Afghanistan Deteriorates, Shifting Obama's Support

Conservatives rally as liberals decry Obama's commitment in Afghanistan.

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As Afghanistan deteriorates (see The New York Times reports on Marines fighting without Afghan support and U.S. military leaders seeking a troop increase), so does President Obama's support for the war among liberals and, to a lesser degree, moderates. However, his commitment there has drawn strong encouragement from otherwise critical conservatives. In the midst of the increasingly partisan health care fight, this stark inverse of Obama's supporters in Afghanistan demonstrates that neither the loyalty of liberals nor the opposition of conservatives are absolute.

  • Liberal Defection  Liberals, skeptical of Obama's involvement in Afghanistan even before he was elected, are calling more vigorously for withdrawal. With news of the situation worsening, that criticism appears to be nearing a boiling point.

    A blogger for Talk Left lamented, "Can't we just finish the reconstruction work we promised them from our 2001 invasion and go home?" Mother Jones' Kevin Drum suggested the American mission is unlikely to succeed. "U.S. commanders say they understand that they have only 12-18 months to turn things around," he wrote. "Someone needs to explain to me how that's going to happen. Anything even remotely plausible will do for a start. Because I sure don't see it." David Corn reported that congressional progressives are faltering as well: "Already, liberal Democrats in Congress and others are asking, what exactly are we doing there?"
  • Conservative Support  Meanwhile, conservatives are redoubling and reiterating their support for the Afghan war, pushing Obama to consider it an issue of national security and to put the domestic agenda on pause if need be. While the suggestion that Obama shelve health care is likely as much about health care as it is Afghanistan, conservative calls for extending military commitment seem apolitical given that some of Obama's harshest critics are putting aside criticism in making their case.

    A Washington Times editorial argued Afghanistan is "worth the fight" and an issue of national security, urging Obama to stick to his early commitment there. Hugh Hewitt encouraged Obama to stay the course, trust his advisers, and not lose faith. "Take the advice of the Pentagon leadership and if the advice is unpopular with voters, do your best to explain the policy and encourage support," he wrote. National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote, simply, "It's Docs or Afghanistan," suggesting health care reform distracts from the war.
  • Moderate Skepticism  Skepticism on the likelihood for American success is running high, but commentators are maintaining, if hesitantly, their support for the war and Obama's agenda there. The moderate consensus, it seems, is that even if we are struggling in Afghanistan, American involvement still has a chance to do some good, and we should hold off judgment for now.

    Time's Joe Klein called this weekend's news "a serious dent in the hope that the same sort of counter-insurgency tactics that worked in Iraq will work in Afghanistan." Spencer Ackerman countered liberal criticism of the war, pointing out that Obama always made clear our involvement would be difficult and "to expect mistake." Jason Zengerle of the New Republic defended Obama from the idea that Afghanistan would define his legacy as his Vietnam. "It's quite possible, maybe even likely, that the defining issue/event of the Obama administration has yet to even occur," he noted. "After all, it was just eight years ago this time that it looked like stem cell research might be the defining issue of the Bush era."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.