared to the growing opposition Obama faces from his own party about future strategy in Afghanistan.

For months, there have been rumblings among Democrats on Capitol Hill that not only would they not stomach additional troop increases for Afghanistan but, in an echo of the Iraq War debate, they were wondering why we were there at all. In June, 32 House Democrats voted against funding operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan—a small yet significant number. One big rumor that has gained more currency recently: That Dems will begin pressing for a timeline for withdrawal. Overshadowed yesterday in the hubbub of the Joe Wilson drama were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s brief comments hinting at a possible split with Obama. In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Pelosi acknowledged she hadn’t yet been briefed on the McChrystal report (which will be presented to Congress later this month) but she came out against the idea of additional soldiers. “I don’t think there’s a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress,” she said.

But it’s not just the House where Obama could have problems. Today, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin said that he opposes sending more combat troops in the Afghanistan, but would support deploying personnel to help train additional Afghan security forces. “In order to succeed in Afghanistan, we need a surge of Afghan forces …we have not done nearly enough,” Levin said. And if the shift isn’t made, he warned, “I think it’s less likely we’ll succeed in Afghanistan.” That prompted a statement from Sen. John McCain, who said that while he agreed with Levin’s point about the expanding Afghan troops, that refusing to deploy combat troops would “repeat the nearly catastrophic mistakes of Iraq.” “The lesson of Iraq … is that we make little progress by merely putting individuals through a training course and releasing them into combat,” McCain said. “It took mentorship at every level.”

That raises an interesting scenario for Obama. Should he support McChrystal and send more troops, the White House’s strongest allies on the issue will be Republicans, who despite major political differences over other issues including health care, have strongly supported Obama’s handling of the war. No doubt he'll need the backing where he can get it. Obama faces a nation that is increasingly nervous about what's going on over there. The public’s faith in Obama’s handling of Afghanistan has steadily declined since the White House unveiled its latest strategy in the spring. According to the latest Associated Press poll, Obama’s approval rating on Afghanistan sits at 46 percent, down from 60 percent in April. Forty-six percent is still a pretty high number, compared to the ratings George W. Bush got in his final year in office. But August was the deadliest month ever for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and if the casualties continue to rise with little obvious progress on the ground, Obama is in real trouble. For the record, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said a decision on troops won't be made for "many many weeks"─but that might not be a good thing for Obama. An obvious lesson from the Bush White House is that a troubled war can weigh down everything on a president's political agenda and make even easy tasks tough. And with the fate of health-care reform still in the air, that's something Obama just doesn't need.
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