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Do Democrats Want Obama to Be Another 'War President'?

Do Democrats Want Obama to Be Another 'War President'?

By Mort Kondracke - August 5, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) clearly did not get a "bump" -- or a "dump" -- from his overseas trip. What his supporters may not have focused on is that he means to be, like George Bush, another American wartime president.

"This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan," he said in his Berlin speech. "No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan.

"But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO's first mission beyond Europe's borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done."

He's right, of course. The "central front" in the war on terrorism -- along with platoons of terrorists, intelligence agencies report -- has moved back from Iraq to Afghanistan and the border areas of Pakistan.

But Obama -- and his fellow Democrats, especially -- may not appreciate how difficult a task it will be to "rout the terrorists ... and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets."

If the going gets rough in Afghanistan, will a party that wanted to pull out of the Iraq "quagmire" at the first sign of trouble really back President Obama as he wages war, or will Democrats fracture as they did over the Vietnam War 40 years ago?

A Gallup Poll last week showed signs of potential trouble. While Americans generally believe -- by a margin of 68 percent to 28 percent -- that it was correct for the U.S. to send troops to Afghanistan, a full 41 percent of Democrats believe it was a mistake.

Only 55 percent of Democrats believe it was a correct move, as compared with 88 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Independents.

Almost certainly, Democrats will heavily dominate Congress next year. They -- and Obama, too -- have extensive domestic priorities to meet and will face a huge budget deficit at the outset. Will they want another war to dominate their agenda?

It's not clear how Obama means to "rout" the terrorists. Certainly, the 10,000 U.S. troops he wants to add to NATO's current total of 62,000 (including 32,000 U.S.) will not be enough to control Afghanistan, which even 120,000 Soviet troops could not do.

Moreover, Obama's determination to continue Bush's "war" on terror conflicts with liberal Democratic notions -- backed up by a RAND study this week -- that the anti-terror effort should be conducted less on a military basis and more with intelligence "soft power" and police work.

Winning in Afghanistan will require destroying the poppy and hashish crops that earn the Taliban about $8 billion a year. The Bush administration has been reluctant to use aggressive eradication methods that have succeeded in Colombia for fear of offending Afghans.

And difficulty in Afghanistan is compounded by the fact that Taliban fighters have a safe haven in Pakistan even freer (so far) from U.S. attack than the North Vietnamese had in the 1960s and 1970s.

Obama from time to time has said he would be even more aggressive about striking at terrorist targets in Pakistan than Bush has been -- presenting a touchy "sovereignty" issue with the new democratic government in Islamabad.

And now it's public -- thanks to two massive CIA leaks to the New York Times -- that units of Pakistan's own intelligence service, the ISI, are heavily involved in helping the Taliban direct attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The next shoe to drop is a CIA leak that the ISI also was involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last year. The Bush administration briefed Pakistan's new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, about that during his visit to Washington, D.C., last week.

Obama made it clear in Berlin that he wants Europe to provide more troops and more aid than it has so far. That seemed to be one aspect of his expansive message that was not immediately cheered in Germany, which is reluctant to see its troops in combat.

Obama left on his trip to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe with the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing that he was trailing Sen. John McCain as a potential commander in chief by 53 percent to 25 percent and as a "strong leader" by 42 percent to 31 percent.

His dazzling performances did nothing to increase his slim lead in popular vote polls. Mistake-free though his tour was -- and remarkable, as a presidential-style logistical exercise pulled off without White House infrastructure -- he got no "bounce."

In fact, the rap on his trip became that he was too "grandiose," especially in comparing himself to Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, previous stars in Berlin, and declaring he was in Berlin as "a citizen of the world."

Less remarked on was the huge foreign policy agenda Obama put forth -- including controlling "loose nukes," expanding foreign aid, stopping genocide in Darfur and halting global warming. Democrats generally cheer those aims, but will they support a big new war?

Mort Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill since 1955. © 2007 Roll Call, Inc.

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