Will Afghanistan be a Major Issue in the 2012 Campaign?

The Iraq war was a major political issue in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 campaigns, and it was the key difference which catapulted Barack Obama to victory in the Democratic primaries. The situation last November was far different.  Despite almost a decade of conflict, Afghanistan was hardly mentioned in the 2010 campaign. That could change in 2012.
Democrats will definitely renominate President Obama, but he could receive a significant challenge from his party’s left wing if he backs down on his promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July. In 2009, Obama hosted a meeting of the House Progressive Caucus at the White House, and heard vigorous opposition to his Afghan surge. The tone of the lawmakers had completely changed from a year earlier.
When Bush was in office, the Progressive Caucus said the real war was in Afghanistan, not Iraq. As soon as the U.S. combat role ended in Iraq, they shifted their opposition to the Afghan war and Obama’s troop surge. The President told the House liberals, Afghanistan is “a war of necessity, not of choice.”
Liberals had the power to derail Obama’s troop increase in the last Congress, but they did not do it because he promised them withdrawals would begin in July of 2011. Former Sen. Russell Feingold’s (D-WI) bill to set a withdrawal deadline was not even considered, and the ferocious and highly vocal antiwar movement disappeared in 2009.

There are now signs from Democrats and libertarian liberals that the antiwar advocates could be coming back:

  • Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), the outgoing Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, says the war is “an epic failure, a national embarrassment and a moral blight on our nation.” 
  • Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) says the President has to reassess his strategy.
  • Moveon.org has been contacting its five million members to demand troop withdrawals stay on schedule. They do not want any hesitancy regarding Obama’s exit strategy.
  • Liberal activist Michael Moore says the President needs to “stop the madness. . . A hundred thousand troops trying to crush a hundred al-Qaeda guys living in caves? Are you serious? Have you drunk Bush’s Kool-Aid? I refuse to believe it.”
  • Arianna Huffington calls Afghanistan “the gold standard of a dumb war, immoral and unnecessary.”
  • Former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) says the President has to recognize “the immorality of war and foreign occupation. . . The right direction is not in. It’s out.” He says Obama has not delivered for anti-war voters, “If you want people to support you, then you have to support them. You have to think long about what you did for people who voted for you.”
  • Isolationist Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) calls Afghanistan “A totally failed policy.”

Troop levels have now reached 97,000. Democrats bitterly opposed Bush’s successful 2007 Iraq surge, which turned the tide in that conflict. Except for Ron Paul and his few allies, the GOP has supported Obama’s Afghan surge.  The major backers of the surge are Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The leading opponents are Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. Biden says the US will be out of Afghanistan by 2014, “come hell or high water.”
There have been positive developments, and roadside bombings are down. The surge and the new resources have made a difference. Major sections of the country are peaceful. British troops are stationed in Helmand, and Prime Minister David Cameron says so much progress has been made that his forces should ready to pull out this year.
The war however is far from over, and 2011 is expected to be a major year of combat. The situation is going to get worse before it gets better. U.S. casualties have already increased significantly. No one is claiming victory is a year away, but we are moving in the right direction.
Afghanistan is usually quite in the winter, but when the snow melts, the Taliban and al Qaeda forces will once again cross the border from Pakistan. Progress in the war has always been difficult because Pakistan continues to give the Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuary in North Wiziristan. Most of the U.S. troops are being deployed to Helmand Province and the neighboring city of Kandahar, where the Taliban was born.
The Afghan security forces are scheduled to take over at the end of 2014, but the coming year will be crucial.  American forces will be on the offensive and casualties will certainly increase. The GOP is not going to abandon the Afghan mission, but the coming months could well see a reawakening of the liberal activists.
The Afghan security forces are scheduled to take over at the end of 2014, but the coming year will be crucial.  American forces will be on the offensive and casualties will certainly increase. The GOP is not going to abandon the Afghan mission, but the coming months could well see a reawakening of the liberal activists.

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