“No we can’t!” Where is Candidate Obama now that we need him?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If there’s something missing in the Obama White House, it’s a sense of déjà vu.

Candidate Obama kept telling us that the real fight against terrorism was in Afghanistan, not Iraq. (Wrong again. However unpleasant the Taliban, our problem is in Pakistan.) Now, not yet nine full months in office, President Obama seems surprised at General Stanley McChrystal’s assertion that a substantially greater commitment of troops and material will be required to accomplish the President’s objectives.

Hey! It’s not my imagination, but we’ve been here more than a few times before. In fact, this country, our country was born of an insurgency that overwhelmed the most potent military machine of its time which thought, mistakenly, that it could prevail at long distance, fighting in unfamiliar foreign terrain, against a native enemy. Sure, our Revolutionary War militia had vast, if not universal popular support. We were the good guys in that fight, but so what? It’s still reasonable to ask, when are we going to get the point?

Candidate Obama made a big deal about his having been opposed to the war in Iraq from the start. I’m referring, in particular, to his speech on October 2, 2002 at an anti-Iraq war rally in Chicago. While the wisdom and motivation of his comments are debatable, then State Senator Obama said the following:

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

And then he added,

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

Well, we now know President Obama’s definition of a “dumb war.” It’s one he didn’t start.

These meetings he’s having at the White House to deliberate the proper use of military in Afghanistan are admirable in one sense, shockingly naïve in another. It’s good that he’s taking his time and getting advice. It shows maturity in that he’s not sure of himself, willing to admit it and, presumably, not afraid to change course. Unfortunately, the entire premise of that military operation is wrong.

If history has taught us anything, it is not the role of the United States, it is not within the power of the United States (save our laying waste to an entire nation), it is not the legal right of the United States, nor is it the only or best strategy for the United States to employ on-site, regular military forces to stop insurgencies in foreign countries which we believe are undesirable – however correct that belief may be.

What, precisely, would happen if we pulled out of Afghanistan altogether?

We would still have the ability to monitor and take occasional military action against an enemy who would be far more visible. We deprive that enemy of much of the political capital which it derives from our occupying its country. Regrettably, we allow the Taliban to demonstrate, at the expense of the Afghanistan people, the very reasons we find them so deplorable – a reality which may eventually be the death of their movement, an objective which our military efforts in Iraq obviously failed to accomplish. And we can focus our attention through international politics and economics to cutting off the support and safe harbor that enemy and its terrorist cohorts enjoy in Pakistan.

Where is Candidate Obama now that we need him?


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