Will Afghanistan actually hurt the Democrats?

Tom Ricks shares an interesting theory from researcher Kyle Flynn about why the Obama administration is delaying a decision on a new Afghanistan strategy: Nov. 3, gubernatorial elections in both Virginia and New Jersey. The latter of which is my reasoning why the decision was delayed this long. Corzine is in the fight of his ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds (R) greets US President Barack Obama as he arrives on stage during a rally for Deeds on October 27, 2009 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Tom Ricks shares an interesting theory from researcher Kyle Flynn about why the Obama administration is delaying a decision on a new Afghanistan strategy:

Nov. 3, gubernatorial elections in both Virginia and New Jersey. The latter of which is my reasoning why the decision was delayed this long. Corzine is in the fight of his life and Obama is going to piss people off either way. 

Tom Ricks shares an interesting theory from researcher Kyle Flynn about why the Obama administration is delaying a decision on a new Afghanistan strategy:

Nov. 3, gubernatorial elections in both Virginia and New Jersey. The latter of which is my reasoning why the decision was delayed this long. Corzine is in the fight of his life and Obama is going to piss people off either way. 

I’m not sure I buy this. I doubt most voters have Afghanistan on the mind when they decide whether they should pull the lever for Jon Corzine or his Virginia counterpart Creigh Deeds. It’s possible that there could be some protest votes from people infuriated with the White House’s decision, but while Afghanistan is increasingly becoming “Obama’s war,” I don’t think most people see it as the “Democrats’ war.”  If anything, most of the opposition to an increased U.S. commitment comes from within Obama’s own party.

Looking ahead to 2010, this raises the quesiton of how big a campaign issue Obama’s Afghan strategy will be. Because this debate doesn’t divide easily along party lines, the political questions are pretty complicated.

If Obama to go along with the McChrysrtal plan, it seems unlikely that the majority of Americans who oppose the war would vote for Republicans as a result. Some antiwar voters might choose to stay home out of apathy but it seems like the partisan fury brought on by the healthcare debate alone should be enough to drag them to the polls. If Obama chooses a more limited strategy, I can’t image there are that many voters who would have gone Democrat but see Afghanistan as a dealbreaker.

I’m also not convinced that, despite the increased concern, Afghanistan will a dominant politicial issue in U.S. politics in 2010. Even with 40,000 more troops, the total number will be nowhere near the half million that were deployed at the height of the Vietnam war. Unless you know someone in combat, the war in Central Asia is still a farily abstract concept compared with, say, healthcare. And given that it’s much more clear what side everyone’s on, healthcare makes much better material for attack ads.  

So while it’s probably true, as it is frequently pointed out, that there’s no political upside to the war in Afghanistan, the downside may not actually be that big. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a whole other question. 

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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