What, I Was Serious?

I saw this the other day, and waited for it to get picked up and commented on. It wasn’t, so I’ll raise it here.

Here’s Spencer Ackerman writing in the Washington Independent:

Today a cohort of progressive bloggers unveils a new effort against the planned 20,000-troop increase of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. A website called GetAfghanistanRight, set up by bloggers at the Seminal and Brave New Films – and with the support of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel – went live today, with the intent of blogging about the morass in Afghanistan this week.

Its mission statement:

We oppose military escalation in Afghanistan and support non-military solutions to the conflict.

This was probably inevitable, for two reasons.

First, the actual strategy employed in Afghanistan is rather murky – as Gen. Petraeus’ remarks to the U.S. Institute of Peace on Thursday indicate – and, pending some strategy review from the Obama administration and U.S. Central Command, it’s by no means clear why sending additional troops stands a greater chance of yielding success. For that matter: what is success in Afghanistan? The fact that there isn’t an obvious answer is a sure indication of policy drift. This is something that isn’t just a matter of concern for bloggers. Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) has been warning about the dangers of a military-only escalation, as has Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.).

I’m shocked, just shocked to discover that antiwar people are – you know – antiwar, no matter what. But that wasn’t the most interesting part.

Second, for at least four years, there’s been something of a dodge taken by liberals when discussing Afghanistan. To speak broadly, liberals have endlessly invoked the mantra that the real center of the war on terrorism is in Afghanistan, rather than in Iraq. But that’s been a statement about Iraq, rather than Afghanistan. To put it a different way, liberals, I think it’s fair to say, have discussed Afghanistan not on its own terms, but as a cudgel against the Iraq war. That’s by no means monolithic. A bunch of progressives – the Democracy Arsenal crew, Matt Yglesias, I daresay myself – have written about Afghanistan (TWI sent me there last year) from that perspective of first-order-national security importance. But lots of us have been content to take the safe position of rallying to the more-popular cause of the Afghanistan war as a way of insulating ourselves to charges of excessive dovishness for opposing the Iraq war. Well, as he’s said all along, Barack Obama will be calling that bluff.

[emphasis added]

I don’t have time to go search for cites, but pro-war bloggers (like me) have been making charges like this for quite some time. I think it’s interesting to hear a progblogger like Ackerman acknowledge the claim.

It’s a serious claim, for two reasons; first because if the anti-Iraq war commentariat has been lying about their positions – beefing up their hawkish credentials by talking tough on Afghanistan while pushing hard for folding our hand in Iraq – it’s something they should be called on (note that Ackerman calls out people who he specifically insulates from that charge – himself, Yglesias, and the folks from Democracy Arsenal). Second, because it’s kind of important that Obama not take or withhold military action in Afghanistan for domestic political purposes; I don’t want our kids sent somewhere (or not sent somewhere) primarily to make domestic political points; it needs to be about achieving our foreign policy goals.

There’s a fine, but important difference between the two – and it’s one that I sincerely hope Obama keeps in the front of his mind. Let’s keep an eye on that, OK?

19 thoughts on “What, I Was Serious?”

  1. AL,

    Sadly I think you have hit a big nail. I don’t believe Obama meant his tough talk for more than cover either and have predicted a pullout beginning after a token effort. There was never any coherence between a call to run from al Qaeda where they came to fight us in Iraq, and his bellicose talk about where they no longer had any power in A-stan. Should happen around mid terms, but no later than O’s attempt at another four years. He cannot be re-elected without appeasing the left.

    Cordially,

    Uncle J

  2. FWIW, as a staunch anti-Iraq war liberal type person, I’m with Ackerman on this. The Pakistani-Afghani nexus of badness, is something that can be helped with SMART use of force.

    But then, if I wasn’t, I doubt I would be commenting on this site at all.

  3. Uncle J.,

    He cannot be re-elected without appeasing the left.

    I’m not so sure about that. If he really does play Clinton II most of the time, he’ll get quite a few moderates voting for him next time around. We could certainly do worse…

  4. I do agree that Afghanistan has been used as a club against Iraq, so to speak, but it’s an effective one. I don’t think it is at all obvious to the average American what the differences are, between Iraq and Afghanistan, that made it possible to waltz in one and knock it over while the other is still quite possibly an un-tameable meat-grinder. We’ve done that before, and recently, so I won’t belabor the details, but every time I hear someone wondering, grousing, musing, etc, about why Bin Laden is still hiding out in caves, I start to get hives– it grates on my nerves the way those annoying “disproofs” of evolution that my elderly relatives keep sending me do.

    It’s a tragic thing that the study of geography became synonymous with, “unbelievably boring crap I will never ever need,” in the 20th century.

    That said, I suspect the arguments will become a little more sophisticated, recognize the fundamental dilemma of the situation in Pakistan, very rightly label it as a problem unsolvable by force… and use that as an excuse to pack up shop and come home. (Ignoring the notion that sometimes even if you can’t “win” and come home with a ticker-tape parade, your presence can still keep things from getting worse.)

  5. So, the left bemoaned the “distraction” of Iraq from the “necessary” war in Afghanistan, and is now backing down from that principled position. Hey, whatever works.

    They argued during the campaign that Bin Laden was still alive in those caves, able to taunt America with impunity because of the Iraq “distraction”. Now, they denounce the very troop increase to Afghanistan that could bolster efforts to identify and strike the AQ leadership in the Hindu Kush mountains.

    They base their opposition on the notion that this is a “military-only” escalation. It is not. Petraeus was in fact the first to call on reconstruction, infrastructure and financial aid from other governmental agencies. No one is saying additional troops exclusively is ALL we need to stabilize Afghanistan. The “military-only” counterinsurgency includes hefty financial, reconstruction and economic components, something they are deliberately ignoring.

    This group of people is also the first to protest ostentatiously and piously when the military fights in a manner that does make eliminating AQ leadership more likely — all the while complaining that we still haven’t got Bin Laden.

    After complaining that military-only is not enough, they conclude by poo-pooing the whole affair because it’s too expensive anyway, it’ll take too long, and won’t work. The result? An un-harassed AQ plotting undisturbed from it’s safe haven to launch terror attacks against Europe and the U.S.

    There’s also their notion that Afghanistan can just be placed on the back burner at will, or shoved down the memory hole because we now have more important things to worry about. How I wish that was possible.

    They may not be interested in war, but war is interested in them. That’s what makes their half-baked “solutions” so worthy of being ignored.

    Coupled with their fervor to close Gitmo and bring the detainees to the U.S. to be tried and freed, the Democrats are staying true to their long-hallowed approach to national security, and keeping all citizens safe from danger and secured against attack. We can sleep peacefully knowing they are on watch.

  6. “I don’t think it is at all obvious to the average American what the differences are, between Iraq and Afghanistan, that made it possible to waltz in one and knock it over while the other is still quite possibly an un-tameable meat-grinder.”

    Yes, but which one is the “waltz in” and which one is the “meatgrinder”?

    The Bush Administration is faulted for supposedly regarding Iraq as the “waltz in,” and for what happened there, Mr. Bush is the Worst President Ever and Messrs. Rumsfeld, Rove, and Cheney have horns growing out of their foreheads.

    But maybe they were correct, at least with regard to Iraq being the much “easier” of the two situations. People who regard the original thinking on Iraq as wrong are on short-term time scales.

    Afghanistan is more remote, more factional and tribal, less Western, and so on and so forth. It may have been “easy” or out of the news for these past few years, but what is to say it won’t prove to be much, much harder long term. Wasn’t the Russian (and British) experience that Afghanistan was “easy” initially and even for a stretch of time, but got much harder?

  7. bq. _But lots of us have been content to take the safe position of rallying to the more-popular cause of the Afghanistan war as a way of insulating ourselves to charges of excessive dovishness for opposing the Iraq war. Well, as he’s said all along, Barack Obama will be calling that bluff._

    If we look at “Barack Obama’s much lauded Iraq Speech,”:http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Barack_Obama's_Iraq_Speech from 2002, it’s clear to me that Obama is one of those who uses support for the Afghanistan war to avoid the charge of pacifism.

    Who’s calling whose bluff?

  8. At least we have seen the Progressives new position on Afghanistan unleashed- ‘we need to be smart’. Thank god somebody thought of that. Hopefully Obama and Hillary are crafting instructions to the Pentagon right now: “stop being dumb, be smart. Make plans that work instead of not work.”

    And in an astonishing coincidence, the progressive idea of what ‘smart’ is is the same thing they always demand. End military force, pull troops out, do ‘things’ that make people like us and not want to kill us and encourage them to settle down and be the civilized progressive little workers they are just on the cusp of being except for American imperialism (oh, and Zionism, where the two are distinguishable).

    What those ‘things’ are is rather hazy, but it surely involves meetings at the UN, apologizing for everything the US has done in the last 250 years, and accepting rabidly homophobic, woman enslaving, apostate murdering, suicide bombing Islamo-fascism as a perfectly equal and valid worldview not subject to out judgement. Then they can get back to having somebody fired for calling that thing in the street a man-hole cover.

  9. Paul, #6:

    Iraq is, comparatively speaking, the waltz in scenario, because we did waltz in and knock it over. My phrasing was careful: I did not say waltz right in and take it over, because taking and retaining it has proven to be difficult, though not impossible.

    With the regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan that we are presently interested in, even knocking over is going to be extremely difficult to do, because there is very little to knock over, because the terrain is vicious, and because the basing and logistics are very unfavorable.

  10. Despite a sense of burgeoning Schadenfreude that Obama and the Dems are now in charge of executing everything vis Afghanistan and Pakistan they’ve been carping about for all these years, I think its really important for the country to give the new administration some breathing room to get their arms around the conflict. If we bear down with the same level of scrutiny Bush was subjected to with his every move, Obama is going to end up boxed in politically and probably make some unforced errors trying to keep his political ducks in a row.

    Say what you like about Bush, he obviously didn’t care what opinion polls said and rarely let dissent alter his course (for better or for worse). We have to be careful in assuming Obama will act the same way, and thats not a knock. The vast majority of professional politicians just naturally bend in the wind to some degree, and that could be devastating right now if we put Obama on the horns of a political dilemma. I don’t want him gritting his teeth and sending troops into Pakistan strictly because he thought it was a good idea a year ago (as an example that may not be factual).

    The left should remember some of the things they’ve been saying about the danger and importance of the region, and the right needs to remember how ill-served the last president was by the un-seriousness of some of the opposition.

  11. #10: There’s also no single big man who has been concentrating power for decades. “Knocking over” each of the tribes in what was once called “Kafiristan” is an utterly different proposition, verging on the impossible. One valley, at least one tribe, one war per tribe… times how many valleys?

  12. MB, #11:

    Despite a sense of burgeoning Schadenfreude that Obama and the Dems are now in charge of executing everything vis Afghanistan and Pakistan they’ve been carping about for all these years, I think its really important for the country to give the new administration some breathing room to get their arms around the conflict. If we bear down with the same level of scrutiny Bush was subjected to with his every move, Obama is going to end up boxed in politically and probably make some unforced errors trying to keep his political ducks in a row.

    Yes, I think that’s important, too.
    Moreover, I think there are at least two ways to make comments to the effect of, “He said this before the election, but now he says that!”

    One way, which is not particularly helpful, is for sour grapes Republicans, and disaffected far left Democrats, to get all bitter and go into rabid attack mode trying to kick up as much dust and stir up as much shit as they can, in a bid to make Obama as politically ineffective as they can. In Obama’s case, I don’t think that’s going to work well, just because the man has an incredible charisma and ability to articulate his thoughts. I don’t think Bush was a moron, but his unwillingness and inability to explain himself was an albatross Obama simply doesn’t have– he’ll at least succeed or fail on the merits of his actions. That said, the dust-kicking and shit-stirring probably won’t have zero effect, and I’d just as soon see it stop. It is toxic to public discourse.

    Another way, though, is to remind people that while Democrats and Republicans do have distinctly different foreign policy traditions (which I think of roughly as the Maximum Allies tradition of the modern left and the Minimum Constraint tradition of the modern right) the President still, at the end of the day, faces the same problems and has the same tools no matter what party he’s from. Because of this, I see Obama’s shift to the center as a good thing. (It’s certainly not unique to Obama– the events of the world tend to mock Presidential purity. Bush spent his 2000 foreign policy debate breath arguing vigourously against nation building, for instance, and we all know how that one worked out.)

    My commentary is typically meant in that second vein, which I will try to keep clear as I continue to contribute. (It gets tedious writing it over and over, though, and it is probably at least as tedious to read it over and over, too….)

    NM, #12:

    Yes, agreed. I should have made that a separate category– it was in my mind under the category of terrain, but that’s not really correct.

  13. “I’m shocked, just shocked to discover that antiwar people are – you know – antiwar, no matter what.”

    Heh. They’re not really antiwar, they’re anti-America-winning-a-war, especially if it has anything to do with our security interests, and double that if George W. Bush was in charge.

    I hope Obama’s sense of self interest, which so far seems to be at least as well-developed as Bill Clinton’s was, will lead him to discredit these folks in way Bush never could. When I see stories titled “Obama Knows the Afghanistan Surge Won’t Work”, I know cries of “Obama lied, People Died” will eventually ring out, and while they’ll never get the traction against Obama that they did against Bush, it’s not something he’ll want to endure if he can put the kibosh on it. It would be good if he could make people see that value of defending this country at arm’s length in a way most folks just don’t seem to get without being told by someone they trust to do their thinking for them.

    Of course, there’s always the question of whether or not the welfare state we seem destined to become now is worth defending in the first place, but I’m so weary of fighting the voices clamoring to eat the fruits of other people’s labor that I’m almost ready to poison the whole crop and ring the dinner bell. I digress.

    Having a president about whom you really have nothing to go on but supposition and your own hopes is much more interesting than having one with a record you can shape expectations by. Like the Mulder’s poster said, “I Want to Believe”. Unfortunately, my brain keeps getting in the way.

  14. The opposition Bush had to deal with on Iraq was indeed unhelpful. However, I don’t see Republicans paying back Obama in kind. It will always redound in the Democrats’ favor that centrists and right-leaners will put the country before party. I doubt very seriously that you will see a GOP effort to undermine the Afghanistan war, or to sabotage Obama’s ability to wage the war effectively.

    If attempted, conservatives wouldn’t buy into it, especially those who are in some way involved in the fighting. We’ve seen a crossing of the line with the left on such matters when they are in the opposition, but it’s not likely from the right.

    Criticisms and contradictions in the administration’s approach and future actions on Afghanistan should be pointed out and discussed reasonably and responsibly, rather than avoided altogether for fear of being accused of “Democrat-style” opposition. Clearly, most people are eager and anxious to show they are giving Obama plenty of breathing space, as well they should.

  15. Mark B: I think it’s time to admit that the Obama Presidency has failed. It’s best to start thinking about “What Next?” instead of miring in the details.

    Seriously, I find myself at odds of sorts with the degree to which Obama has reversed himself. My initial position is that because Obama is orienting himself within my world view, only an @ssh@ole would bicker.

    Yet . . .. The degree of reversal is troubling. The importance of catching OBL isn’t something that you need to orient yourself on. It’s pure policy and the difficulties aren’t state secrets.

    And while I think you and I dissent on this point, Armed Liberal and others believe that the greatest failures over the last several years has been Bush’s *communication* of the importance and goals of the war issues. Failing to communicate to the electorate your actual governance policies seems to be extremely problematic in that respect.

    I’m troubled and not as amused as I sound. I think the guy is in over his head on foreign policy. It’s not a moral or intelectual failing, it’s just not his thing.

  16. One, Ackerman’s position alone disputes this idea that the left/progressive movement is some Stalinist clique awaiting the word of the next Five Year Plan.
    Two, I do not think Obama plans to run from Afghanistan given it’s proximity to Pakistan and it’s atomic weapons. So whomever will end up whining no matter what.

  17. _”Yet . . .. The degree of reversal is troubling. The importance of catching OBL isn’t something that you need to orient yourself on.”_

    I kinda have the opposite take. I’ve been pretty impressed with how Obama has transitioned from campaign mode to presidential mode, and i attribute it to pragmatism, not a shift in worldview.

    The right has been screaming and sharpening knives about the unseriousness of the left regarding security for years. I had always _hoped_ that it was purely playing politics, as awful as that sounds. The alternative was much worse.

    I guess my point is that it is a relief to see that Obama is a serious fellow and almost certainly not a true believer like Jimmy Carter. For the good of the country, i’m much happier having a demagogue than a doop. For that reason i’m certainly willing to let Obama have the time and tools to see what he can accomplish, so long as he seems to be on the same page philosophically. Hell, FDR ran on keeping us out of WW2 while working assiduously to get us as involved as possible.

  18. I would sleep more soundly at night if I knew for certain that foreign policy-wise, Obama had ever read anything written by, or about, Lord Curzon.

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