NATO and Afghanistan

NATO's defense establishment speaks up on Afghanistan:

NATO defense ministers gave their broad endorsement Friday to the counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan laid out by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, increasing pressure on the Obama administration and on their own governments to commit more military and civilian resources for the mission to succeed.

....Although the broad acceptance by NATO defense ministers of General McChrystal’s strategic review included no decision on new troops....

I guess my first, cynical reaction is: wake me up when anyone in Europe agrees to actually send more troops.  Until then, I'm not sure I care what their defense ministers think.

That's my second reaction too.  But my third reaction is a tiny bit of cautious optimism.  In the end, I don't think Obama can withstand Pentagon pressure to send more troops to Afghanistan, and if that's the case then additional NATO support increases the odds of success.  Even if it's mostly peacekeepers and civilians — hell, maybe especially if it's peacekeepers and civilians — it makes a difference both in terms of raw numbers and legitimacy.  So a bit of pressure from the the European defense establishment is helpful.

On the other hand, to return to my first and second reactions, the Times notes this at the end of the story: "At the same time, though, some allies with forces in Afghanistan are cautiously discussing how and when to end their deployments there."  Big surprise.  Overall, I'd say the odds of Europe having more troops in Afghanistan at the end of 2010 than they do now are pretty slim.

After yet another climate conference (this time in Bangkok, ending earlier this month) in which world leaders failed to make any headway on the planet's most pressing problem, the prospect of a climate treaty in December, when 192 nations meet in Copenhagen, looks bleaker than an Arctic winter.

Then again, as Mother Jones contributing writer and author Bill McKibben writes in his most recent story, "Copenhagen: Too Hot to Handle," those Arctic winters might not be so bleak after all if our leaders leave climate change unchecked by failing to reach an agreement at Copenhagen. Indeed, the consequences of an unsuccessful Copenhagen conference, as McKibben describes, would be disastrous.

Already the planet is changing before our eyes as a result of climate change. Glaciers are melting at a rapid pace. Dengue fever is spreading to new regions. Drought could turn the American Southwest into a new dust bowl. Climate change even threatens to wipe entire nations, like the Maldives, off the map. Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives' bold new president, has even started setting aside part of his country's budget to buy a new homeland.

So needless to say, the stakes are high for December's climate conference. McKibben's piece—an absolute must-read for anyone with even the slightest interest in climate change—puts the looming negottiations into context, and offers a clear-eyed assessment about what we, and our leaders, need to do to make a treaty happen—and what we should expect if they don't.

Public Option Finale

Mike Allen reports on the latest prospects for a public option in the healthcare reform bill:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi counted votes Thursday night and determined she could not pass a “robust public option” — the most aggressive of the three forms of a public option House Democrats have been considering as part of a national overhaul of health care.

Pelosi's decision — coupled with a significant turn of events yesterday during a private White House meeting — points to an increasingly likely compromise for a “trigger” option for a government plan.

....This would clear the way for backers to sneak a limited public option through the Senate by attracting moderate Democrats and then to win President Barack Obama's signature.

Well, I guess that's that.  If Obama says he supports a trigger, and if even the House doesn't support something more robust, then a trigger is what we're going to get.  I think this is one of the worst of the public option compromises, but it's probably the one we're stuck with.

But.....what's this business about liberals "sneaking" a public option through the Senate?  Sneaking?  That's like saying that Eisenhower sneaked a bunch of troops into France on D-Day.  The public option and all its permutations have been the main topic of conversation on Capitol Hill for months now.  It's been yelled about in townhalls, debated on CNN, sliced and diced on blogs, and written about endlessly in the New York Times.  Ain't no "sneaking" about it.

This is, uh, a bit of a concern: A Pew poll released on Thursday finds the number of Americans concerned about climate change has declined—and the number of global warming skeptics has increased.

Thirty-five percent of those polled agreed that global warming was a serious problem—a nine-point drop from April 2008, when 44 percent of respondents agreed. Worse, though, is the number of skeptics. Just 57 percent think that there is "solid evidence" that the earth is warming, down from 71 percent just a year and a half ago. Only 36 percent think that the warming is due to human activity, down from 47 percent.

The decline has been sharpest among people who identify as political independents: Only 53 percent of independents see solid evidence of global warming, down from 75 percent in April 2008. Republicans were already highly skeptical—now only 35 percent of Republicans believe that global temperatures are rising, down 14 percent from the last poll. And that's just the objective question of whether they're rising: only 18 percent think that any warming that may be happening is caused by human activity.

But fewer Democrats think the planet is warming, too—75 percent today compared to 83 percent last year and 91 percent in August 2006. And only 50 percent of self-identified Democrats believe the warming is due to human activity.

Oh, my.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has a new post on Sen. Harry Reid that tries to deal with the results of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's poll of Nevada that I wrote about on Thursday. The poll found that 55 percent of independents and 92 percent of Democrats with unfavorable views of Reid say they don't like him because he's not progressive enough. These results contradict Cillizza's earlier assertion that Reid has to "carry Obama's agenda effectively while also appealing to Nevada voters to whom that agenda is too liberal." The poll also doesn't square with Cillizza's claim that Reid is in a similar situation to South Dakota's Tom Daschle, the Democratic senate majority leader who was defeated for reelection in 2002.

It's possible that Cillizza's right: Maybe a different poll would find vastly different results. Maybe if Reid moved left to satisfy Democrats and independents who disapprove of him, he'd anger the Democrats and independents who approve of him now. But what's frustrating about most of the reporting on Reid's poll numbers (including Cillizza's) is the extent to which right-wing arguments about what voters want are taken for granted. Cillazza just assumed that Nevadans wanted Reid to move to the right. It seems that whenever a Democrat is unpopular, mainstream journalists assume that it's because he or she is too liberal. That could be the case. But such claims should rest on evidence, not gut feelings or dubious parallels between South Dakota in 2002—when George W. Bush's popularity was formidable—and Nevada, a much larger, more urban and diverse state, in 2008.

Cillizza certainly makes some interesting arguments in order to avoid acknowleging the problems that the PCCC numbers create for his assumptions. For example:

From a rawly political perspective, Reid's number among self-identified Democrats may not matter that much as he does not have a primary race and it's hard to imagine loyal Democratic voters ultimately opting for either former Republican state party chairwoman Sue Lowden or businessman Danny Tarkanian.

This seems almost willfully obtuse. Midterm elections are generally low-turnout, base-driven elections. It's not that Harry Reid has to worry about Democrats voting for Lowden or Tarkanian—he has to worry about them staying home and not voting at all.

Cillizza is really missing the point here. It's unlikely that Reid is going to be able to win over Republicans by moving to the right. Republicans do think Reid's too liberal, but he's the Democratic leader in the Senate—they're not going to vote for him unless he essentially abandons his party. That's something he doesn't seem prepared to do. So Reid should really be worrying about getting his base to turn out and convincing persuadable independents to vote for him. The PCCC poll is the best currently available information about where Democrats and independents want Reid to go. If they say he should move left, he probably should.

This is beautiful:

I don't think you can watch that video and not think, as even Ross Douthat does, that opposition to gay marriage is "a losing argument."

The Senate approved groundbreaking hate crimes legislation that includes violent crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation in addition to race, color, religion and national origin. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after two men who were brutally killed in 1998 for their sexual orientation and race, respectively, was attached to a defense spending bill that allocates $680 billion for the Pentagon’s 2010 budget.

"Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence," said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese in a press release. "We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country."

But the issue was much more complex for senators. Though "supporting the troops" generally takes precedence for Republicans, 28 voted against the DOD budget, which includes a 3.4 percent military pay raise and funding to promote a second engine for the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

"It's a shame that this piece of legislation was added to a bill that’s supposed to be about supporting our troops," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who opposed the measure.

In another surprising move, liberal Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) was the lone Democrat to vote against the bill. In a statement, Feingold said that despite the bill's "important provisions," which include the hate crimes legislation, "it does nothing to bring our open-ended and disproportionate military commitment in Afghanistan to an end or to ensure that our troops are safely and expeditiously redeployed from Iraq."

To sum up: a measure protecting gay people from violent crime was enough to cause Republicans to pull their typically solid support for the troops and cause most Democrats to approve the bloated war funding they opposed vociferously during the Bush years.

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Cpl. Daniel P. Collins, a squad leader with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan, watches over the Marines from 1st platoon as they clear a field. Collins and his Marines conduct patrols in Lakari village in an effort to disrupt insurgent resupply routes. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael Curvin.)

Need To Read: October 23, 2009

Today's must-reads:

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