Obama's Afghanistan strategy gets warm reception

So far, most reactions to the president's announcement have been positive -- even Bill Kristol likes it.

Published March 27, 2009 5:00PM (EDT)

It's not every day that you see congressional Democrats, liberals and leading neo-conservatives in agreement on military strategy. For the most part, though, that's what's happened Friday, when President Obama announced his administration's new strategy for Afghanistan.

Perhaps most notable was the very enthusiastic reaction from the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol. Kristol's no Obama fan, but according to the magazine's Michael Goldfarb, he likes this much. In a blog post, Goldfarb wrote that Kristol, "said he would have framed a few things differently, but his basic response was: 'All hail Obama!'"

Similarly, Robert Kagan, who with Kristol co-founded the Project for a New American Century, wrote for the Washington Post that Obama had made "a gutsy and correct decision." Kagan called the new strategy "evidence that the president is pragmatic in the best sense of the word," adding, "He and his key advisers, such as Richard Holbrooke, understand that better and more effective government in Afghanistan is a key to the successful defense of American security... President Obama recognizes in Afghanistan what the previous administration only belatedly recognized in Iraq: that the only way out is forward."

Democrats in Congress, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, have also praised Obama's decision. So did Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, though he added one caveat, saying, "I am concerned that the new strategy may still be overly Afghan-centric when it needs to be even more regional... [T]he proposed military escalation in Afghanistan, without an adequate strategy in Pakistan, could make the situation worse, not better." (That statement may have been written a little early, as the plan does involve an increased focus on Pakistan, and much of Obama's speech dealt with that country.)

The more anti-war segments of the left will probably dislike the plan, but in the blogosphere at least a couple liberals liked the plan -- not surprising, since for the most part Obama's increased focus on Afghanistan over Iraq reflects a longstanding liberal criticism of the Bush administration's policies. On his blog, Matt Yglesias wrote in favor of the administration's new benchmarks for measuring progress in Afghanistan and the increased regional focus, and dismissed concerns about the increased number of U.S. troops involved, noting the total number is still small in comparison to the size of the force in Iraq. And Time's Joe Klein wrote, "Taken together, this is a sober, well-reasoned policy. I hope it works."

There is some criticism out there, of course. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan was one of those casting a skeptical eye on the strategy. "[P]acifying that entire region -- the region that defeated the British and the Soviets -- is a gargantuan task whose costs do not seem to me outweighed by the obvious security benefits. As long as we can prevent terrorist bases forming that could target the US mainland, I do not see a reason for this kind of human and institutional enmeshment," Sullivan wrote. He added, "I do not believe that Iraq is as stable as some optimists do, and fear that we will not be able to get out as cleanly as the president currently envisages. To be trapped more deeply in both places in a year's time seems Bush-like folly to me."

Update: As predicted, anti-war groups are not happy about the announcement. United for Peace and Justice, which claims to be the largest anti-war coalition in the country, says it's organizing local protests against the escalation next month.

"With the $2 billion a month already being spent on the war in Afghanistan, the administration's proposals endanger the ability of the Obama administration to respond to the intensifying financial crisis," UFPJ National Coordinator Leslie Cagan said in a statement. "We must flood the White House with calls today to voice our opposition to sending more troops to Afghanistan, when just the opposite is needed -- our troops should be brought home now."

Another group, Peace Action, compared Obama's situation in Afghanistan with JFK's in Vietnam.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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