The Afghanistan debate to come

THE AFGHANISTAN DEBATE TO COME…. Time will tell what President Obama decides about the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, but at this point, Greg Sargent reports that the Republican Attack Machine is already gearing up to blast the Commander in Chief — if the president decides to go with additional deployments that fall short of 40,000.

Republicans have repeatedly called on Obama to follow the advice of [Gen. Stanley McChrystal], who has reportedly sought 40,000 additional troops. With some of Obama’s top advisers coalescing around a plan to send around 30,000 more troops, GOP leaders are laying the groundwork to criticize anything short of 40,000 as a failure to give his commander the resources he said he needed, the GOP aide tells me.

“There better be a hell of a compelling reason for ignoring the advice of our generals on the ground or Republicans will ensure that this Administration spend the next few years explaining to the American people how dismissing our military’s advice has made our troops and our country safer,” the aide says.

A few things to keep in mind.

First, it’s very likely that McChrystal will endorse the president’s policy, which will leave Republicans throwing a fit by themselves.

Second, the GOP ought to watch that “ignoring the advice of our generals” talk — Bush/Cheney only listened to the generals when they agreed, and I don’t remember congressional Republicans whining about it.

Third, Obama may send thousands of additional troops, but not the full 40,000, leaving Republicans to complain bitter over a brigade or two. As Spencer Ackerman noted, “[L]et’s say that McClatchy is right and Obama goes with 34,000 new troops. Is the Republican Party really going to say that 6,000 troops — basically one to two Army combat brigades — are the difference between success and failure? That’s, well … that just doesn’t make sense.”

The truth is, the GOP officials gearing up to attack the president are, once again, playing a shallow political game. That’s not unexpected — it’s easier than thinking — but that doesn’t make it any less absurd. Indeed, if Obama agrees to an escalation under 40,000 troops, Republicans will attack for coming up short. If Obama agrees to an escalation of exactly 40,000 troops, Republicans will attack for taking too long to come to the decision. Either way, it’s just craven partisanship.

Kevin Drum, however, asks the question that shouldn’t go overlooked: “[H]ow seriously will the media take this when it happens? Will they give plenty of coverage to criticism that’s so patently contrived that a five-year-old would see though it? Or will they treat it as if it’s a serious national security debate?”

I have a hunch we know what to expect.