Posts Tagged ‘Democratic Opposition to War in Afghanistan’

The Politics of Obama’s Troop Level Decision

November 25, 2009

Yesterday, the New York Times published an excellent article by correspondent David Sanger in which he analyzes the political implications of President Obama’s impending decision about troop levels in Afghanistan.  He observes that the president will try to satisfy many different parties, including Democrats, Republicans, NATO allies, Pakistan, the Afghan government and the American people, when he addresses the nation on Tuesday.  It has been reported that President Obama will announce his intention to deploy roughly 30,000 additional soldiers and Marines to fight the Taliban.

The president’s attempt to signal his resolve to continue the war until the mission has been completed while conveying that America’s troop commitment is not open-ended will be a difficult task, and in trying to satisfy everybody he may fail to satisfy anybody. 

Democrats will be disappointed by his decision to escalate the conflict, and Republicans will likely criticize him for not sending at least 40,000 more troops, which Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has requested.  Without setting a deadline for withdrawal, most NATO countries will not be inclinded to send more forces because of the unpopularity of the war in Europe.  By declaring that America’s will not maintain a permanent presence in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis will fear the consequences of an American pullout and continue to hedge their bets by maintaining ties with the Taliban in case the militants regain power after the US leaves.  Saying that Afghan President Hamid Karzai must curb corruption in order to insure continuing American support could alienate the leader without motivating him to act because the threat is not credible.  How the American people will be influenced by the president’s speech is uncertain; a slim majority oppose continuing the war, but calls to “support the troops” and help them complete their mission have an emotional resonance.

Escalation in Afghanistan?

September 3, 2009

In recent weeks, military commanders in Afghanistan have told the Obama administration that they do not have enough troops to succeed in their mission in Afghanistan (it is unclear how many more will be needed).  The new American strategy there is to focus on protecting Afghan villages and towns from Taliban insurgents, which is more manpower-intensive than search-and-destroy operations.  The Obama administration is now weighing whether to significantly increase troop levels, which currently stand at 70,000.

One political problem confronting President Obama is the decrease in public support for the war effort at home and abroad.  In a CBS News poll released earlier this week, 75 percent of those polled opposed sending more soldiers to Afghanistan, while 41 percent wanted some or all of the troops withdrawn (in 2001, 90 percent of Americans supported the decision to go to war there).  Liberal Democrats in Congress are also expressing a desire to end the war soon, although Democratic leaders still support the president’s policies.

Republican leaders also support the war effort, including Sen. John McCain, Sen. Lindsay Graham and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, and have indicated that they would continue to support it even if more troops were required.

European allies in NATO may soon withdraw their forces from Afghanistan in response to strong opposition from their constituents for continuing the war.  If that happens, more US soldiers may be required to fill the void.

It is unlikely that the Obama administration will scale down the American military commitment in Afghanistan anytime soon.  The president has consistently said that the mission there is vital to America’s national security and the US cannot allow the country to become a safe haven for Al Qaeda.  Domestic support for the war effort has not eroded completely (a slim majority are still in favor of it), so the Obama administration has some time to try to turn things around.  But it is unlikely that the Taliban will be subdued in the next few years, and if there is still a large American military presence in Afghanistan three years from now it could threaten Obama’s chances for reelection, in which case the president will have to decide if the war is important enough to risk his political future on its continuation.