Obama Vulnerable in 2012
There is now so much room to the left of Barack Obama, it is becoming increasingly possible that some Democrat will challenge him in 2012.
Whether it's anger from what the White House dismisses as "the professional left" or anger from the amateur left, there is a lot of anger out there.
It is directed against President Obama for first giving up on the public option in his health care reform plan and now rewarding the wealthy with tax breaks.
Those who say they currently have no interest in running against Obama — Russ Feingold and Howard Dean to name two — could change their minds if polls show Obama losing to Republican challengers. (A Quinnipiac Poll last month showed Mitt Romney edging Obama by a single percentage point in a hypothetical 2012 race.)
The excuse for a Democrat running against a sitting Democratic president in the primaries goes like this: "If President Obama can't beat the likely Republican nominee, the Democratic Party has a duty to nominate someone who can."
And while much can be unlikely in politics, nothing is impossible.
Those who believe Obama is invulnerable because of his absolute grip on the African-American vote should at least consider what Clarence B. Jones, scholar in residence at the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, wrote in The Huffington Post on Dec. 5: "It is not easy to consider challenging the first African-American to be elected as president of the United States. But, regrettably, I believe that the time has come to do this. You don't have to be a rocket scientist nor have a Ph.D. in political science and sociology to see clearly that Obama has abandoned much of the base that elected him."
I doubt Jones currently represents the mainstream of the black community, but don't forget that the 2012 primaries will start (probably) in Iowa and New Hampshire, where there are very few black voters and where support from Obama will have to come from elsewhere.
Obama lost New Hampshire in the 2008 primaries but was able to recover. You can imagine, however, the panic that would break out both in the White House and the party if Obama lost New Hampshire in 2012.
When Gene McCarthy got 42 percent of the vote in New Hampshire in 1968 to incumbent President Lyndon Johnson's 49 percent, it was enough to end Johnson's presidency. McCarthy's issue? "I am concerned," he said, "that the administration seems to have set no limit to the price it is willing to pay for a military victory."
McCarthy was talking about Vietnam, but some Democrat might apply those same words to Afghanistan, which has become America's longest war.
The war in Afghanistan was a non-issue in November's congressional elections. Obama is for it, the Republicans are for it, and Congress continues to pay for it with barely a murmur. (The Afghanistan war cost us about $105 billion in fiscal 2010 and is projected to cost us $117 billion in fiscal 2011.)
Unlike Vietnam, we had good reason to go into Afghanistan. The Sept. 11 attacks were plotted by al-Qaida there. But now, having virtually destroyed al-Qaida in Afghanistan, we have come up with new reasons for staying: building democracy, establishing human rights and providing equal opportunity for all.
Essential to these grandiose plans is Pakistan, which receives billions of dollars in aid from America, but which continues to offer sanctuary to those who kill our soldiers, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is corrupt and possibly mentally disturbed.
Even if we eventually abandon the loftiest of our goals, President Obama says we must stay in Afghanistan until the Afghans can field an army that can fight on its own.
This seems odd. Historically, the Afghans have fielded fierce fighters, capable of defeating enemies as powerful as the Soviet Union. What happened to these warriors?
As a foreign diplomat told me, "The Americans have taken one of the best fighting forces in the world and transformed it into one of the worst armies in the world."
Which would be very funny if it were not so true.
At the end of 2009, Obama set July 2011 as the start of the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. But our military has never quite seemed on board with that.
Gen. David Petraeus, commander of our forces in Afghanistan, said on "Meet the Press With David Gregory" on Aug. 15: "The president has been clear ... this is the date when the process begins which is conditions-based. As conditions permit, we transition to our Afghan counterparts in the security forces and government, and that allows a responsible draw-down of our forces."
As conditions permit.
Some now believe the significant draw-down date will be in 2014, which is when NATO predicts the Afghan army can take over. Or maybe not. As Petraeus recently told ABC News: "I don't think there are any sure things in this kind of endeavor. And I wouldn't be honest with you and with the viewers if I didn't convey that."
Consider it conveyed. So we won't be out of Afghanistan in 2011, and we may not be entirely out even by 2014. And there may be at least one liberal Democratic politician out there who considers this both unacceptable and an issue to run on in 2012.
On Thursday, President Obama updated the American people on both the progress and challenges of the Afghan war. He confirmed 2011 as the start of our withdrawal, but, as the generals say, there are no "sure things."
Which is true about politics also.
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