Even before President Obama formally announces his plan to surge more than 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan, Democrats who want to win elections are campaigning against it.
The next big election for Democrats is the Massachusetts primary organized to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy.
The leading candidates in next Tuesday’s primary are scrambling to appeal to the party’s base voters in a state that gave overwhelming support to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
In fact, they are doing the opposite.
Congressman Mike Capuano, who has attracted the support of anti-war activists in groups such as Progressive Democrats of America, is up on television with a commercial that trumpets his anti-war stance.
In it, the congressman recalls his vote against authorizing the war in Iraq and then says: “Now there’s a call for more troops in Afghanistan, but the questions remain: What’s our mission? How do we define success? And what’s our exit strategy? Without the right answers to those questions, I will never vote to send more of our sons and daughters to war. Never!”
Noting that the mission seems to be shifting from tackling terrorism to a vague mix of defensive fights with the Taliban and nation building, Capuano says: “It’s about to turn into somehow bringing democracy to Afghanistan, somehow protecting a corrupt regime. And I don’t understand why that mission is good. It wasn’t good in Iraq, it won’t be good in Afghanistan, it won’t be good in any place in this world.
“Al Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan,” Capuano argues, correctly. “(If) we stay there, we are fighting yesterday’s war. We should go where Al Qaeda is, chase them around the world, not where they were yesterday.”
So does that mean that Capuano has staked out the anti-war turf in the primary to replace Kennedy.
Actually, he’s got a lot of company.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who leads in most polls as the December 8 vote approaches, says she is opposed to sending more troops to Afghanistan. And Coakley goes a step further, declaring that, “I believe we should begin the process of bringing our troops home.”
Community organizer and activist Alan Khazei, who just picked up a warm endorsement from the Boston Globe newspaper, says that will “absolutely not” support sending more troops.
The friendliest words for Obama come from the most conservative candidate in the field, businessman and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca — a George W. Bush campaign donor who has switched allegiances — says “let’s listen to (Obama’s) plan and then criticize it.”
That is not exactly a ringing endorsement.
So is this just a Massachusetts thing?
Democrats in serious contests across the country are distancing themselves from Obama’s misguided strategy. Some are sitting senators, such as Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold. Others are top competitors in key contests, such as Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
Brunner, who is campaigning in a 2010 Democratic primary for her state’s open U.S. Senate seat, just penned an opinion piece in which she declares that: “At the risk of being called a naysayer… I believe the costs are too great — in human lives and economic resources — to continue along the current path. It is clear to me that America must set a timetable for bringing our troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible.”
The impact of this conflict on the United States, and my home state of Ohio, is unacceptable. As the cost to American and Ohioans’ lives increases, billions are spent each month on the conflict in Afghanistan, ballooning our national debt and diverting resources we desperately need here at home.
So far, of the 4367 military deaths in Iraq and 928 military deaths in Afghanistan, Ohio has sacrificed more than 200 lives in military deaths and $33 billion to fund wars on these fronts — priceless loss to Ohio’s future and $33 billion from a state with unemployment exceeding 10 percent. Looking just at the dollars, had we invested these funds, Ohio could have funded roughly 6 million Pell Grants, or hired a half million elementary school teachers or provided completely free health care for one year for every woman, man and child in the state.
Given the increasing death toll in Afghanistan, it is clear that progress in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban has slowed or worsened. We cannot remedy this by simply sending additional troops, given the conditions and corruption in Afghanistan.
With regard to foreign and domestic policy, Brunner’s assessment is a wise one, which parallels those of Afghan and American observers who have paid serious attention to the conflict.
But it is also wise from a political standpoint.
Polls suggest that base Democratic voters, the folks who cast the ballots in party primaries, still respect Barack Obama as an individual and support his positions on a variety of issues.
But they are not inclined to back the president when he expands what Brunner correctly notes is “a war he — and our nation — inherited from former President George W. Bush.”
Recalling Bush’s mistakes and misdeeds, the Ohio candidates makes a case that party activists are likely to embrace: “Eight years and nearly a trillion dollars of our tax money-gone. More than 5,200 American lives-also gone. It’s time to say, ‘Enough.’ It’s time to employ more than military and mercantile strategies in Afghanistan and set a timetable to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.”