Week In Review With Daniel Schorr

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The big stories of the past week, foreign and domestic, can perhaps be summarized as: Where are we going in Afghanistan and where are we going on health care? Host Scott Simon reviews the week in the news with NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon.

Big stories of the past week, foreign and domestic, might be summarized with similar questions: Where are we going in Afghanistan? And where are we going on health care?

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And - and let us begin with Afghanistan. Because first, there is some controversy over the validity and result of the recent elections there, but President Obama has received a report from his commander on the ground there.

SCHORR: Hmm-mm.

SIMON: General Stanley McChrystal. Reportedly he - he is mulling it over this weekend. And that report is believed to say that more U.S. troops are going to be necessary in Afghanistan. Given the advantage of your experience as a reporter and analyst, what - help us understand the import of the decision President Obama has to make now.

SCHORR: Well, it's the quagmire decision. It takes us back to Vietnam and the question of, if you're now going to reinforce the troops there, by how much? And will they be then stuck there forever? Is this something the Americans will live to see? Is this something Americans are willing to accept? There is already some sign that Americans are turning off on the war.

And so the president, who is holding, by the way, this report very close to his chest, and so he really doesn't want the public to know that it may indeed ask for more troops. Well, the question then becomes, will he do what others have done before and say, alright, I'll stay there for a short while, and I'll try not to get involved too much in this? Or is it the classic quagmire - you can't get in you can't get out, and you don't know where to go from here.

SIMON: During the campaign, President Obama, then-Senator Obama, notably referred to Afghanistan as the necessary war.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: He drew a big contrast with Iraq. Can we infer much from the decision he will make by what he said in the past?

SCHORR: I don't think so. Because we're already getting the beginning of a movement to bring them home. George Will, conservative columnist, had said it's time to get out of there. And I think that sentiment is beginning to grow, and as you get closer and closer to next year's election, there's going to be an awful lot of pressure to do something other than simply routinely reinforce them and try to have surge as they had in Iraq, all of these things. There's going to be countervailing pressure against that.

SIMON: There are people who believe that U.S. troops are leaving Iraq now only because that was a surge.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: And so that wouldn't apply to Afghanistan?

SCHORR: No.

SIMON: Different country.

SCHORR: Different country, different situation.

SIMON: Let me ask you now domestically. After hundreds of town hall type meetings were held during the August recess, many of them notably loud, members of Congress are coming back to Washington D.C. next week, and the president is faced with the situation of what's he going to do about health care.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Does he commit more forces or does he withdraw?

SCHORR: Senator Kennedy wrote the introduction to my book on health care in 1970 and said that health care is the fastest growing failing business in America. That remains true. The president now is faced with a great deal of pressure not to go too far, or not to be socialist, and all the rest of it. And he has a big decision to make as to whether he can regain control of the situation.

It's been taken out of his hands during August. Now he has a big speech planned, but speeches are beginning to become a little too many, and before anything else can happen he has to determine can he control the present situation.

SIMON: Let me follow up on what you said, when you talk about all the speeches that he's made. What's the effect of making so many speeches?

SCHORR: You will get people bored with you. I mean here we have a president who wants to make a speech to kids going to back to school.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: And a great deal of turmoil about that. People and some of the parents saying we don't want him teaching socialism to our kids and all of that. It really is quite remarkable. The president wants to make a speech to students and there is measurable opposition? When did that ever happen?

SIMON: Some previous presidents have given back to school speeches to students.

SCHORR: Have given, but never been opposed by parents.

SIMON: The recession, which many people had hoped was beginning to bottom out, has certainly not done so when it comes to unemployment. This week the unemployment reached its highest levels since 1983.

SCHORR: Yeah, the sad thing called lagging indicator. Here we have Vice President Joe Biden saying this stimulus thing has really worked very, very well and we're on our way out of this recession. Then comes unemployment figures, 9.7 percent, the highest in a long time. Then all of a sudden it doesn't look so rosy again. I'm afraid we're going to get a lot of that, mixed signals, for some time to come. But recession is still there.

SIMON: As we enter this next fiscal year, how important do the 2010 elections become to policy at the White House?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I knew I was asking a naïve question, but in addition to your knowing chuckle, help me understand.

SCHORR: Well - listen, the election of the next year, first of all, is an election for all of Congress or a large part of Congress, and secondly it charts the way towards the next presidential election. And so pretty soon you'll be seeing a lot of things happening from the White House and out of the White House all keyed to whether Republicans can manage to get the president to take blame for a whole lot of things in order to help them in the election.

SIMON: But arguably President Obama will never have the numbers on his side now that he might two years from now.

SCHORR: Yeah. I don't know. I find a great deal of volatility in our public. And I think it could go either way.

SIMON: Dan Schorr, thanks very much.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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