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The political stakes of Obama's Afghanistan war speech

Obama delivers his Afghanistan war speech Tuesday. The danger for the president is that next fall, disillusioned voters on the left sit out the midterm elections, when the Democrats are already expected to lose seats in Congress.

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US soldiers patrol near the town of Pul-i-alam, Logar province, Afghanistan, Nov. 18.

Dario Lopez-Mills/AP

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President Obama has his work cut out for him Tuesday evening when he addresses the nation on the Afghanistan war.

The president is expected to announce an escalation of the US presence there by some 30,000 troops. But he will emphasize that the goal is to stabilize the country and build up and train Afghanistan’s own military and police forces, not position the United States-led NATO forces for a long-term commitment.

“You will hear the president discuss clearly that this is not open-ended,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday.

Whether Mr. Obama can at least break even politically on the Afghanistan issue remains an open question. His supporters on the left, those who backed him during the campaign because of his stand against the war in Iraq, have already made clear they don’t like what’s coming. “Obama isn’t listening to voices of reason on Afghanistan,” reads one of several anti-escalation headlines at TheNation.com.

The danger for Obama is that a disillusioned left sits on its hands next fall for the midterm elections, when the Democrats are already expected to lose seats in Congress. In three years, when Obama is expected to run for reelection, he could also face negative consequences if his base supporters are not as motivated to work for him as they were last year.

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