Democrats and progressives frustrated over Obama’s Afghanistan policy

Chris Moody Contributor
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An increased sense of frustration over the war in Afghanistan appears to be building among Capitol Hill Democrats — creating a force some suggest could have political consequences for President Obama, who has drastically increased troop levels in Afghanistan since his inauguration while reducing them in Iraq.

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell said it was reasonable to predict that an anti-war Democrat could pose a primary challenge to Obama in 2012 if the war in Afghanistan is not drawn down quickly enough.

“[A primary challenge] is really possible,” Rendell said Tuesday. “It depends on how far [the war] deteriorates.”

While a Rendell spokesmen told The Daily Caller he was referring to “perhaps just a fringe left candidate” and not a serious contender, his statements, combined with other recent events surrounding the war, reveal that the progressive wing of the Party is growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the effort.

In a House vote last week, 102 Democrats voted against a bill that included $33 billion in funding for the war in Afghanistan. Although the bill passed by a margin of 308-114, the high number of Democrats who voted against it suggests that patience for the war could be growing thin within the Party. One year ago, just 32 Democrats voted against a supplemental bill to pay for the war.

“I think the White House continues to underestimate the depth of anti-war sentiment here,” said Massachusetts Democrat Rep. James McGovern after the vote Tuesday.

Others have been less subtle about the political impact of the escalating war.

“I think that this war, if it goes on and if it escalates, has the potential to destroy this presidency and to destroy the Democratic majorities in Congress,” New York Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler told the online news site Raw Story in an interview in July.

California Democrat Rep. Lynn Woolsey, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called the war “fiscally unsustainable and morally unjustifiable.”

The sentiment does not stop at the House. Appearing on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” Sunday, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry said he would try to block any further troop increases in the region.

“I don’t think troops are the answer,” said Kerry, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The answer is a political resolution. And that political resolution has to come about by engaging to a greater degree with India, with Pakistan itself.”

Impatience with the White House among progressives and others who oppose the war has been brewing since the 2009 supplemental funding bill passed with wide Democratic support, but some leading progressives who have followed the war effort say those on the anti-war left will most likely stop short of primary challenging Obama over the issue.

“I don’t think there will be a candidate to run against Obama on Afghanistan,” said Robert Greenwald, president of Brave New Films/Foundation, which has released a documentary that criticizes how the war in Afghanistan has been carried out. “It’s hurting the president, but I don’t see someone emerging.”
It is also unclear whether foreign affairs will resonate as a top campaign issue in 2010 or 2012. The economy and jobs continually rank high in polls as top issues for most Americans, according to numerous studies from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which tracks American sentiment.

“It has the potential to be a big issue for the president in 2012, but it’s too early to tell where we’ll be by then,” said Darcy Burner, executive director of the Progressive Congress Action Fund.

Any electoral challenge to President Obama over Afghanistan, said Firedoglake.com founder Jane Hamsher, will probably come from Republicans, not Democrats.

“I think if Obama faces a challenge of the war it will be from the right,” Hamsher said. “[Democrats] always seem to disappear when it matters.”

Despite the concern from the liberal wing of the Party, movement toward enhanced involvement in Afghanistan does not appear to be slowing. Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated the notion that the United States has a long future in the region and that 2011 will only be the beginning of a long process toward drawing down American troop presence.

“July 2011 is not the end. It is the beginning of a transition,” Gates told ABC host Christiane Amanpour. “Drawdowns early on will be of fairly limited numbers.”

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