December 6, 2009
Obama’s Logic Is No Match for Afghanistan
Obama’s speech, for all its thoughtfulness and sporadic eloquence, was a failure at its central mission. On its own terms, as both policy and rhetoric, it didn’t make the case for escalating our involvement in
You can think the speech failed without questioning Obama’s motives. I don’t buy the criticism that he contrived a cynical political potpourri to pander to every side in the debate over the war. Nor was his decision to escalate mandated by his campaign stand positing
Obama’s speech struck me as the sincere product of serious deliberations, an earnest attempt to apply his formidable intelligence to one of the most daunting Rubik’s Cubes of foreign policy
The state dinner crashers delineated those limits too. This was the second time in a month — after the infinitely more alarming bloodbath at Fort Hood — that a supposedly impregnable bastion of post-9/11 American security was easily breached. Yes, the crashers are laughable celebrity wannabes, but there was nothing funny about what they accomplished on
Their ruse wasn’t “reality” television — it was reality, period, with no quotation marks. It was a symbolic indication (and, luckily, only symbolic) of how unbridled irrationality harnessed to sheer will, whether ludicrous in the crashers’ case or homicidal in the instance of the Fort Hood gunman, can penetrate even our most secure fortifications. Both incidents stand as a haunting reproach to the elegant powers of logic with which Obama tried to sell his exquisitely calibrated plan to vanquish Al Qaeda and its mad brethren.
For all the overheated debate about what Obama meant in proposing July 2011 as a date to begin gradual troop withdrawals, the more significant short circuit in the speech’s internal logic lies elsewhere. The crucial passage came when Obama systematically tried to dismantle the
“Along its border,” of course, means across the border — a k a
It’s not just that Obama is fielding somewhat fewer troops than the maximum Gen. Stanley McChrystal requested. McChrystal himself didn’t ask for enough troops to fight a proper counterinsurgency in
If the enemy in
Which again leads us back to the ghosts of
In this, he’s like most of the war’s supporters, regardless of party. On Fox News last Sunday, two senators, the Republican Jon Kyl and the Democrat Evan Bayh, found rare common ground in agreeing that an expanded Afghanistan effort should never require new taxes. It’s this bipartisan mantra that more war must be fought without more sacrifice — rather than Obama’s tentative withdrawal timeline — that most loudly signals to the world the shallowness of the American public’s support for any Afghanistan escalation. This helps explain why, as Fred Kaplan pointed out in Slate, the American share of allied troops in Afghanistan is rising (to 70 percent from under 50 percent at the time George Bush left office) despite Obama’s boast of an enthusiastic new coalition of the willing.
To his credit, Obama’s speech did eschew Bush-Cheneyism at its worst. He conceded some counterarguments to his policy: that the
But the president’s own method for rallying public support — a plea to “summon that unity” of 9/11 again — fell flat. There are several reasons why. First, 9/11 has been cheapened by the countless politicians who have exploited it, culminating with Rudy Giuliani. The sole achievement of
Finally, the notion that we are still fighting in Afghanistan because the 9/11 attacks originated there is based on the fallacy that our terrorist enemies are so stupid they have remained frozen in place since 2001. Most Americans know that they are no more static than we are. Obama acknowledged as much in citing such other Qaeda havens as
Americans want our country to be secure. Most want Obama to succeed. And so we hope that we won’t get bogged down in Afghanistan while our adversaries regroup elsewhere, that the casualties and costs can be contained, that the small, primitive Afghan Army (ravaged by opium, illiteracy, incompetence and a 25 percent attrition rate) will miraculously stand up so we can stand down. We want to believe that Obama’s marvelous powers of reason can check a ruthless enemy and reverse decades of tragic history in one of the world’s most treacherous backwaters.
That’s the bet Obama made. As long as our wars remain sacrifice-free, safely buried in the back pages behind Tiger Woods and reality television stunts, he’ll be able to pursue it. But I keep returning to the crashers at the gates, who have no respect for our president’s orderliness of mind and action. All it takes is a few of them at the wrong time and wrong place, whether in
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs