Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Big Picture: 10 Problems with Obama's Plan

Here is a list of my major problems with the President’s Afghanistan strategy:

1) Our money, time, attention, skill - and President Obama's time, attention, and skill - should be devoted to rebuilding our nation, creating a New Foundation, not engaging in a wildly inefficient semi-nation-building across the world

2) This is always the case, and especially now with the Great Recession: the default should be no war, no foreign entanglements; the burden should always be to convincingly prove why the war is necessary, why the troops are necessary. It shouldn't be on us to prove why we should bring the troops home today - that should be the default.

3) Mission Impossible: At every level. On the ground, our tactics seem woefully inadequate: you read the stories about how the Afghan security forces are completely incompetent, how we're doing absurd tasks like chasing random bands of tribal chieftains across hundreds of miles of mountains and camping out there for months to intervene in random tribal conflicts, checking the records of the security forces to see that they're not just wasting money. On a national level, we're trying to prop up the most corrupt government in the world, which just takes advantage of our largesse; when we threaten Karzai there's no teeth to it, he knows we have no other option but him, and it is basically an ungovernable country. And strategically, why are we nation-building there? How does that serve our basic interests? Isn't that much more likely to cause blowback than do any good? We're undermining our reputation in the world, making us less safe, every time we kill Afghan and Pakistani civilians. Not to mention that it's immoral.

4) Even bigger picture, Afghanistan has been the graveyard of empires, and this kind of wild imperial overreach, especially when problems are festering at home, has always doomed great nations.

5) Even purely on national security grounds, the administration has admitted that there are less than 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and they are incapable of threatening us from there. If there is a threat it comes from Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Or from scattered bases throughout the world, as the administration admitted. Strategically this is such a roundabout way of getting to Al Qaeda. It makes me think that this is a version of that old joke of the man who drops his keys on the dark side of the street, but looks for them under the lamppost because that's where he can see. We are allowed to go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan but not Pakistan or other places, so that's why we're doing it in Afghanistan. Very questionable.

6) Even more troubling, as Rachel Maddow pointed out, Obama's rationale for escalation in Afghanistan is based on the horrendous, despicable - both morally and strategically - Bush Doctrine of Preventive War, invading places before they threaten us. The administration has admitted that Afghanistan doesn't threaten us, and yet we're invading it to prevent it from becoming a safe haven. This is a doctrine of Wars of Aggression, which is morally heinous and a war crime. And to say it again, we're killing thousands of innocent civilians, as well as our own soldiers, when we're not even in imminent danger, and they will die as part of combating tribal figures who may support some version of Islamists who may make up some sort of Taliban that may or may not provide a safe haven to some Al Qaeda figures at some point in the future, somewhere, even though Al Qaeda already has safe havens elsewhere, and even though these kind of invasions have only strengthened the appeal of Al Qaeda, of anti-American radical Islamic fundamentalism across the Muslim world, doing their work for them. Does that sound like a good reason to send our troops to die? To have civilians die?

7) Then there's the matter of trust. Of course I'm not an expert on the Afghan war so we have to rely on how much we trust the people making this policy. Do we trust their track record? Do we trust their reasons for doing this? The answer to both is absolutely not. Somehow, the same incompetent, blind, corrupt figures who botched Afghanistan the first time, led us into the Iraq Invasion, completely botched that in the service of ideology and corporations - Gates, Clinton, the Pentagon, Senators like Liebermand and McCain, the neocons, the "wise men" like David Brooks - they're the ones making this policy. Why should we have any trust that they know what they're doing this time? And, do we trust Obama's reasons for making this decision? I am very concerned that he did this for similar reasons to LBJ escalating the Vietnam War: don't want to appear weak, too difficult to resist the military, intimidated by these tough soldiers especially when you yourself didn't serve (LBJ did serve, so we should just erase this I think, you make the point)have to stick to a campaign promise that was clearly originally made primarily to show that he wasn't a pacifist, because he thinks it would take too much political capital to bring the troops home, that would violate his approach of always taking the least confrontational approach. On the question of trust, we're already being deceived, spun. While the one consolation was the timeline to get out in mid 2011, deep in the articles, senior Administration officials cautioned that it was unlikely that the troops would ACTUALLY be brought home at that point. Basically admitting that it was an empty promise to appease us. But when has an administration ever lied or covered up the uncomfortable truth in order to maintain public support for a foreign invasion? That's NEVER happened!

8) What this says about Obama. Yes he inherited the mess, but he's TRIPLED the size of our forces there since Inauguration. This is his war. Why is this war become a central part of what he's focusing his Presidency on? Is this a top priority? When your biggest problem is that people feel you're not attuned enough to unemployment and insecurity, to the daily struggles of the working and middle classes, why would you take on this project? Don't tell me it's politically shrewd. As with policies toward unemployment and the banks, ending the war to instead focus on alleviating unemployment would appeal to both the left and the center. I see no evidence that people in the center are pumped up to fight this war and are more likely to support him now. Meanwhile, in the past few months even as his standing with the center slips, Obama has seemed to go out of his way to depress his greatest asset - his passionate activist base. The speech yesterday was the biggest "Eff You" yet to us. How is it politically shrewd to depress your base, to make them angry at you or more likely just turned off from politics? How does he expect to enact sweeping change without the enthusiastic support, without all but the most grudging support, of the activist base?

9) If Obama is somehow right and this is a war worth fighting, then we should have a universal military draft and serious tax increases in order to fight it. Either a war is urgent enough worth everyone in the country fighting and paying for, or it isn't urgent enough to do at all. It is so immoral to say that as a nation we face a threat, but only .03% of the population should risk their lives for it, and everyone else should just keep on playing PlayStation, and not even pay for it, some later generation can do that, or we can just cut some social safety net spending.

10) To sum it up, this whole thing is exactly the opposite of why we elected Obama. We knew making real change would be tough, but we assumed that would be because of the resistance of Republicans, centrist Democrats, corporations, the structure of the Senate, etc. as we see in health care. This is self-inflicted. We can't say 'well, Obama was forced to do this by the political reality, by the mess Bush left us.' No. This one's on Obama. And he will have to answer for it.

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