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How Will More Troops In Afghanistan Affect Obama?


And joining us now are two political observers: columnist E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back to both of you.

Mr. E. J. DIONNE (Political Analyst, Brookings Institution, The Washington Post): Good to be with you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to be here.

SIEGEL: And before we get to some domestic political issues, let's stick with Afghanistan for a moment. How important, E.J., is what the president decides and what's likely to be a recommendation for more troops from General McChrystal?

Mr. DIONNE: This may be more important and it's certainly a lot more difficult than what he's going to tell us on health care this week. This is really very close to an impossible situation. He has no good choices. We started a war in Iraq when we didn't have to and allowed the situation in Afghanistan to get worse and worse. But that doesn't answer the question of what he should do. What you find is his administration is divided. Most - everybody agrees that we have real interest there, but a lot of people wonder if we send more troops, can we achieve our objectives. But he made a promise to say this war in Afghanistan was his priority.

SIEGEL: Right.

Mr. DIONNE: And so, it's going to be very hard for him to pull away from it.

SIEGEL: David, what do you think?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, he faces a left-right opposition. People on the left have often been suspicious to this war and now there's growing opposition on the right. George Will wrote a column saying we should just get out of Afghanistan.

I - the first thing I think the president needs to do to the country is to explain why we're there. It's not just to prevent Afghanistan from falling apart, it's what would happen if the Taliban destabilize Pakistan, and secondly, to talk about the prospect of success. The Taliban is tremendously unpopular. If you go to Afghanistan, it's not only the U.S. military that is extremely confident that we can win in the long term, it's the NGOs. It's the U.N. people. It's a totally different atmosphere than in Iraq. And so, he needs to somehow communicate that confidence.

SIEGEL: But the challenge seems to be to convince Americans that the war is winnable. Also, to convince Afghans that winning the war is in their interest. And also to convince them that the government that's in the office on the basis of this summer's election is a legitimate government. That's a pretty tall order.

Mr. DIONNE: It is. And I think what's happened around the election is make it - it's going to make it much harder for him to make the case for staying. This feels so much, you know, we make too many Vietnam analogies…


Mr. DIONNE: …but, boy, this feels like a regime that might have stole an election, that might lose legitimacy with the people. The worse news for the president may not be any military news. It's the impact of this controversy over the election.

Mr. BROOKS: The difference with Vietnam is the Taliban is extremely unpopular -has no support in the countryside.

Mr. DIONNE: I agree with that.

Mr. BROOKS: What the president has to do is not do what he's done so far. He has to be honest about the fact this is nation building. We're talking about agriculture. We're talking about law courts. We're talking about police. It's neighborhood by neighborhood that our troops are going to be in and the Iraqi army is going to be in. He sold this war as something that is far easier than it's going to turn out to be.

SIEGEL: It's building a nation almost from scratch in this case.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, but it's easy to get too pessimistic about that. I was there a couple of months ago. I was really shocked at how it's a functioning society. And Kabul looks nothing like it did eight years ago. It's much, much better.

Mr. DIONNE: What's fascinating is that in the reports that Vice President Joe Biden, who is no extreme dove by any means, seemed skeptical of too big a build up and that the administration has either allowed it to come out or it just came out anyway that there's real division inside about what to do. You don't see that very often coming out of the Obama administration.

BROOK: That's absolutely true. There is a lot of division with Joe Biden on the other side. The president though has recently made a pretty strong commitment. It would be stunning if he would turn around now and unmake that commitment.

SIEGEL: Okay. We're going to continue our talk in just a minute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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