Friday, May 13, 2011

Major opportunity for Obama

The successful raid on Osama bin Laden has handed President Obama a major opportunity to advance his foreign and domestic policy goals, please his liberal base, and make a major dent in the budget deficit.

The only question is whether he will have the political wisdom to build on this latest success.

Talking Points Memo reports this week that our congressman, Peter Welch, is one of the leaders of a bipartisan group calling on Obama to use the death of bin Laden as an opportunity to redirect the effort in Afghanistan from nation-building, and the quagmire of fighting a war against an indigenous force on behalf of a corrupt government (gee, sound familiar?) to what the war was intended to do: roll up and destroy the remaining al Qaeda forces in the country.

Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, want the Obama administration to view the successful mission against bin Laden as a model for U.S. counter-terrorism strategy as a whole. Welch, Chaffetz and a group of three Democrats and three Republicans sent Obama a letter calling for the end of the war in Afghanistan and a shift to more surgical, strategic operations to combat worldwide terrorism.

Whether Obama will capitalize on his success in Abbottabad remains to be seen, and in part it depends on secret developments based on the intelligence collected in the raid. Nevertheless, for someone who seemed like a smart political operative,, Obama has seemed strangely unable to develop and follow through on strategies, building on success in ways that not only advance his strategic goals but also enhance his political support.

This month Obama is riding a wave of increased support based on the bin Laden raid, but polling still suggests severe weaknesses. Redirecting the Afghanistan effort can address these weaknesses in a number of ways:

==>It can stop an unwinnable effort, the aforementioned quagmire, and redirect those energies to something that makes sense to people.

==>It will cost less than the war in Afghanistan. To a degree, Obama is a victim of his own honesty, because unlike Bush he has actually put the wars in the budget. A smaller, more targeted Afghanistan mission will be less costly than the current open-ended and inconclusive mission.

==>It can energize his base. Almost every day we hear from young or progressive activists, the people who walked the streets and worked the phone banks and the interwebs for Obama, saying that they will not lift a finger for him next year. A concrete move away from the failed Bush policy in Afghanistan can help get back those activists whose work will be needed to win in 2012.

As I said at the beginning, President Obama deserves the credit for getting bin Laden. Peter Welch has shown him the way to use that success to extract the United States from our Twenty-First Century Vietnam and keep his presidency moving forward.

Let's hope he has the wisdom to follow that lead.

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