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Change We Can Believe In, I

Change we can believe in: expanding the war in Afghanistan

Yes, Obama did make clear during the election that the war in Afghanistan was the “right” one. I wasn’t happy about his intentions then, and I wasn’t happy about it a year ago, when I quoted Rory Stewart, then a consultant to Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, now a Member of Parliament in the UK. Regarding his advisory role, Stewart explained, “It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.” He added, “The policy of troop increases will look ridiculous in 30 years. They’re not going to make America safer from al-Qaeda. The theory of state-building is suspect. I’m not sure that the state they aim for is conceivable, let alone achievable.”

Another year later, Congress is passing a supplemental war budget and it appears that we’ll be in Afghanistan for a few more elections. We don’t have money for a second stimulus package at home, but we can send billions to Afghanistan to support a corrupt government, chase a small handful of Al Qaeda members, and keep the Taliban at bay even as the powers that be within the government of our ally Pakistan protect Al Qaeda and support the Taliban.

I’ll leave the final word to Gary Wills, in his post at the New York Review of Books blog three days ago, which I recommend reading in full:

Most presidents start wondering—or, more often, worrying—about their “legacy” well into their first term. Or, if they have a second term, they worry even more feverishly about what posterity will think of them. Obama need not wonder about his legacy, even this early. It is already fixed, and in one word: Afghanistan. He took on what he made America’s longest war and what may turn out to be its most disastrous one. . . .

[T]here has been no follow up on the first dinner, and certainly no sign that he learned anything from it. The only thing achieved has been the silencing of the main point the dinner guests tried to make—that pursuit of war in Afghanistan would be for him what Vietnam was to Lyndon Johnson. At least four or five of the nine stressed this. Nothing else rose to this level of seriousness or repeated concern. . . .

When my turn came, I joined those who had already warned him about an Afghanistan quagmire. I said that a government so corrupt and tribal and drug-based as Afghanistan’s could not be made stable. He replied that he was not naïve about the difficulties but he thought a realistic solution could be reached. I wanted to add “when pigs fly,” but restrained myself.

. . . The President might have been saved from the folly that will be his lasting legacy. But now we are ten years into a war that could drag on for another ten, and could catch in its trammels the next president, the way Vietnam tied up president after president.

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Categories: History, Politics, War
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