Iran, Afghan War Steal Health Care's Spotlight

President Obama's full court press on health care seems to have been distracted by foreign policy issues. Last week, the president appeared on five Sunday talk shows to discuss overhauling health care. On Sunday, the White House deployed its national security team to talk about Iran and Afghanistan.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Obama administration is facing two big foreign policy issues. One is Iran, which today announced that it has successfully test-fired its longest range missile. This was Iran's third round of missile tests in two days, and it followed the disclosure late last week that Iran has been secretly developing an underground nuclear facility.

INSKEEP: So, that's the first issue. The second is Afghanistan. President Obama must still decide whether to send more troops as requested by the top U.S. commander. We're going to get some analysis this morning, as we do most Monday mornings, from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Cokie, Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: A week ago the president was wanting to focus the nation on health care, but I guess this is a reminder that foreign policy insists on attention.

ROBERTS: And the White House deployed its entire national security team, over the weekend, to talk about Iran and Afghanistan. Iran, with its revelation of a secret nuclear facility, has made it easy for the U.S. to push for tough sanctions against that country and to get some sense of consensus out of the international community if Iran doesn't allow for immediate inspections. But Afghanistan is a much tougher problem, both in terms of bringing people together, starting with people inside the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, and the leaking of that request of General McChrystal's, you talked about, for more troops, puts the president in a very tough position.

His lack of a military background makes it hard for him to challenge his commanders, if that's in fact what he decides to do. So, it's important the public perceive Afghanistan strategy as something the military doesn't agree on. And in fact apparently they don't. Both the secretary of defense and the national security advisor, a former general, emphasized that the team would be meeting to determine the strategy in Afghanistan and that the decision about troop strength would be determined by that strategy. But Secretary Gates said yesterday, that there's no rush here and that imposing time lines and exit strategies at this point would be a strategic mistake. The reality is, he said, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States.

INSKEEP: Okay, they say that about failure. But what about success, is it clear to you what the administration would define as success in Afghanistan?

ROBERTS: Well, the special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, said we'd know it when we saw it. Secretary Gates said yesterday that success would look a good deal like Iraq. Now that's not encouraging a lot of people, especially people on the hill in the president's own party, who are very leery about escalating the war in Afghanistan. That's why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday, that it's antiterrorism that we are really after here. This is about us sitting right here in New York, she said, making sure we can interrupt the attacks. They are really figuring it out, Steve.

INSKEEP: And as they try to figure that out, they are also trying to figure out health care.

ROBERTS: Finance Committee continues the process of markup, where members amend the bill before sending it to the floor. Liberal Democrats are still pushing for a public option. Senator Rockefeller wants a Medicare type insurance plan. Senator Schumer proposes the government negotiate rates with insurance companies, not set them. The votes in committee this week might give us a sense of how the full vote in the Senate would go because of the makeup of this committee.

INSKEEP: Cokie Roberts, before I let you go, I want to hear your thoughts about William Safire, longtime Washington political columnist who we learned died over the weekend.

ROBERTS: Someone who could disagree without being disagreeable, went to The New York Times as part of really the birth of op-ed pages, not taking the editorial line of the newspaper, but also to the surprise of a lot of people who were wary of a former Nixon speechwriter not taking the party line on every issue. You know, Steve, his column used to appear on Mondays, and I would always have to read it before I'd do this broadcast, because he would report something and then his column would become part of the debate. Also, we especially miss him today, because he always had a annual breaking of the Yom Kippur fast, which would have been tonight and he planned to have it this year and called it off about a week or so ago.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. Analysis, on this Monday morning, from NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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