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
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
"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
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
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
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."