Walking, chewing gum

WALKING, CHEWING GUM…. The White House and military leaders are exploring possible changes to U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and conservative lawmakers want President Obama to decide immediately to send additional troops into combat. The administration doesn’t seem to care what conservative lawmakers want.

A new talking point, however, seems to be emerging among Republicans. The president hasn’t decided on a new U.S. policy, the argument goes, because lawmakers are debating a health care reform policy. Or something.

Right-wing Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina made the case to ABC News yesterday.

“The problem is, the war in Afghanistan and our economy are our two biggest issues. But he’s working on other issues such as health care and he’s putting off the decision on Afghanistan which I think puts our troops at risk. So he needs to focus on priorities right now and not try to ram so many things down our throat here in Congress. He needs to address the issue of Afghanistan quickly.”

It’s not just DeMint. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters yesterday, “With all the attention there is on health care, the attention that needs to be paid to what is happening in Afghanistan isn’t happening.”

None of this makes any sense. It’s a complex policy landscape, and competent policymakers need to be able to keep up, addressing more than one challenge simultaneously. Functioning democracies can walk and chew gum at the same time.

President Obama, for example, isn’t “putting off” shaping a U.S. policy on Afghanistan because he’s “working on other issues such as health care”; he’s able to work on both. DeMint may not realize this, but the president has a variety of policy advisors and experts, and has several meetings through the course of the day. He can, believe it or not, talk to leaders on the Hill about progress on health care reform in the morning, and then talk to military leaders and national security advisors in the afternoon. The president has both an HHS secretary and a Defense secretary.

All available evidence suggests Afghanistan is a major topic of discussion in the West Wing, and Obama is overseeing a deliberate, thorough review of the future of U.S. policy. If there was no debate over health care reform, the exact same thing would be happening.

Jim DeMint thinks deliberation “puts our troops at risk.” Jim DeMint isn’t very bright.