When making decisions about war and peace, the commander-in-chief needs to take politics into consideration. But the political question when opting for war is whether the American people will support the effort over time. It isn’t a partisan political consideration, but a sober assessment of how the mission stacks up against the likely mood of the electorate. Yet, as Politico points out, Obama is in a unique position. His political base was forged out of the most anti-war elements of the electorate. He made his way by distinguishing himself from candidates like Clinton, Edwards, Dodd, and Biden who had voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq.
Obama was always careful to note that he didn’t oppose all wars, only stupid ones. And, as he campaigned, he was consistent in saying that we needed to be focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, not the sideshow in Iraq. But his supporters were less interested in his rhetoric about refocusing on Afghanistan than about his call to get our troops out of Iraq. As a group, Obama’s core supporters are temperamentally opposed to escalating our troop levels anywhere.
That means that a decision to send more troops to Afghanistan is going to be met with the most resistance from Obama’s greatest source of strength– the movement he built for his campaign. It will be a demoralizing blow even if he explains it well and appears to have a solid exit strategy. And Obama doesn’t operate in a vacuum. His base has the most overlap with Congressional Democrats’ base. If his base is demoralized, so too will be the overall Democratic base.
That is why Obama can expect a lot of resistance when it comes time to appropriate funds for the troop increase. He will not get the money without a lot of complaining and ass-covering from Congress. It may prove to be the first time that Obama gets a truly bipartisan coalition to pass anything, and it will definitely cause a lot of bad feelings among Democrats on the Hill and all across the country.
Considering the political peril involved, it must be Obama’s considered opinion that he has a strategy that will not only work but that addresses a critical problem that cannot be avoided.
As a member of Obama’s base, I remain deeply skeptical that we can accomplish realistic goals in Afghanistan and I worry very much about the political damage a troop increase may do to Obama and to the Democratic Party. But I am at least willing to wait until he delivers his speech on this matter on Tuesday before I make any firm decisions about what I can support. I am nervous about it, because I’m not sure that there is a solution, nor that he has figured out a plan that makes more sense than folding our hand and withdrawing. But he deserves a chance to make his case.