Politics Today: Looking for a Timeline in Afghanistan

Politics Today is CBSNews.com's inside look at the key stories driving the day in politics, written by CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

** Scrapping current options in Afghanistan...

** Obama could face a cool reception from Japan...

** Sarah Palin dishes to Oprah...

(White House/Pete Souza)
AFGHANISTAN: "President Barack Obama won't accept any of the Afghanistan war options before him without changes, a senior administration official said, as concerns soar over the ability of the Afghan government to secure its own country one day," report the Associated Press' Ben Feller and Anne Gearan.

A senior administration official tells CBS News' Mark Knoller Mr. Obama is pushing for "revisions in troop options to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government."

The official added that in the war council meeting Wednesday, the president raised questions that could "alter the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and what the timeline would be for their presence in the war zone."

The key sticking points appear to be "the timelines and mounting questions about the credibility of the Afghan government," the official continued, reiterating that Mr. Obama wants to make it clear that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is not open-ended.

The AP's Feller and Gearan add, "Obama's stance comes as his own ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, is voicing strong dissent about a U.S. troop increase, according to a second administration official.

"Eikenberry's misgivings center on a concern that bolstering the American presence in Afghanistan could make the country more reliant on the U.S., not less. He expressed them in forcefully worded cables to Washington just ahead of Obama's latest war meeting Wednesday.

"The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss administration deliberations.

"The developments underscore U.S. skepticism about the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose government has been dogged by corruption. The emerging administration message is that Obama will not do anything to lock in an open-ended U.S. commitment."

Washington Post's Joel Achenbach, "Feeling the weight of war": "War and tragedy are putting President Obama through the most wrenching period of his young administration. Visibly thinner, admittedly skipping meals, he is learning every day the challenges of a wartime presidency. Health-care reform, climate-change legislation, the broken economy -- all are cerebral exercises compared with the grim responsibility of being the commander in chief ...

"Obama flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for a surprise middle-of-the-night salute to the fallen ... Fort Hood ... Tomb of the Unknowns .... another Afghanistan war council. ..."

"'It looks to me from the outside that the reality of being a wartime president is beginning to sink in,' said Eliot Cohen, a former Bush official and a military historian at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies."

(AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
More on Gen. Eikenberry's opposition to a troop increase:

New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Landler, "U.S. Envoy Urges Caution on Forces for Afghanistan": "Mr. Obama asked General Eikenberry about his concerns during the meeting on Wednesday, officials said, and raised questions about each of the four military options and how they might be tinkered with or changed. A central focus of Mr. Obama's questions, officials said, was how long it would take to see results and be able to withdraw. 'He wants to know where the off-ramps are,' one official said."

Washington Post's Greg Jaffe, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, "U.S. envoy resists troop increase, cites Karzai as problem": "Eikenberry's memos, sent as President Obama enters the final stages of his deliberations over a new Afghanistan strategy, illustrated both the difficulty of the decision and the deepening divisions within the administration's national security team."

Los Angeles Times' Paul Richter, "Eikenberry, who assumed his duties in the spring, is known to have substantial reservations about Karzai's leadership style and reliability as an American ally. During the summer election campaign, he made a point of meeting with other candidates and encouraged their participation in the contest.

"After the vote, Eikenberry -- together with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- participated in a series of contentious closed-door meetings with Karzai, insisting that he go along with the findings of a United Nations-backed fraud-auditing panel's finding that a runoff was necessary.

"The second round of voting did not take place because Karzai's main rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out."

New York Times' Helene Cooper, "In Leaning on Karzai, U.S. Has Limited Leverage"

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The president will make brief remarks about the economy this morning before heading out on his week-long Asia trip. He'll stop at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska en route to visit troops and deliver a speech before landing in Tokyo tomorrow. He heads to Singapore on Saturday, China on Sunday and will wrap up his trip in South Korea on Wednesday, Nov. 18 and Thursday, Nov. 19.

"Japan Cools to America as It Prepares for Obama Visit," writes the New York Times' Helene Cooper. " President Obama will arrive in Tokyo on Friday, at a time when America's relations with Japan are at their most contentious since the trade wars of the 1990s — and back then, the fights were over luxury cars and semiconductors, not over whether the two countries should re-examine their half-century-old strategic relationship.

"When Japan's Democratic Party came to power in September, ending 50 years of largely one-party government, Obama administration officials put on an outwardly positive face, congratulating the newcomers. But quietly, some American officials expressed fears that the blunt criticism that the Japanese had directed at the United States during the political campaign would translate to a more contentious relationship.

"Within weeks, those fears started to play out. The new Japanese government said the country would withdraw from an eight-year-old mission in the Indian Ocean to refuel warships supporting American efforts in Afghanistan."

Washington Post's Andrew Higgins and Anne E. Kornblut, "For Obama, as with his predecessors, defining China is a challenge": "When President Obama arrives in Shanghai and Beijing next week, he will face a prickly question that has vexed presidents since Richard M. Nixon first visited Mao Zedong in 1972: How exactly does the United States define its relationship with China?"

HEALTH CARE: "The fight over the future of the U.S. health-care system is heading outside the Beltway this week, as groups on all sides take advantage of Congress's Veterans Day recess to put pressure on lawmakers," report the Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid and Louise Radnofsky.

"Conservative groups are using the recess -- one week for the House and three days for the Senate -- to press lawmakers to vote no on the health-care overhaul plans. Groups in favor of the Democratic health plan are equally active, if not more so, after getting caught flat-footed this summer when groups opposing the plans packed town-hall meetings. ...

"GOP representatives were told by the chairman of the House Republican Conference, Mike Pence of Indiana, to use the recess to host their own health-care town halls and events with medical workers. Members also received a packet to help them talk about the bill, calling it "Speaker Pelosi's health care takeover" and saying it will hurt seniors, women and business.

"On the other side ... House Democratic leaders have provided members with material touting the bill's benefits, including its effects on specific districts."

USA Today's Mimi Hall, "Q&A: Abortion issue and health care bill"

Kaiser Health News' Julie Appleby, "How the House abortion restrictions would work"

Providence Journal's Karen Lee Ziner, "R.I. Rep. Patrick Kennedy declines to respond to bishop's attack on abortion issue": "Kennedy said he was 'not going to dignify with an answer' Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin's public comments that Kennedy could not be a good Catholic and still support abortion rights. Kennedy called those comments 'unfortunate,' and said, 'I'm not going to engage [in] this anymore.' ... Kennedy said he also finds it 'very disconcerting' that Bishop Tobin will not agree to keep private the discussion of Kennedy's faith, and that is why his scheduled meeting with the bishop Thursday has been postponed."

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Meantime, the Associated Press' David Espo reports, "Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering a plan for higher payroll taxes on the upper-income earners to help finance health care legislation he intends to introduce in the Senate in the next several days, numerous Democratic officials said Wednesday.

"These officials said one of the options Reid has had under review would raise the payroll tax that goes to Medicare, but only on income above $250,000 a year. Current law sets the tax at 1.45 percent of income, an amount matched by employers.

"It was not known how large an increase Reid, D-Nev., was considering, or whether it would also apply to a company's portion of the tax. President Barack Obama has said he will not raise taxes on wage earners making less than $250,000."

Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, "Health savings? No one knows": " It's one of the most basic, kitchen-table questions of the entire reform debate: Would the sweeping $900 billion overhaul actually lower spiraling insurance premiums for everyone? No one really knows.

"And in fact, for all the ink spilled on the effects of health care reform, no independent group has taken a comprehensive look at how the legislation would impact premiums for the 170 million Americans who receive insurance through their employers – a population that would receive little direct financial assistance under the various congressional proposals."

Washington Post's Krissah Thompson, "Initially waved off, Hispanic advocates jump into health debate": " After trying to carefully balance their interests in health-care reform and immigration, the nation's Hispanic lawmakers and largest advocacy groups are scrambling to develop a strategy to counter what they see as efforts to shortchange immigrants in health bills on Capitol Hill.

"They had tried to keep the two issues apart, concerned, they said, that immigration would distract from health care. But other lawmakers and activists have inserted the immigration issue into the middle of the health-care debate, causing a collision between what Hispanic leaders call their two top policy priorities."

SARAH PALIN: Oprah Winfrey gave a short debrief after taping her interview with Palin, which will air on Monday. Said Winfrey in a video posted on YouTube: "Governor Palin just left, and it was really an interesting interview. Lots of people didn't want me to have her on. Lots of people did. Lots of her supporters didn't think she should come here, but she did, and we talked about everything.

"We talked about inside the campaign about what it felt like when she was first asked to be Vice-President, the candidate. We talked about Bristol, the pregnancy. We talked about Trig, her baby. We talked about Levi Johnston. We talked about her marriage. We talked about everything. There's nothing that we didn't talk about."

And Palin herself weighed in on her Facebook page writing, "We taped the show for Monday, November 16th, and enjoyed it so much that we went way over on time. The rest will air on Oprah.com. Oprah was very hospitable and gracious, and her audience was full of warm, energized and (no doubt) curious viewers."

LA Times' Scott Martelle, "Will Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' boost her political fortunes?": "'Going Rogue' is already near the top of online bestseller lists based on presale orders, and national television appearances next week with Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters will probably keep it there. In the category of 'any publicity is good publicity,' a satire of the book, 'Going Rouge,' compiled by two editors at the Nation, comes out the same day.

"But whether Palin's hastily turned memoir -- six months from announcement to publish date -- succeeds in bolstering her flagging political image will depend largely on what's in it, and on what the emergent conservative voice of the Republican Party wants to do with the rest of her life.

"Since quitting as Alaska governor this summer, Palin has been coy about her future. The two leading options: making another run for national office or following former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee into the celebrity-pundit circuit -- though those aren't necessarily mutually exclusive."


NY Times' Peter Baker, "Bush Emerging for Speech to Kick off Public Policy Institute"

Washington Post's Brady Dennis and Binyamin Applebaum, "Dodd embarks on an age-old quest"

Quinnipiac Poll, "Simmons Runs Better Than McMahon Against Dodd"

Charleston Post and Courier's Robert Behre, "County Republican Party leaders censure Sen. Graham"

Wall Street Journal's Peter Wallsten, "Underdogs' Senate Bids Put Pressure on GOP"

Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence, "The Misfits: Eight Politicians Who Really Ought to Switch"

Washington Post's Dan Balz, "Pawlenty hasn't learned from Romney's mistakes"

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.