Published March 02, 2012
Obama Talks Tougher on Iran Amid Afghan Mutiny; Carolina Blue or Wolfpack Red?
President Tries to Show Strength on Iran to Stall Israelis
"I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff."
-- President Obama in an interview with The Atlantic on his threat of possible military action against Iran’s nuclear program.
At his 99th fundraiser since officially declaring his re-election campaign in April, President Obama laughed off a protestor who screamed “No war with Iran!” during his speech. (Power Play, by the way, continues to welcome any protestors who wish to pay $1,000 for the privilege of shouting slogans from a distance.)
“Nobody's announced a war, young lady,” Obama said, drawing some chuckles from the Manhattan crowd. “But we appreciate your sentiment. You're jumping the gun a little bit there.”
It’s tough to get a good laugh line about a potential war with a bunch of Islamist totalitarians who happen to be sitting at the strategic crossroads of the planet. The joke was harder to pull off since the stuff about “jumping the gun a little bit” sounds all too true.
The sense that something dire and significant is just ahead over there is increasingly hard to shake.
Next door to Iran in Afghanistan, the mutiny of native troops continues with yet more dead Americans killed at the hands of the very people they are supposed to be training. The native population is still in an uproar over the burning of four Korans in an Air Force trash pit and repeated apologies, including from the president, haven’t solved the problem.
This is an opportunity for Obama to hasten his withdrawal from Afghanistan as American support for the nation-building effort there has flat lined during the insurrection. There is no appetite for having a garrison force of 70,000 Americans in Kabul hoping they don’t get killed by their janitor or an officer in the supposed allied native army.
Since Obama spent so little political capital defending his two surges in Afghanistan, though, the evident failure of his strategy isn’t all bad news. Having brought the troops home from Iraq, he can now bring many of the troops home from Afghanistan in time for Election Day. The message: We gave it a shot, but hey, it’s Afghanistan.
The problem, though, is the actual getting out. Without Mr. Scott there to beam the troops back home, Obama needs a moment of calm to allow the generals to start hustling Americans out of there. He doesn’t want to see Americans clinging to helicopter skids on the last flight out of Kabul.
But finding a way to look strong after a military failure and amid a retreat is a very hard thing to do. Obama might be able to convince some New Hampshire swing voters that the answer to rising gasoline prices is raising taxes on the companies that sell gasoline, but even he is not a good enough politician to convince the rest of the world that leaving Afghanistan in a hurry during riots and a mutiny is no big deal.
A big part of the problem is that seeing the U.S. in a crouch and looking for the fastest way home from their neighboring country to the east and with the U.S. already gone from their neighbor to the west, Iran is feeling a lot pluckier. Having won a bunch of new regional allies in the Arab Spring and with lots of strains between the U.S. and its remaining friends in the region, Iran is testing the limits of its new influence.
The surge-to-retreat strategy in Afghanistan also deepens the problems for the U.S. and it’s Middle East allies. While Pakistan is certainly glad to see us going, Saudi Arabia and Israel are left to reconsider their options in a region where America is less powerful and Iran is more powerful.
This complicates Obama’s plan for withdrawing troops in favor of a push-button war against individual Islamists. The faster America is leaving the region, the more likely Israel is to take matters into its own hands, i.e. bombing the bejeebers out of Iran’s nuclear program.
If Israel does that, it could set off a region-wide war into which America would almost certainly be drawn. At the very least, such a strike would prompt reprisals against Americans by Iran, proxy attacks on Israel by Iranian clients and leave the world’s most important oil-producing region in a state of hyper-anxiety.
Aside from giving us $5 gasoline, an Israeli attack would also make it next to impossible for Obama to move the troops out of Afghanistan. As the only significant American force in the region, the Americans in Afghanistan would have to make ready for war with a possibly nuclear-armed nation of 79 million souls.
Iran religious/political leaders, facing parliamentary elections today and a presidential election next year, would at least have to do some serious saber rattling to save face.
In order to stop that from happening, Obama must convince the Israelis that he is serious about confronting Iran and that there is no need for them to act alone. He seems to be hinting at a possible preemptive strike by the U.S., escalating sanctions seeming to have only inflamed the situation.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington next week, Obama will be working hard to convince him the U.S. might be dropping bunker busters all over Iran at any moment. If he can’t convince Netanyahu of that, the Israelis are sending strong signals that they are ready to let it rip and take what comes.
So here’s the Catch 22 for Obama: The expedited withdrawal from Afghanistan makes an Israeli attack more likely, but an Israeli attack would halt his effort to pull out of the region.
First Lady Tests the Waters with N.C. Campaign Visit
"Without goals, there is no way for us, you or the community to evaluate your commitment and your efforts at any given point... We must have some tangible means of measurement."
-- Letter obtained by the Charlotte Observer from civil rights attorney James Ferguson II to organizers of the Democratic National Convention expressing concern about the number of contracts being set aside for minorities.
Michelle Obama will be raising money and rallying Democrats in North Carolina today as the Obama campaign makes takes its first tentative steps into the Tar Heel State.
Democrats have placed a big bet on the state, which went for their party’s nominee four years ago the first time since 1976 by 3/10ths of a percentage point.
Conventions are usually held on a party’s political home turf, but sometimes not. Some convention locations are deliberately held in enemy territory, like Republicans in 2008 going to Minnesota, a state not carried by their party since Richard Nixon’s re-election. Other times they are symbolic, like when George W. Bush was nominated for a second term just a few miles from Ground Zero.
This year, though, both parties are having conventions in states that were on the bubble four years ago. The Republicans will be in Tampa, Fla. the last week of August and the Democrats will be in Charlotte the first week in September.
There’s some reason for Democrats to be hopeful that they can keep North Carolina in play. The president’s job approval rating in the High Point University poll had recovered to 44 percent early this month, up from 36 percent in October.
Plus, the state has a lot of what the Obama campaign is looking for when targeting a state: minorities (black voters and, increasingly, Hispanics) and young liberals either in or just out of college. That combination may help Democrats offset their lag in voter intensity.
But even with all that, the state will be a tough climb for Obama. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue was forced to abandon her re-election bid last month in the face of wide disapproval and political resistance and one of the few remaining moderate Democrats in the House, Rep. Heath Shuler, announced that he was quitting too. Onetime boomtown Charlotte has struggled as the financial sector imploded, leaving voters grouchy and Democrats on the retreat everywhere but in predominantly African American districts and college towns.
By putting the first lady on the campaign trail in North Carolina in a low-key way today, the Obama campaign can test the waters for the weeks to come. Will the convention be a celebration in a friendly state or a surgical strike in Republican territory?
The president who last campaigned in North Carolina during a November swing-state bus tour would have to work hard to keep the state in his column. It would be nice to know if it’s worth doing before he robs time from his aggressive schedule of fundraisers and campaign stops in sure-to-be swingers like New Hampshire and Florida.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“[President Obama] has been conducting a war that he, himself has surged -- to use a term from the '60s, escalated: tripling the troops and doubling spending.
And he has not supported the war rhetorically or by investing in any political capital. As a leader of a war, from FDR to George Bush, if you are investing in a war, you are committing citizens who are going to die in a war, you need to go build public support.
Obama has not. That is a huge failing. And it betrays a sense that he may not have had his heart in this at any time. So, I think what is happening now is simply going to accelerate that sense.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.