Harman Shift On Afghanistan Could Reflect Impact Of Progressive Primary Challenge


Traditionally hawkish Congresswoman Jane Harman surprised many at a Brookings Institution event yesterday by coming out against escalation in Afghanistan.

Harman, a longtime Intelligence Committee member, told a Brookings Institution gathering today that any further increases “wouldn’t be well received” on Capitol Hill.

Harman’s view is that the Obama administration should deal with government corruption, and build up Afghan forces, before Congress is asked to pay for more U.S. troops. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U,S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has asked for 40,000 additional troops.

Harman also blasted the administration, as well as international nongovernmental groups, for not doing more to prevent the fraud that marred the Aug. 20 presidential election in Afghanistan.

“I would call it a total fiasco,” she said.

Some commentators have suggested that this displays a newfound skepticism on Capitol Hill for the Afghanistan mission. That may be, but the shift here is more likely rooted in local politics.

In 2006, progressive antiwar activist Marcy Winograd engaged in a primary challenge to Harman, thought to be more conservative than her coastal district, which includes the wealthy Westside Los Angeles communities of Mar Vista and Venice, and then points south to LAX Airport, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and Torrance. She entered the race late and only raised $150,000 for the entire cycle (half of it from a personal loan), but she managed to get 38% of the vote. The success of the underfunded effort had a tangible impact on Harman’s views.

Now, Winograd has returned for a second challenge, having entered the race in April amidst the controversy over Harman’s taped conversations with an alleged Israeli agent. She has increased name ID from her 2006 effort, and unlike then, she has started early, setting up a campaign apparatus and receiving endorsements from antiwar stalwarts like Daniel Ellsberg and Ron Kovic. Her fundraising numbers aren’t outstanding, but she’s already outraised her campaign from 2006 (though she claims that she won’t self-fund this time around). Harman, for her part, hasn’t set the world on fire in fundraising so far in the 2010 cycle, either, though she arguably doesn’t have to, being one of the richest members of Congress in America.

Over the past several months, Harman, mindful of this challenge, has sought to gather progressive support on a variety of issues. She has broken with the Blue Dogs and announced her support of a public insurance option in health care. And now, she is opposing further escalation in Afghanistan, although she is basically calling for increasing Afghan security forces, seen by many as tantamount to fantasy.

It’s worth noting that Winograd (DISCLOSURE: I served with her on the Democratic State Central Committee of the California Democratic Party in 2007-08) has strongly called for a withdrawal from Afghanistan and has run ads challenging Harman to embrace single payer health care. So while Winograd may be having a moderating influence on Harman’s views, she still sets up well to Harman’s left.

Once again, this is an example of how progressive primaries can succeed in the short term, as pressure from the left does have the ability to move members of Congress. This has happened before, in Harman’s case, and the same dynamic appears to be playing out again.

Exit mobile version