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Obama & Afghanistan: Strange Bedfellows

Can you recall a presidential announcement that's resulted in so many strange bedfellows?

In the first 24 hours since Barack Obama went to West Point to deliver his speech on Afghanistan, some of the oddest political pairings have turned up. Such is the unease about deepening our commitment to that "forlorn nation," as George Will put it, that liberals and left-wingers panned Obama, even while some conservatives and Republicans said the plan should be allowed to proceed. If this were a Venn diagram, the picture would be a mish mash.

The last time progressives were in this deep a funk George Bush was riding a wave of domestic popularity as Iraq's army was reduced to smoking ruins. The blog Firedoglake gave voice to the left's disillusion with Obama when it suggested that the president "really never was a progressive or a Democrat." Hyperbole aside, it was a telling signpost. Obama clearly has lost his heroic appeal for many of the same people who helped propel his candidacy against the better-known Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primaries. Writing in Salon, Joan Walsh, who identified herself as "an increasingly disappointed Democrat and Obama supporter," spoke for many progressives when she wrote that it was hard to see escalation as a viable exit strategy. "Obama has no clear path to "victory," he wrote. "We are likely to waste more lives than we save. I thought that was true before Obama's big speech, and I still think it now, afterward."

Another lefty in good standing, Students for a Democratic Society co-founder Tom Hayden, even promised to scrape the Obama decal off his Prius (or whatever it is that he tools around in) after this "last in a string of disappointments." Then he really got going:

"Adding 30,000 to 35,000 US troops will raise the US death toll by over 1,000 by 2011 on Obama's watch, in addition to the 750 who died under Bush. The numbers of U.S. wounded are rising faster than ever, with 300 counted in the past three months. Civilian casualties are under-reported according to the UN mission in Afghanistan. The budgetary costs are growing to $75 billion annually, and could become another trillion-dollar war. The albatross of the Karzai government will threaten any plans to rapidly expand the Afghan army and police, themselves divided along sectarian lines. In 2005, the Kabul regime ranked 117th on the list compiled by Transparency International; by this year it was 176th."

Obama was just a toddler when the 1960s' domestic liberal opposition rose up to challenge one of their own, Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who coincidentally also inherited a war from his predecessor. As one of the student leaders who mobilized his cohorts against LBJ over his escalation of the war in Vietnam, Hayden is obviously aware of any historical parallels, though at this point he's not about to mobilize his former comrades in a bid to topple Obama. LBJ may have been bad but Richard Nixon was a lot worse. If Hayden is disappointed in Obama, Hayden would be suicidal if Sarah Palin won in 2012.

But Obama's going to have a tough time against Palin or any other Republican if Afghanistan erodes his political support. While most Democrats weren't as publicly pissy as Hayden, more than a few grumbled after the speech that the president had let them down.

And we all know that it's a short cab ride from "let them down" to "betrayal."

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