Obama Hopes NATO Push Fosters Bipartisanship
GWEN THOMPKINS, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Gwen Thompkins in for Liane Hansen.
President Obama is going to Camp David today where he'll continue following the progress of U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. U.S. forces, along with British and Afghan soldiers, moved into the town of Marjah this weekend. They're trying to drive the Taliban out of what has long been a stronghold. The White House is hoping that success on the front might make way for greater political cooperation here at home.
NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving joins us. Hi, Ron.
RON ELVING: Good morning, Gwen. Pleasure to have you here with us in Washington this week.
THOMPKINS: Thanks so much. So, what is the president likely to hear from his top commanders today about the situation on the ground in Marjah?
ELVING: The president's been told overnight that the initial thrust into the area went well. Most of the resistance came from snipers, IEDs, booby traps, rather than large organized units of fighters. And the work of controlling the area will continue today and for some time. The real goal here is not to take the area, but to hold it indefinitely with an Afghan force of police and administrators.
THOMPKINS: Now, of course, any president is going to be concerned about a high-profile military mission like this, but what are these political stakes for the Obama administration right now? What are the stakes here in Washington?
ELVING: It's the first big hurdle, let's say, for the new strategy put in place late last year after that months-long review the president had over the Afghanistan commitment. So, in that strategic sense, the results in Marjah in the longer term really are what matter.
But as for the politics at the moment, the president is struggling with a bad economic set of news and political conditions at home. His agenda's pretty much stalled in the Senate due to unified Republican resistance, and his approval rating barely breaks even in the polls. So, he could use a good news story from the war.
THOMPKINS: Now, escalation of this war is a major source of friction between the president and many in his own party. Mr. Obama appears to be getting better support on his Afghanistan policy from Republicans in Congress and elsewhere.
ELVING: That's right. Afghanistan is number one on a very short list in that regard. But it is one place where the president can claim the mantle of bipartisan that he's always said he wanted and that, in fact, he needs in order to accomplish things in the Senate and improve his own political standing generally.
THOMPKINS: You know, lately the political tide seems to be running against the president. And new polls this week show that the standing of the Republican Party is on the rise. Is there alarm in the White House about this?
ELVING: There's surely a lot of concern in the White House about it and a good bit of alarm in other parts of the Democratic Party as well. In a difficult economic time, the opposition gets stronger. And you would have to say that this conservative comeback is in many respects entirely predictable. I mean, we saw 16 years ago something similar after Bill Clinton's election in 1992. And you saw pushback when Jimmy Carter was elected 16 years before that and for that matter, after Jack Kennedy's election, 16 years before that.
So, it's been a pattern for half a century now that when Democrats have succeeded, Republicans in the White House try to take the country in a different direction, there is a pendulum swing back into their face.
THOMPKINS: Pushback indeed. Health care legislation is in limbo, the financial reregulation bill is stuck and so is the climate change bill. You know, Senate Republicans seem to be in the driver's seat on all the big issues, and they seem pretty content to stay there. Is that going to change anytime soon?
ELVING: Not until Republicans get some indication of a negative reaction from the public. And, you know, that could happen. There has been a little burst of negative reaction to some of this business of holding onto all the appointees and not confirming any. And there was a sign of cooperation at the end of the week on the jobs bill as well.
THOMPKINS: Ron Elving is NPR's Washington editor. Thanks, Ron.
ELVING: Thank you, Gwen.