Could Obama Face 2012 Primary Challenge Over Afghanistan?

If he alienates the liberal base, they could threaten his re-election

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President Obama's decision to ramp up U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan by 30,000 while setting a July 2011 goal for draw-down has not been popular. His decisions have especially inflamed the left, with even Congressional Democrats offering tepid support or outright opposition. Two pundits raise concerns that if the war effort goes poorly, further eroding support among liberals, Obama could become vulnerable to challenge in the 2012 Democratic primary. It might sound outlandish today, but could it happen in 2012?

  • If Obama Fails To Withdraw Nate Silver projects an angry liberal base. "If nothing much has changed in Afghanistan and our troops aren't getting out 20 months hence, we can presumably expect some major blowback, especially from liberals -- a primary challenge from Obama's left flank would not be entirely out of the question," he writes. "Politically, this seems very risky."
  • But If Withdrawal Goes Well The New Yorker's Steve Coll wonders if the July 2011 draw-down date will protect Obama. "Who knows what kind of reĆ«lection campaign President Obama might face in 2012? If things are truly awful, he might even face a significant primary challenger. An advantage of marking July 2011 now is that it provides the President the greatest flexibility of decision-making about Afghanistan and campaign narrative-writing alike."
  • Timetable Offers Protection Foreign Policy's Peter Feaver suspects that Obama's target date of July 2011 is meant to guard against a primary challenge. "The president talked about timelines, but I do not think he tied himself to the mast. He didn't specify a date certain by which time he would "end" the war; instead, he identified a target for when he would begin to roll back his surge. That target was far enough into the future to allow him ample wiggle room yet, conveniently for the 2012 election, early enough to perhaps head of a primary challenge from a hard-left anti-war candidate."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.