You call this winning?

Afghanistan complications multiply. Plus, Congress is heading for a weak wrap-up.
By EDITORIAL  |  June 30, 2010


President Barack Obama scored.

By firing General Stanley McChrystal, Obama re-established an important constitutional principle: civilians in suits, not men and women in uniform, control the US military.

By acting with cool and calm, he reminded Democrats and Republicans that "No Drama" Obama can indeed be decisive. And — given Obama's personal style and general demeanor — that's an important political principle for the president to reassert every now and again.

This trope, however, may be the closest thing to victory in Afghanistan that Obama enjoys for some time.

The Rolling Stone profile that led to McChrystal's removal did more than expose the tensions between policymakers and the military. It demonstrated that the war on the ground is not going well. If America and its dwindling band of allies are not actively losing it, the US-led forces are certainly not winning it.

Call it a stalemate, a quagmire, a thankless, no-win situation. All are equally appropriate characterizations.

The counterinsurgency strategy being pursued in Afghanistan may read well in the Army-Marine handbook. But it does not — or has not — worked on the ground.

And it's teetering close to failure in Washington. The White House can no longer rely on sufficient Democratic support to fund the war and is now turning to the Republicans for support.

As the Phoenix goes to press, Politico reports that Obama is backing away from Democratic efforts to add to a war-funding bill new education money to avert teacher layoffs. Obama may be betting that Republican will be more willing to play the pay-for-Afghanistan game if the White House sells out teachers.

This is where Afghanistan is taking the nation. It is Obama's war now. If he has to choose between teachers at home or bullets abroad, then he should realize it in time to get out. Now.

New England on the spot
This week, away from the hoopla of the Elena Kagan and David Petraeus confirmation hearings, the United States Senate has been wrestling with two substantive and long-overdue pieces of legislation involving financial regulation and climate change.

Both bills continue to get weaker and weaker. Nevertheless, given the severity of the problems — and the likelihood that November's midterm elections will make passage of any legislation even more unlikely — Washington needs to get these bills done this year, even if they are only half-measures.

It is not a pretty picture: we see weak-kneed Democrats trembling at poll numbers, selling their principles for cash to buy their re-elections; and brain-dead Republicans kowtowing to big industry and their Neanderthal primary voters.

What little progress we've seen has been due to some heavy lifting by New Englanders.

Connecticut's Chris Dodd, freed from re-election concerns since announcing his retirement, has somewhat stuck his neck out to push the financial-regulation bill. He maneuvered it to passage a month ago, but only because three New England Republicans — Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine — crossed over the partisan divide to vote yes.

Now those same three Republicans have balked at the final version of the bill, which emerged from conference committee at the beginning of the week with an additional levy on banks and hedge funds. They have forced Dodd, and his House counterpart Barney Frank of Massachusetts, back into committee to rob the remaining TARP funds from the US Treasury instead — hardly a fiscally or morally responsible solution, and as of this writing still not enough to ensure passage.

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