Tales from the Trail

Live blog of Obama’s Afghanistan speech

Reuters’ Toby Zakaria will be live blogging the Obama speech on Tuesday night.

The First Draft: Poll shows growing U.S. support for Afghan troop increase

If President Barack Obama opts to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan next week, the decision could be underscored by something a bit unusual for his policies: growing U.S. public support. 
 OBAMA   
Polling data have shown for a while now that most Americans don’t favor many of Obama’s policy positions, despite his enduring personal popularity.
    
A USA Today/Gallup poll depicts Obama battling headwinds on a number of fronts: Americans oppose the closing of Gitmo by more than a 2-to-1 margin; those against healthcare reform edge out those in favor by 5 percentage points; and most don’t want accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried in civilian court in New York City.
    
Afghanistan is no cakewalk, either. Public opinion is divided over the question of more troops and 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the war up to now — a reversal of his 56 percent approval rating four months ago. CANADA/
    
But the polling data, compiled Nov. 20-22, might also suggest a silver lining for the president as he nears an announcement that could send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
    
Less than half of Americans — 47 percent — favor a troop increase. But that’s up from 42 percent in a Nov. 5-8 survey.
    
Plus, the opposition is down: 39 percent of Americans now want the president to reduce the U.S. military footprint, vs. 44 percent earlier.
    
What hasn’t changed for Obama is that Republicans, not fellow Democrats, are his best buddies when it comes to increasing troops. Seventy-two percent of Republicans back a bigger U.S. force in Afghanistan, while 57 percent of Democrats say it’s time to start pulling out. USA-ELECTION/    

That could be important for Obama’s agenda in Congress as the 2010 election approaches and Democratic incumbents in tight races consider how they might fare with Democratic voters.

The USA Today/Gallup findings are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 adults. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.

The First Draft: Crossing the Grey Line

President Barack Obama admits he has crossed the grey line.

In the well-worn tradition of those who entered the White House before him, the president’s hair has greyed. And it’s only his first year in office.

USA-POLITICS/OBAMAPerhaps not exactly the change he was hoping for.

“My hair has gotten a lot greyer because I was at the age where my hair was going to start getting grey. Having said all that, you know this has been an extraordinary year,” Obama said in an interview with NBC.

The economy, healthcare, Afghanistan war are all on his mind — “I would be lying if I said that those aren’t weighted questions that I carry around on my shoulders every day.”

Will latest polls weigh on Obama?

President Barack Obama summoned his war council today for what may be a pivotal meeting as he decides what to do in Afghanistan. OBAMAWhile Obama weighs up his options on whether to send in more troops — with most money on about 30,000 more – he might also glance at the latest round of public opinion polls on Afghanistan.One by the Pew Research Center put Obama’s favorable job rating on Afghanistan at 36 percent, sharply down from 49 percent in July.On troop levels in Afghanistan, 40 percent say there should be fewer U.S. soldiers, 32 percent approve of an increase while 19 percent say current troop levels are satisfactory.A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released today found that 56 percent of respondents opposed sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan while 42 percent supported additional forces.Which way are you leaning? More troops, less, the same? Stay, go, the status quo? As commander-in-chief, will Obama go the way of Goldilocks and take the middle road, or will there be a surprise?Click here for more Reuters political coveragePhoto credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama making statement about Fort Hood shootings)

Obama walks in rain-soaked cemetery of U.S. war dead

President Barack Obama walked in the rain among the graves of U.S. casualties from the Iraq and Afghan wars at Arlington National Cemetery and took an unscheduled detour into section 60, a thicket of simple white headstones, to mark Veterans Day. OBAMA/

Underscoring the poignancy of the visit, Obama was due to hold a war council later on Wednesday as he tries to decide whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, where U.S. forces experienced their bloodiest month in October.

The president, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, bent down briefly at the headstone of 19-year-old Specialist Ross McGinnis, who was awarded the United States’ highest military decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor.

from Photographers' Blog:

Those left behind: The legacy of Arlington’s Section 60

Larry Downing is a Reuters senior staff photographer assigned to the White House. He shares that duty with three other staff photographers. He has lived in Washington since 1977 and has been assigned to cover the White House, since 1978. President Barack Obama is the sixth president Larry has photographed.

“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”  George Orwell

Veteran’s Day is a time to remember “All gave some....Some gave all.”

Before reaching the new gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery’s ‘Section 60’ it’s easy to recognize why a simple, quilted, patch of green grass and white stones buried alongside the quiet banks of the Potomac River troubles the heart.

Obama: Not worrying about perceptions on Afghanistan

OBAMA/INTERVIEWAs President Barack Obama nears a decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, some experts say he should consider the signal his decision will send about his broader commitment to the war, which has grown increasingly unpopular at home.

The White House has been frustrated that its internal deliberations on the Afghanistan strategy have leaked into public view, something that Obama acknowledged on Monday in an interview with Reuters.

But will perceptions of the deliberations affect the decision itself?

In the view of some, Obama might risk sending a signal of a weakening commitment in Afghanistan were he to approve anything short of the 40,000 troop increase requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Obama admits to mistakes, but no big ones

Barack Obama says he probably makes one mistake a day, but doesn’t think he has made any fundamental ones in almost 10 months as president of the United States.

obamartrsToward the end of his first term, his predecessor George W. Bush famously said in answer to a question that he could not think of any mistakes he had made — a comment which long dogged him as the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 led to chaos in Iraq.

When Obama was asked the same question on Monday, he was quicker on his feet.

“Oh, we make at least one mistake a day,” he said with a smile.

“But I will say this, I don’t think we’ve made big mistakes,” he told Reuters in an interview in the Oval Office. “I don’t think we’ve made fundamental mistakes.”

Holbrooke: my relationship with Karzai is good, really

Absolutely they are on good terms…

Richard Holbrooke, special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, once again declared his respect for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. AFGHANISTAN/

In fact, he feels so strongly about reports that the two don’t get along he wrote a letter to The Washington Post.

“I did not, and never have, spoken harshly to Mr. Karzai, ” said Holbrooke in the letter to the editor, which was published on Thursday. He was responding to a story earlier this week in the newspaper which said he had spoken harshly to the re-elected Afghan leader.

Victory for Karzai, minefield for Obama?

Former President George W. Bush used to talk about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” He was talking about education in the United States.

But these days, that phrase could easily refer to the U.S. government’s attitudes towards Afghanistan. Just look at the following phrases from American officials this year.

“We never promised Afghans a perfect democracy,” “Afghans have lower expectations in terms of security,” “we have to recognise Afghanistan will always remain a poor, conservative land with a low-level insurgency,” “our goal in Afghanistan is simply to prevent al Qaeda using its territory to attack us.” AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION/KARZAI