Thursday, November 12, 2009


Garry Wills makes a bizarre assertion in the current New York Review of Books:

I am told by people I respect that Barack Obama cannot pull out of both Iraq and Afghanistan without becoming a one-term president. I think that may be true. The charges from various quarters would be toxic -- that he was weak, unpatriotic, sacrificing the sacrifices that have been made, betraying our dead, throwing away all former investments in lives and treasure. All that would indeed be brought against him, and he could have little defense in the quarters where such charges would originate.

Wills is an ex-National Review righty, so I assume these people he respects are from that side of the fence, though he doesn't seem the type to listen to wingnut mountebanks and professional division-sowers. So these friends of his are probably sincere. Nevertheless, I think they're nuts. (Wills, for his part, urges Obama to pull out nonetheless.)

Nor do I agree with David Corn:

... one thing's for sure: Afghanistan is a political minefield for Obama.

No, it isn't. Oh, sure -- reports that he's rejected all his advisers' proposals have right-wingers declaring with one voice (not that they ever speak any other way) that he's still "dithering." But the broader public is so focused on bread-and-butter issues -- and just so used to futile war -- that whatever Obama does or doesn't do is (except for those who hate him for every possible reason) just likely to be shrugged off.

Let me put that another way: most Americans seem to have just resigned themselves to the fact that we're going to be dealing with intractable Iraq and Afghanistan situations forever, just the way that we've resigned ourselves to the fact that Detroit is always going to be a depressed city built on a permanently incompetent U.S. auto industry, or to high cable bills or crappy service at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Yes, I'm speaking as someone who was never in the military and who doesn't know people my age or younger who've fought -- but in the societal groups in which military service is common, frustration with the wars seems to be tempered by an eagerness to serve; many of these people (and their relatives and neighbors) don't seem to want to be deprived of the chance to fight futile wars.

Afghanistan is one of those issues that political insiders think is volatile because it's near the top of their agenda, and because it elicits relatively strong opinions from voters -- when they're asked. This doesn't mean that it actually is a burning issue for voters. (I happen to believe that health care is another issue like this, although it's moved up in voters' minds recently because pro- and anti-Obama forces have made it a burning issue, as a proxy for their feelings about the Obama presidency as a whole. It's still not nearly as important to voters as the economy, however.)

Look at the latest Pew poll. Since July, opinion about Obama's Afghanistan policy has gone from positive by 14 points to negative by 13 points -- and yet his overall approval rating has dropped by just 3 points in that time. Lefties oppose escalation, righties detect appeasement -- and yet, overall, Afghanistan isn't moving the needle. That's because the war -- both wars -- have just become background noise we've learned to tolerate.

Oh, sure, if Obama withdraws from Aghanistan as well as Iraq and there's subsequent terrorism aimed at America or U.S. interests, he'll be attacked by the right -- but he could send 100,000 more troops overseas, nuke Iran, and endorse not just waterboarding but the rack and thumbscrews and the right will still regard him as an appeaser.

Hell, the right can't even muster the energy to attack him on Iraq, where we actually do have a policy of (slow) withdrawal -- there's been a great deal of violence there, and yet Glenn Beck would still rather concentrate on searching for mid-level White House appointees who might have written "Yes, how true!" in the margin of Lenin's State and Revolution at the age of nineteen than devote much time to foreign policy, even if it might give him another stick he can beat Obama with.

So I don't expect whatever Obama does in Afghanistan to have a great political impact. Most of America just isn't looking overseas.

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