Obama agonizing over wars

October 9, 2009


— The genius of democracy is the rotation of power, which forces the opposition to be serious — particularly about things like war, about which until Jan. 20 of this year Democrats were decidedly unserious.

When the Iraq War (which a majority of Senate Democrats voted for) ran into trouble and casualties began to mount, Democrats followed the shifting winds of public opinion and turned decidedly anti-war. But needing political cover because of their post-Vietnam reputation for weakness on national defense, they adopted Afghanistan as their pet war.

“I was part of the 2004 Kerry campaign, which elevated the idea of Afghanistan as ‘the right war’ to conventional Democratic wisdom,” wrote Democratic consultant Bob Shrum shortly after President Obama was elected.

“This was accurate as criticism of the Bush administration, but it was also reflexive and perhaps by now even misleading as policy.”

Which is a clever way to say that championing victory in Afghanistan was a contrived and disingenuous policy in which Democrats never seriously believed, a convenient two-by-four with which to bash George Bush over Iraq — while still appearing warlike enough to fend off the soft-on-defense stereotype.

Brilliantly crafted and perfectly cynical, the “Iraq War bad, Afghan War good” posture worked. Democrats first won Congress, then the White House. But now, unfortunately, they must govern. No more games. No more pretense.

So what does their commander in chief do now with the war he once declared had to be won but had been almost criminally under-resourced by Bush?

Perhaps provide the resources to win it?

You would think so. And that’s exactly what Obama’s handpicked commander requested on Aug. 30 — a surge of 30,000 to 40,000 troops to stabilize a downward spiral and save Afghanistan the way a similar surge saved Iraq.

That was more than five weeks ago. Still no response. Obama agonizes publicly as the world watches. Why? Because, explains national security adviser James Jones, you don’t commit troops before you decide on a strategy.

No strategy? On March 27, flanked by his secretaries of defense and state, the president said this: “Today I’m announcing a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He then outlined a civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And to emphasize his seriousness, the president made clear that he had not arrived casually at this decision. The new strategy, he declared, “marks the conclusion of a careful policy review.”

Conclusion, mind you. Not the beginning. Not a process. The conclusion of an extensive review, the president assured the nation, that included consultation with military commanders and diplomats, with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with our NATO allies and members of Congress.

The general in charge was then relieved and replaced with Obama’s own choice, Stanley McChrystal. And it’s McChrystal who submitted the request for the 40,000 troops, a request upon which the commander in chief promptly gagged.

The White House began leaking an alternate strategy, apparently proposed by Vice President Biden, for achieving immaculate victory with arm’s-length use of cruise missiles, predator drones and special ops.

The irony is that no one knows more about this kind of warfare than Gen. McChrystal. He was in charge of exactly this kind of “counterterrorism” in Iraq for nearly five years, killing thousands of bad guys in hugely successful under-the-radar operations.

When the world’s expert on this type of counterterrorism warfare recommends precisely the opposite strategy — “counterinsurgency,” meaning a heavy-footprint, population-protecting troop surge — you have the most convincing of cases against counterterrorism by the man who most knows its potential and its limits. And McChrystal was emphatic in his recommendation: To go any other way than counterinsurgency would lose the war.

Yet his commander in chief, young Hamlet, frets, demurs, agonizes. His domestic advisers, led by Rahm Emanuel, tell him if he goes for victory, he’ll become LBJ, the domestic visionary destroyed by a foreign war. His vice president holds out the chimera of painless counterterrorism success.

Against Emanuel and Biden stand David Petraeus, the world’s foremost expert on counterinsurgency (he saved Iraq with it), and Stanley McChrystal, the world’s foremost expert on counterterrorism. Whose recommendation on how to fight would you rely on?

Less than two months ago — Aug. 17 in front of an audience of veterans — the president declared Afghanistan to be “a war of necessity.”

Does anything he says remain operative beyond the fading of the audience applause?


jayhawklawrence 8 years, 7 months ago

I guess Krauthammer prefers we do some nation building in Afghanistan and spend about 10-20 years there and another $1 Trillion or so.

Too bad the Russians didn't have a "surge" in their back pocket when they were there. There might still be a Soviet Union.

The point of this article is that Krauthammer is just plain ridiculous.

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago

Whooow, and Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize. That repeated popping sound is the blood vessels in hundreds of people's temples around the city. This is going to get interesting once the story gets a thread going.

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago

Nobel Committee (anonymous) says. . .

Thank you for not being Bush!

/wait, who are you again?

jayhawklawrence 8 years, 7 months ago

I never liked the Bush strategy of declaring "Global War on Terrorism".

This just made the skinny little sick Bin Laden jackals howl with glee. They crave the attention. They want to be thought of as the biggest baddest dudes on the planet. Bush just fed their egos.

These guys are criminals, plain and simple. We are after criminals who are cold blooded killers. There is no dumber strategy in the world than to make war on everyone you don't agree with because they may be harboring terrorists.

What a waste of resources.

devobrun 8 years, 7 months ago

How can a peace prize be awarded to any leader in the world today?

Obama's handling of wars, Iran, N. Korea, etc is tangibly no different than Bush. We're still doing the same things now that were being done 1 year ago.

Obama has nowhere to go. There is nothing he can do. Style has been rewarded by the Nobel committee, but nothing has changed. Obama will continue both wars and maybe start another (with Iran). This is zany.

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago

Well, running two wars is an improvement over starting two wars. Ending two wars would be better. 3 year window and closing (for any chance at my vote).

GoldCoins 8 years, 7 months ago

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Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Stop agonizing! Bring the troops home!

Bring all of the troops home,Stop Abusing the Troops and save tons and tons of money not to mention it stops the killing. More than 4,600 USA troops are dead. Tens of thousands of troops are disabled as a result of Strategic Errors of Monumental Proportions that has in effect served primarily the interests of Iran and al-Qaeda, not American interests... http://www.antiwar.com/orig/odom.php?articleid=10396

Other problems: 5. Reagan/Bush Iran-Contra Secret Weapons Deal http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/publications/irancontra/irancon.html http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/reagan/peopleevents/pande08.html

  1. Reagan/Bush - Bush/Cheney Weapons Deals
  2. http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0208-05.htm
  3. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4120/we_arm_the_world/

  4. Bush/Cheney PNAC foreign policy document, "Rebuilding America's Defences," openly advocates for total global military domination. Many PNAC members held highest-level positions in the George W. Bush administration. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Project_for_the_New_American_Century

  5. $9 Billion Lost In Iraq http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/09/60minutes/main1302378.shtml

  6. Thousands of Weapons Lost In Iraq May be Going To Taliban http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/11/AR2009021103281_pf.html

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Eight Years of U.S. War in Afghanistan: the dollars add up

Northampton, MA – October 7, 2009 marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. National Priorities Project (NPP) analyses find that, to date, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan have cost U.S. taxpayers $228 billion, $60.2 billion of which was spent in FY 2009 alone. Monthly costs in Afghanistan during FY 2009 averaged $5 billion, up from $3.5 billion per month in FY 2008.

In FY 2010, U.S. military spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is projected to be $130 billion. In the past, funding was split between the two U.S. wars at a 70/30 ratio, with the majority of U.S. dollars going to operations in Iraq. In FY 2010, this ratio is projected to shift, with Afghanistan war spending accounting for over 50 percent of total costs.

NPP has a host of Afghanistan War-related resources, including:

Cost of War Counters: Afghanistan, Iraq and combined, http://www.costofwar.com/

War spending trade-offs: state, Congressional district and more than 1,000 cities and towns, helping to convey the magnitude and meaning of budget figures, http://www.nationalpriorities.org/tradeoffs(see below)

"Quick facts" about Afghanistan: with troop levels, annual funding, etc., http://www.nationalpriorities.org/2009/09/02/quick-facts-US-military-operations-Afghanistan

Cost of War in Afghanistan: a primer on both the human and economic costs of war, http://www.nationalpriorities.org/cost_of_war_afghanistan

“The numbers are staggering. $228 billion in Afghanistan war spending equals 800,000 4-year university scholarships for U.S. students,” notes Jo Comerford. “$228 billion also means $469.1 million from Boston, MA taxpayers which is the equivalent of healthcare for 140,600 people; $1.5 billion from Alameda County, CA folks which equals 4,341 affordable housing units; or $89.2 million from people in Evanston, IL which equals 1,372 elementary school teachers.”

With the passage of the FY 2010 Department of Defense budget, total U.S. spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will exceed $1 trillion by March of next year.

For more information and current info regarding Iraq: www.nationalpriorities.org.

jayhawklawrence 8 years, 7 months ago

Large invasions half way around the world are not feasible anymore. We have to find a different way to protect ourselves from our enemies. We should have learned that from Vietnam.

I think it is important to find a strategy to defeat Al-Qaeda so there is nothing wrong with reviewing our strategy. But marching in like the British in 1776 is a stupid deal.

We cannot be the world's policeman.

Whenever the politicians are negotiating they always ending up giving away our advantages. Our money, our industries, our trade advantages, our research and development resources, everything. They're giving it all away. They didn't earn it. They think they have the right to give it all away. That's a crime.

Sometimes selfishness is a good thing. It's time to get selfish.

Robert Marble 8 years, 7 months ago

this can't be true, one of b.o.'s campaing promises early on was to be out of iraq within 6 months so surely there isn't any war going on there....after all, would a nobel prize winner lie? say it ain't so...

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago

"But marching in like the British in 1776 is a stupid deal."

It was a stupid idea for the British in 1776. That was. . . probably your point, though.

jayhawklawrence 8 years, 7 months ago

To clarify my point a little further.

Searching out guerrilla fighters in a place like Afghanistan or Vietnam is not something we are very good at.

We had geniuses leading us in Vietnam such as Westmoreland and McNamara. They were wrong and McNamara admitted that years later.

The political dialogue that goes on during these wars we get involved in never make a lot of sense to the guy on the ground with a rifle. He just wants to go home.

I am tired of seeing young men marching off into these conflicts and getting killed because our Congress is too stupid to figure out a better way to kill Osama Bin Laden and his gang of thugs.

I think that is my point.

Thank you.

Robert Marble 8 years, 7 months ago

breaking news: Obama just won the Emmy for “Best Press Conference.” And the Academy just gave him an Oscar for a PowerPoint presentation he's going to make about world peace. And evidently he won a pro bowling contest in Milwaukee, a bass fishing contest in Arkansas, a blue ribbon for the biggest squash at the Iowa State Fair, the jackpot in the Megamillions lotto, and a poetry contest in Sheboygan. Also won the Heismann trophy and voted MVP of the next Superbowl, and the Congressiona Medal of Honor for courage under fire in both Vietnam and the Battle of the Alamo. Our Great Leader Comrade Obama is a supergenius who knows all and tirelessly works for the common good of mankind. This is not rigged at all to promote a political position but rather a celebration of Obama's vast accomplishments, which are still in progress but surely will be astounding.

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