Obama ambivalent about Afghanistan

October 1, 2010


— From the beginning, the call to arms was highly uncertain. On Dec. 1, 2009, commander in chief Barack Obama orders 30,000 more Americans into battle in Afghanistan. But in the very next sentence, he announces that an American withdrawal will begin after 18 months.

Astonishing. A surge of troops — overall, Obama has tripled our Afghan force — with a declaration not of war but of ambivalence. Nine months later, Marine Corps Commandant James Conway admitted that this decision was “probably giving our enemy sustenance.” This wasn’t conjecture, he insisted, but the stuff of intercepted Taliban communications testifying to their relief that they simply had to wait out the Americans.

What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal? One who doesn’t have his heart in it. One who doesn’t really want to win but is making some kind of political gesture. One who thinks he has to be seen as trying but is preparing the ground — meaning, the political cover — for failure.

Until now, the above was just inference from the president’s public rhetoric. No longer. Now we have the private quotes. Bob Woodward’s book, drawing on classified memos and interviews with scores of national security officials, has Obama telling his advisers: “I want an exit strategy.” He tells the country publicly that Afghanistan is a “vital national interest,” but he tells his generals that he will not do the kind of patient institution-building that is the very essence of the counterinsurgency strategy that Gens. McChrystal and Petraeus crafted and that he — Obama — adopted.

Moreover, he must find an exit because “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.” This admission is the most crushing of all.

First, isn’t this the party that in two consecutive presidential campaigns — John Kerry’s and then Obama’s — argued vociferously that Afghanistan is the good war, the right war, the war of necessity, the central front in the war on terror? Now, after acceding to power and being given charge of that very war, Obama confides that he must retreat lest that very same party abandon him. What happened in the interim? Did it suddenly develop a faint heart? Or was the party disingenuous about the Afghan War all along, using it as a convenient club with which to attack George W. Bush over Iraq, while protecting Democrats from the charge of being reflexively anti-war?

Whatever the reason, is it not Obama’s job as president and party leader to bring the party with him? This is the man who made Berlin coo, America swoon and the Nobel committee lose its mind. Yet he cannot get his own party to follow him on what he insists is a matter of vital national interest?

Did he even try? Obama spent endless hours cajoling and persuading individual members of Congress to garner every last vote for health care reform. Has he done a fraction of that for Afghanistan — argued, pleaded, horse-traded, twisted even a single arm?

And what about persuading the country at large? Every war is arduous and requires continual presidential explication, inspiration and encouragement. This has been true from Lincoln through FDR through Bush. Since announcing his Afghan surge, Obama’s only major speech that featured Afghanistan was an Oval Office address about America leaving Iraq — the Afghan part being sandwiched between that and a long-winded plea for his economic policies.

“He was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out,” writes Woodward. One can only conclude that Obama now thinks Afghanistan is a mistake. Maybe he thought so from the very beginning. More charitably and more likely, he is simply a foreign policy novice who didn’t understand what this war was about until being given the authority and duty to conduct it — and then decided it was all a mistake.

Fair enough. But in that case, what is he doing escalating it?

Sen. Kerry, now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, once asked many years ago: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Perhaps Kerry should ask that of Obama.

“He is out of Afghanistan psychologically,” says Woodward of Obama. Well, he may be out, but the soldiers he ordered to Afghanistan are in.

Some will not come home.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. letters@charleskrauthammer.com


Maddy Griffin 7 years, 8 months ago

Everybody complained that Bush did not have an" exit strategy" and left the mess for Obama to deal with.Obama and his exit strategy are letting the Afghans know we will not be there indefinitely, they must stand up for themselves. We shouldn't be there anyway. Let's worry more about saving our own country and less about everyone else.

Kontum1972 7 years, 8 months ago

read Charlie Wilson's War.....

we dropped the Ball..... i knew Charlie personally...

Godot 7 years, 8 months ago

Krauthammer asks: "What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal?"

Answer: One who doesn't value their lives or their service, and one who wants them anywhere but back in the US. One who will not take them out of Afghanistan until he has established another war to which he can commit them and their lives.

Mixolydian 7 years, 8 months ago

Godot (anonymous) says… ... Answer: One who doesn't value their lives or their service, and one who wants them anywhere but back in the US. One who will not take them out of Afghanistan until he has established another war to which he can commit them and their lives. =========================

I don't agree with Obama in anything he is pushing (with the one exception of his love for Stevie Wonder's music) but I'm pretty sure he's not pushing for another war.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

His conduct of the wars are by far the biggest mistakes he's made yet, and he's made plenty.

But like all of his other "mistakes," the reality is that they stem primarily from his inability and/or unwillingness to challenge conventional wisdoms.

With respect to Afghanistan it's the conventional wisdom that it's God's will that the US be the world's policeman, employing an interventionist foreign policy through covert action, diplomatic arm-twisting (AKA extortion) and brute military force, including invasion and occupation of countries that haven't attacked the US, and pose no threat to do so.

But Chuckie would be the first to howl if Obama dared question the conventional wisdoms to which Chuckie fully subscribes. (Conventional wisdoms that are bankrupting this country, and giving easy justifications to those who would attack us.)

Flap Doodle 7 years, 8 months ago

Barry Soetoro just isn't interested in a country where people can't vote for him and are unlikely to give him awards.

beatrice 7 years, 8 months ago

Darn, it appears we blew it after all by not voting for the guy who pictured us fighting over there for another 100 years!

beatrice 7 years, 8 months ago

oops, my bad. I forgot. We didn't vote. Obama was anointed.

beatrice 7 years, 8 months ago

We can't (or won't sacrifice) to pay for being there for a decade. If we are there for nine more decades, we will be a completely bankrupt nation. Is that really what you want?

Orwell 7 years, 8 months ago

Right, Charlie – because what we really need is a President who will commit us to a war regardless of the justification or the consequences.

Wait… what? We did?

Danimal 7 years, 8 months ago

Great, now that we're trying to mount an offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan the President is waffling in the wind. At the same time that we're asking our troops in the field to fight the Taliban and AQ to the death we're making plans to leave before the job is finished. Leaving next July or anytime before we've completely wiped out the Taliban and eliminated Afghanistan as an operating base for international terror, and secured the country is tantamount to declaring defeat. That's basically telling our troops in Afghanistan and all the veterans that their sacrifices were pointless. Now he's more or less telling the Afghans that even though we haven't rooted out the Taliban we're headed out the door and soon they'll be fending for themselves. Like George Orwell said "The quickest way to end a war is to lose it." Just because our President wants to give up doesn't mean that AQ, the Taliban and all the Wahhabists out there are ready to make peace.

As a combat veteran, I'm so sick of our politicians sending young Americans off to fight, and then tying one hand behind their back before pulling the rug out from under them. We're Americans and we can do anything we want to. If we decide we really want to we can chase down every single Talibanner and AQ member in the world, I'm sure we can.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

"We're Americans and we can do anything we want to. If we decide we really want to we can chase down every single Talibanner and AQ member in the world, I'm sure we can."

That's completely delusional.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 8 months ago

The War Is Killing Our Economy

By Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, The Nation. Posted March 18, 2008.

Recognizing the costs of the War is even more crucial now that the economy is facing recession.




It's now the Iraq,Afghanistan,Pakistan,Yemen War

There is no longer any doubt that the Iraq War is a moral and strategic disaster for the United States. But what has not yet been fully recognized is that it has also been an economic disaster. To date, the government has spent more than $522 billion on the war, with another $70 billion already allocated for 2008.

With just the amount of the Iraq budget of 2007, $138 billion, the government could instead have provided Medicaid-level health insurance for all 45 million Americans who are uninsured. What's more, we could have added 30,000 elementary and secondary schoolteachers and built 400 schools in which they could teach. And we could have provided basic home weatherization for about 1.6 million existing homes, reducing energy consumption in these homes by 30 percent.

But the economic consequences of Iraq run even deeper than the squandered opportunities for vital public investments. Spending on Iraq is also a job killer. Every $1 billion spent on a combination of education, healthcare, energy conservation and infrastructure investments creates between 50 and 100 percent more jobs than the same money going to Iraq. Taking the 2007 Iraq budget of $138 billion, this means that upward of 1 million jobs were lost because the Bush Administration chose the Iraq sinkhole over public investment.

Recognizing these costs of the Iraq War is even more crucial now that the economy is facing recession. While a recession is probably unavoidable, its length and severity will depend on the effectiveness of the government's stimulus initiatives. By a wide margin, the most effective stimulus is to expand public investment projects, especially at the state and local levels.

The least effective fiscal stimulus is the one crafted by the Bush Administration and Congress--mostly to just send out rebate checks to all taxpayers. This is because a high proportion of the new spending encouraged by the rebates will purchase imports rather than financing new jobs in the United States, whereas public investment would concentrate job expansion within the country. Combining this Bush stimulus initiative with the ongoing spending on Iraq will only deepen the severity of the recession.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 8 months ago

Is Militarism Necessary for Prosperity?

http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0208-05.htm http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4120/we_arm_the_world/

The government spent an estimated $572 billion on the military in 2007. This amounts to about $1,800 for every resident of the country. That's more than the combined GDPs of Sweden and Thailand, and eight times federal spending on education.

The level of military spending has risen dramatically since 2001, with the increases beginning even before 9/11. As a share of GDP, the military budget rose from 3 percent to 4.4 percent during the first seven years of the Bush presidency. At the current size of the economy, a difference between a military budget at 4.4 rather than 3 percent of GDP amounts to $134 billion.

The largest increases in the military budget during the Bush presidency have been associated with the Iraq War. Indeed, the $138 billion spent on Iraq in 2007 was basically equal to the total increase in military spending that caused the military budget to rise to 4.4 percent of GDP. It is often argued that the military budget is a cornerstone of the economy--that the Pentagon is a major underwriter of important technical innovations as well as a source of millions of decent jobs.

At one level these claims are true. When the government spends upward of $600 billion per year of taxpayers' money on anything, it cannot help but generate millions of jobs. Similarly, when it spends a large share of that budget on maintaining and strengthening the most powerful military force in the history of the world, this cannot fail to encourage technical innovations that are somehow connected to the instruments of warfare.

Yet it is also true that channeling hundreds of billions of dollars into areas such as renewable energy and mass transportation would create a hothouse environment supporting new technologies. For example, utilities in Arizona and Nevada are developing plans to build "concentrated" solar power plants, which use the sun to heat a liquid that can drive a turbine.

It is estimated that this technology, operating on a large scale, could drive down the costs of solar electricity dramatically, from its current level of about $4 per watt to between $2.50 and $3 per watt in the sunniest regions of the country. At these prices, solar electricity becomes much cheaper than oil-driven power and within range of coal. These and related technologies could advance much more rapidly toward cost competitiveness with coal, oil and nuclear power if they were to receive even a fraction of the subsidies that now support weapons development (as well as the oil industry).

More: http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/79988/

1029 7 years, 8 months ago

If we nuke Canada, the rest of our enemies will fall like dominoes.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 8 months ago

In other news: "Dilettantish unqualified poser masquerading as POTUS who takes vacations constantly whines: "I'd appreciate a little break"" http://minx.cc/?post=306401

Commenting has been disabled for this item.