Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Elections East-West

Elections in the East, elections in the West.

Hot off the wire: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been declared re-elected.

AFGHANISTAN/Afghanistan’s election commission made the declaration after Karzai’s opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew and a run-off election was canceled. “The Independent Election Commission declares the esteemed Hamid Karzai as the president,” the commission’s chief said.

This will no doubt increase the pressure on President Barack Obama to roll-out his new Afghanistan strategy earlier rather than later, now that he knows who the United States will be dealing with.

Matthew Hoh, the former State Department employee who quit last month in protest over U.S. policy in Afghanistan, told NBC’s “Today” show that the Karzai news was “disappointing” and despite the investment of  a lot of U.S. resources, “we didn’t get what we put our troops there for.”

Closer to home (just over the bridge from Washington) it’s the day before the election for Virginia governor and (up the highway a bit) the election for New Jersey governor.

Like it or not, Tuesday’s elections will be seen by some as a referendum on the policies of Obama, who has attended campaign events for the Democrats running in the two governor races. OBAMA/

Dealing with “bad guys” in intelligence gathering, OK or not?

Since the September 11 attacks, CIA officials have made it clear that to get the intelligence needed to stop terrorism attacks, U.S. intelligence agencies sometimes have to deal with “bad guys.”

The issue is again in the public eye again after The New York Times reported that the CIA has been regularly paying Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, for at least eight years for services that included helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force. The newspaper report says that Ahmed Wali Karzai is a suspected player in the illegal opium trade, which he denies.

Senator John McCain told CBS “Early Show” yesterday: “I’d heard that rumor before. I think it’s wrong. It’s wrong of the CIA to do it and I’m sure our military commanders there would disagree with it.”

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The First Draft: Obama Decision Time On Afghanistan?

AFGHANISTAN/The latest violence in Afghanistan may raise the drumbeat in Washington for a decision from President Barack Obama on whether to send more U.S. forces.

He’ll make remarks today at a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, and could address the matter there. Plenty of other topics are on the front burner, though, including healthcare reform and overhauling financial regulation, to name just two.

Senator John McCain, Obama’s Republican presidential rival in 2008, said the decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan should come soon. McCain told CBS television’s “Early Show”: “Overwhelmingly the military establishment and those who have had the experience of our success in Iraq know that the people there don’t want the Taliban back … and they want an environment of security. And we watch this situation continue to deteriorate while this long protracted process of decision-making goes on. We’re not operating in a vacuum. The president of the United States needs to make this decision and soon. Our allies are nervous and our military leadership is becoming frustrated.”

Poll: Support up for troop increase in Afghanistan

Public support for sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan is on the rise, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Tuesday. The poll finds 47 percent of Americans favor boosting the troop level in Afghanistan, compared to 43 percent who are opposed to the idea.

afghanAn NBC/WSJ poll in September found 51 percent opposed to a troop increase, while 44 percent supported it.

Other recent opinion polls have shown lagging public support for the war and members of President Barack Obama’s own Democratic Party are divided over whether to send more troops.

Protest resignation over Afghan plans puts Obama team on edge

On Monday, the State Department sent out its no. 2 official to tout how it was managing to get U.S. civilians out into the field in Afghanistan, with nearly 1,000 expected to be in place by year-end.

A day later, it was in damage control mode after the resignation of one of its star employees was plastered on the front page of The Washington Post and on the Internet.

In an emotionally-charged four-page letter dated September 10, Matthew Hoh said he was quitting because he had lost confidence in the war effort and whether it was worth the blood spilled there.

The First Draft: Afghanistan and Obama

AFGHANISTAN/President Barack Obama heads to Florida today to thank members of the military for their service — but given the deadly violence in Afghanistan, the commander-in-chief might use the opportunity to reflect on strategy in the region.

Before Obama takes off, he’ll meet with his foreign policy and national security team to discuss the situation and troops on the ground.

Afghanistan will also be on the agenda at the State Department, where Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew will talk about progress made in hiring civilians there. The topic could come up at the Council on Foreign Relations too; Sen. John Kerry’s speaking there around midday.

In the other White House war …

USA/He almost said it, but he didn’t. Vice President Joe Biden, who has a reputation for verbal gaffes, almost asked “Who cares?” but stopped himself, when he weighed in on the White House’s latest war of words with his predecessor, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney, a repeated critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy initiatives, this week accused President Barack Obama of “dithering” and being scared to make a decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.

“I think that is absolutely wrong. I think what the administration is doing is exactly what we said it would do.  And what I think it warrants doing. And that is making an informed judgment based upon circumstances that have changed … to come up with a sustainable policy that has more than one dimension,” Biden told pool reporters traveling with him at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Prague.

Holbrooke jokes about Kerry’s Karzai eclipse

Power plays are always a tricky business in Washington and sometimes it’s better to make a joke out of it. Or not.

Special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, used that tactic on Friday when asked about reports that veteran Senator John Kerry is stealing his limelight.

“I’d like to make a joke and say, ‘I’m always happy to be eclipsed by John Kerry.’ But then you’ll take it seriously and then I’ll cause more problems,” Holbrooke told reporters.

White House hits back at Cheney “dithering” comment

AFGHANISTAN-CHENEY/The White House is firing back at former Vice President Dick Cheney who accused President Barack Obama of “dithering” and being “afraid to make a decision” on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

“I think it’s a curious comment,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at his midday briefing.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Vice President was for seven years not focused on Afghanistan,” Gibbs added.

Time for Obama to act on Afghanistan – Cheney

Former Vice President Dick Cheney tonight joins a chorus of critics who say President Barack Obama is taking way too long to decide whether to send another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

cheneyCheney, no fan of any of the current administration’s foreign policy initiatives, prodded the White House to fulfill the president’s promise to give the U.S. armed  forces a clear mission in Afghanistan and to do it now.

“It’s time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger, ” Cheney said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Center for Security Policy, a Washington think-tank.