Morning Must Reads — Dare to dither

Associated Press — Obama said to want revised Afghanistan options

President Obama inverst General Patton’s axiom about military strategy: Obama is looking for a perfect plan to be executed at some indefinite point in the future on Afghanistan rather than a good one that could be executed today.

Writers Anne Geran and Ben Feller report that just as it seemed the president had all abut announced his decision to put 35,000 more troops in Afghanistan, he changed course and has asked for a new set of options.

The process has gone on so long that Obama must be stalling for a more advantageous moment in which to announce his plan or really intends to micromanage the strategy if Afghanistan or just can’t make up his mind.

As I argue in my column today, the protracted process invites speculation about Obama’s commitment to taking on radical Islam.
The president is expected to announce his decision next week (maybe) when he returns from his record-setting eighth foreign trip of his first year in office.

“The president instead pushed for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government. In turn, that could change the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and what the timeline would be for their presence in the war zone, according to the official.

Military officials said Obama has asked for a rewrite before and resisted what one official called a one-way highway toward war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendations for more troops. The sense that he was being rushed and railroaded has stiffened Obama's resolve to seek information and options beyond military planning, officials said, though a substantial troop increase is still likely.”

New York Times — U.S. Envoy Urges Caution on Forces for Afghanistan

Because of the size and scope of the leak of Afghanistan envoy Carl Eikenberry’s cables expressing doubts about the merits of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s plan for a troop surge, one suspects that it is a message the administration was eager to get out.

Writers Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Lander frame the suggestion for a non-surge surge of 10,000 troops to train Afghans but not kill baddies is part of a conflict between Eikenberry, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and McChrystal.

“Their relationship, a senior military official said last year, was occasionally tense as General McChrystal pushed for approval for commando missions, and General Eikenberry was resistant because of concerns that the missions were too risky and could lead to civilian casualties.

It was unclear whether General Eikenberry, who participated in the Afghanistan policy meeting on Wednesday by video link from Kabul, the Afghan capital, had been asked by the White House to put his views in writing. It was also unclear how persuasive they will be with Mr. Obama.”

New York Times — Rep. Kennedy and Bishop in Bitter Rift on Abortion

Sad-sack Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy has a problem on his hands with a bitter, public dispute with his bishop over abortion.

Kennedy voted for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s health plan but against an amendment that would bar federal subsidies for insurance policies that cover elective abortion. The bishop of Providence is giving Ted Kennedy’s son a verbal smackdown for his position and Kenendy is left to grumble.

Often indifferent to poor leadership, Rhode Islanders will likely re-elect Kennedy next year whatever forces temporal or ecclesiastical rebuke him.

But Abby Goodnaugh’s story will be of interest to Democrats in competitive seats.

The Catholic Church is leaning on abortion very hard right now since the health care legislation offers a perfect window to seek gains after a lengthy period of stasis.

Catholic lawmakers in the Senate will feel great pressure to support a ban like the one in the House. But doing so may create a obstacle to final passage since some liberals have decided that preserving abortion rights is more important than completing the unfinished work of the New Deal.

“Bishop Tobin, in a letter publicly released Monday, called Mr. Kennedy’s support of abortion rights ‘a deliberate and obstinate act of the will’ that was ‘unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members.’

‘It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church,’ he wrote, ‘redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic ‘profile in courage,’ especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children.’”

Wall Street Journal — White House Aims to Cut Deficit With TARP Cash

The Obama administration is talking about putting some of the TARP money in a special account that could be set aside for a possible future emergency but otherwise will be used to pay off tens of billion of the debt… incurred by the $700 billion TARP.

With high unemployment and a sluggish economy, the White House may opt to spend rather than return the cash. But with the $1.3 trillion health plan and other expenses over the horizon, Reporters Deborah Solomon and Jonathan Weisman suggest that deficit fears are mounting among some in the administration.

“White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is pressing for substantial spending cuts to go with any tax increases to try to avoid the “tax and spend” label that has bedeviled Democrats, according to administration and congressional officials.

The administration is constrained in tackling the mounting deficit, since raising taxes or slashing spending could stunt economic growth. Administration officials say the Obama economic team is especially concerned that rapid deficit reduction could hurt the economy.”

Washington Post — Fed's role makes its next move key

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is trying to get confirmed for a second term and preserve his institution’s role as primary regulator of the nation’s banks.
Writer Neil Irwin points out that those considerations may have a great deal to do with how Bernanke chooses to start tapping the breaks on the trillions of dollars worth of funny money and economic intervention we’ve seen from the Fed since last fall. One hint – Congress loves spending and hates tight monetary policy.
“The Fed has already said it will wind down the purchases of mortgage securities in March after buying about $1.25 trillion worth. In the more distant future, to avoid the risk of inflation, the central bank will need to raise its target interest rate above the current level near zero.
Rate increases are always unpopular, particularly when the unemployment rate is still high. But the political environment could make the decision even tougher.”


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