Report: Progress in Fight Against Taliban Is ‘Fragile and Reversible’

BY David Chalian  December 16, 2010 at 8:08 AM EST

U.S. Marine in Afghanistan

A U.S. Marine walks down the main market in Musa Qala in Helmand province. Photo by Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

A little more than a year after President Obama announced his decision to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, his administration is releasing a summary of a classified review of the strategy that says the United States is still on target to begin withdrawing troops next July. (Read the full summary).

However, every note of optimism about progress in the fight against the Taliban is accompanied by a healthy dose of caution.

President Obama will discuss the findings in the report at 11:45 a.m. EST Thursday and then leave Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to answer questions from the press.

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung writes:

“Taliban momentum has been ‘arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible,’ the five-page summary said.

“The review, it said, indicated that the administration was ‘setting conditions’ to begin the ‘responsible reduction’ of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July.”

The president is keenly aware about the political dangers of providing an overly optimistic assessment of a war that appears to have diminishing support by the American people.

Julie Phelan and Gary Langer write up the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll numbers:

“A record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, a grim assessment — and a politically hazardous one….

“Negative views of the war for the first time are at the level of those recorded for the war in Iraq, whose unpopularity dragged George W. Bush to historic lows in approval across his second term. On average from 2005 through 2009, 60 percent called that war not worth fighting, the same number who say so about Afghanistan now.”

GETTING ‘START’ED

The Senate will begin debate Thursday on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) after clearing a key procedural hurdle and some political theatrics Wednesday.

The 66-32 test vote fell one short of the 67 required for ratification. Of the two Senators who did not vote was Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, a supporter of the treaty.

The pact would limit the United States and Russia to 1,550 long-range warheads and 700 launchers each. It would also revive mutual inspections of nuclear sites that lapsed last year when START I expired.

President Obama has called the treaty’s passage a top priority of the lame-duck session of Congress, but some Republicans in the Senate have objected, contending there are too many issues to consider and not enough time left on the legislative calendar.

“I think you can detect in my demeanor here a great frustration and disappointment with the fact that notwithstanding our effort to try to work constructively, we’re going to get stiffed now,” Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl said Wednesday at a news conference, where he was flanked by nearly a dozen of his GOP colleagues. Kyl has served as the lead Republican negotiator with the Obama administration.

The White House believes it has sufficiently dealt with Kyl’s chief concern — modernizing the country’s nuclear infrastructure — by devoting $85 billion over 10 years to the issue. The administration also says that lawmakers have had plenty of time to evaluate the treaty, which was sent to the Senate on May 13, and has been the subject of 18 formal hearings.

Kyl also suggested that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was “disrespecting” Christmas by keeping the Senate in session to ratify the treaty up until the holiday.

Vice President Biden fired back in an interview with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. “Get out of the way. There’s too much at stake for America’s national security,” Biden said. “I hope I don’t get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation’s business. This is national security at stake. Act. Act,” he added.

For a time Wednesday there was also a chance the treaty might not move forward. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint threatened to have the entire 300-plus-page pact read by Senate clerks, a process that could have taken more than 10 hours.

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Roberts Gibbs said the maneuver was “a new low in putting political stunts ahead of our national security, and it is exactly the kind of Washington game-playing that the American people are sick of.”

Even GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell kept his distance, saying it was “not essential” to have the treaty read on the floor.

OBAMA DEFECTORS

We all know 2010 was a brutal year for the Democrats. Big wins in 2006 and 2008 set up the party for a rude awakening as the GOP picked up 63 House seats and six Senate seats in the midterms.

A new poll from EMILY’S List, the political committee dedicated to electing abortion rights Democratic women, conducted by the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group tries to figure out why women in particular who voted Obama in 2008 either did not vote or supported Republicans in 2010.

Their poll of 608 “defectors” showed that these women, in general, weren’t won over by the GOP, but that dissatisfaction with the economy and a lack of interest in midterm elections drove them to switch votes or not vote at all.

A slide from an EMILY’s list presentation on the poll:

The poll split the women into two groups: those who voted GOP and those who did not vote. The non-voters were younger and less educated, and 68 percent said they’d have voted for a Democrat. The GOP voters were older, 40 percent of them were college graduates and 52 percent had “mixed feelings” about their GOP vote. Among the GOP voters, 48 percent had a positive or somewhat positive view of President Obama. The non-voting portion was overwhelmingly favorable to the president — 82 percent had a positive view. Note that the question did not ask if they favored his job performance.

The results suggest, though, that the women who support President Obama but left the Democrats hanging in 2010 could be won over again in 2012.

“Once again, women voters proved that their support is absolutely necessary to win elections,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “But let’s make sure we don’t learn the wrong lessons when we analyze their actions in 2010. These women did not stay home or vote Republican because they agree with Republican priorities,” she added.

There was also a healthy dose of cynicism among these women. They told the pollster that difficulty in getting good information about issues and candidates, and an abundance of negative campaigning were problems for them. Seventy-seven percent agreed that there was too much negative campaigning. Fifty-eight percent said that it does not matter who is elected, because the American political system is broken.

According to the 2010 exit polls, Republicans edged out Democrats among women voters by one percentage point — 49 percent to 48 percent.

With reporting from Quinn Bowman.

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