Obama’s big headache: Afghanistan, not Israel

To listen to Jewish bloggers and pundits, you’d think President Obama’s Middle East policy and his chilly relations with Israel will be his biggest foreign policy headache when he faces voters in 2012.

Well, maybe it’ll be a big problem with a small minority of a small minority, but nothing like the problem he could face if the Afghanistan war is still going on – and if he’s still clueless about how to fix the problem.

This week’s fracas over comments by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal that were somewhere between indiscreet and insubordinate represented still more bad news for an administration that decided early on to plunge deeper into the Afghan morass – and now, seemingly, doesn’t have any idea what to do next.

Last week Gen. David Petraeus told a congressional committee that fighting the kind of counterinsurgency war we’re fighting in Afghanistan is a “roller coaster experience.”

The problem is, the roller coaster has been running continuously since 2001, and President Obama’s troop surge hasn’t done much to slow it down.

Admittedly, his options appear limited. Sending in still more soldiers doesn’t seem likely to staunch the erosion of support from the Afghan people or slow the resurgence of the Taliban. But a U.S. withdrawal would undoubtedly multiply the chaos in the country and give the the Republicans a big bludgeon to use against Obama in 2012.

Obama’s Afghanistan policy seemed from the outset designed more to avoid messy political confrontations than to find real answers to the mess he inherited from his predecessor.

As is usual in such poll-driven decision making, that just seemed to make the problem worse.

Leadership? On Afghanistan, the President seems more like someone who’s along for the ride. And that, along with a still-faltering economy, could dominate the 2012 elections; his Israel policies may energize some Jewish voters,  but the issue will be a minor sidebar, at best.

I keep wondering about the utter silence of major Jewish groups as the Afghan mess deepens.

The outcome – escalation, withdrawal or sometime in between creatively defined as “victory” – will have huge consequences for U.S. foreign policy in general and our leadership role in the Middle East in particular; the costs of this seemingly endless war will inevitably affect an already traumatized federal budget in ways that will be felt by all the domestic programs Jewish groups care about.

Yet even the more liberal Jewish groups have been conspicuously silent, as if this has nothing whatever to do with them. What’s with that?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.