Saturday, February 28, 2009

Obama’s Iraq and Afghanistan War

I am reassured by President Obama’s announced policy on Iraq and Afghanistan. I have no way of knowing weather we ought to get out or Iraq in 16 months or 19 months or 23 months. I have no way of knowing the size of the ideal residual force to leave behind. Nevertheless, based on what I think I know, I find Obama’s policy on both Iraq and Afghanistan reasonable and reassuring.

I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq from the very first. I always thought it was a rush to war that could have been avoided. The fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction seems to validate that the war was unnecessary. The attempt to tie Iraq to the 9-11 attack on America was deceptive. It certainly appears, as has been alleged, that George W. Bush was determined to invade Iraq from the time he was first elected and nothing was going to deter him from that decision. While I was opposed to going to war in Iraq, it also seemed to me that we were withdrawing from Afghanistan before the job was finished.

Despite being opposed to the initial invasion of Iraq, I did not think we could just pull out once we were in. Our invasion created chaos and instability and a withdrawal without creating a measure of stability could have led to a bloodbath, an expanded regional war involving several nations, and a strengthened Iran. Thankfully the surge, which Obama opposed, was a success and made a responsible withdrawal possible.

Obama’s current policy on Iraq is essentially a continuation of the Bush policy. Under the Status of Forces agreement Bush negotiated with the Iraqi government, all US troops will be out of Iraq by 2012. If McCain had been elected we would not have waited until the last minute to withdraw all of our troops, so a staged withdrawal under McCain would probably not look much different than what we are getting under Obama. Leaving up to 50,000 troops behind is not a complete withdrawal anyway. 50,000 troops is a still a lot of troops.

On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly promised a withdrawal within 16 months and did not mention that that withdrawal excluded 50,000 troops. I am pleased that he is acting responsibly when it comes to national security and not honoring an irresponsible campaign promise. Despite Obama’s campaign pledge, he never was the most anti-war of the Democrats. He was much less pacifist than either Dennis Kucinich or Bill Richardson, who tried to outdo each other in their pledge to quickly exit Iraq. For those who voted for Obama, they had other choices if an immediate withdrawal form Iraq was their primary concern.

As soon as Obama had the Democratic nomination secured, he started moderating his campaign pledge of a quick withdrawal and started talking about acting in consultation with the commanders in the field and evaluating the situation in Iraq. As the candidate of the Party, he sounded more reasonable than as a candidate for the nomination. Now, as President, on national security matters he sounds not that much different from his opponent John McCain.

I fear that Afghanistan may prove a difficult war that drags on for a very long time. Nevertheless, I think we are doing the right thing. I hope we have benchmarks for achieving progress in Afghanistan and I hope we have clear objectives. I hope we have an exit strategy. I hope we have a good estimate of the cost of this war and do not have unrealistic expectation. I wish Obama would present a more detailed plan for Afghanistan and hopefully he will.

I suspect that if McCain was President and had announced he would leave a residual force of 50000 troops in Iraq and was sending more troops to Afghanistan that the anti-war crowd would be in the streets in massive numbers. Obama has such strong support among the electorate that hopefully the anti-war crowd will not gain traction and derail his announced policy on Iraq and Afghanistan. Hopefully the anti-war crowd has been marginalized and most of those who would normally be in that camp have been co-opted by Obama.

Today the cult of Obama is so strong and he has so much political capital that he can lead the American people anywhere he wants to take them. When flag-draped coffins start coming back from the war in Afghanistan however, I wonder how long the anti-war left will stay in his camp. I suspect that if things do not go well in Afghanistan that many of those who celebrated his victory will turn against him. I hope Obama has the strength of character to put America’s national security interest first even when the going gets tough and people are no longer cheering but are booing.

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  1. "Today the cult of Obama is so strong and he has so much political capital that he can lead the American people anywhere he wants to take them."

    He's lost some of it with this stimulus package. I imagine a lot of his supporters aren't so quick to follow him now.

  2. "Today the cult of Obama is so strong and he has so much political capital that he can lead the American people anywhere he wants to take them."

    There may be a few unhinged republicans and democrats who are cultish over Obama. I've only met the republican ones. I have deep doubts that Obama can lead Americans anywhere he wants to take them. That was more the province of GW Bush and his supporters.

    I can easily recall republicans who were cultish over GW Bush and I remember thousands of posts, comments, rants, etc., denouncing anyone who didn't support President GW Bush as traitors to America.

  3. The so called surge is a failure for the Iraqi people--4 million refugees, the loss of middle class professionals, electricity and running water problems, cholera epidemics and of course the US sheep who are too lazy to read the Lancet report that shows that at least 600, 000 civilian deaths.

    YOU sir are an ignoramus and pontificate about which you know little about

  4. Actually, your view seems quite moderate to me. You suggest that Obama is continuing the Iraq policy put in place by Bush and is able to do so (whereas McCain could not) because of his strong following. You are merely observing, not advocating. My observation is that people who indulge in name-calling often are afraid to reveal their identity.

  5. Thanks for the EC, such a surprise!

    On Afghanistan, I think Obama should be talking to the old hands at the Kremlin.

    They fought a bitter war to a standstill (some say defeat for the Soviet Union) and if anyone can tell Americans what works and what doesn't in the mountains and deserts of Afghistan, it is these Russians.

    Without learning from the mistakes of the Red Army, I fear Obama may well be repeating Vietnam

  6. I agree w/ Denford. Someone in power should take a minute to consider what the Afghani mujahadeen did to the Red Army. The Red Army had a shorter supply route, many more troops than the Obama Administration will ever authorize and (except for the Stingers we provided) abosolute technical weapons superiority in the field.
    I have not served in the military, but the following is true. We have demostrated that we have barely enough political will to win in Iraq, when:

    1) 1/3 of the country was predisposed to calm and cooperation (the Kurdish north)
    2)Topographically, the 'hostile' portion of Iraq is made up of relatively flat terrain friendly to troop movements and short on cover compared to the mountains in Afghanistan.
    3)The population is relatively western/educated (historically at least) in the context of the Arab world.
    4) Our casualties in Iraq have been, by any historical standard, extremely light- and we barely held the political will to achieve what appears to be victory.
    Given the above, the Bush administrations intial policy was exactly right. Fight a proxy war to dislodge the Taliban from power, and help our allies hold the cities. Anything we can do, or help the Afghan govt. to do, to improve the living conditions and modernize the thinking of the people in the countryside is money well spent.
    That said, why do we think we can 'pacify' a country that the British and Soviets (both of whom arguably had populations with much more political will to fight a difficult war than we do)got their clocks cleaned there. For these reasons, it seems likely that if we follow Obama's course (lip service to victory in Afghanistan, then send half the troops the Pentagon requested), we will stumble into Afghanistan like we did Vietnam, and then dishonor the sacrifice of the troops who gave their lives, limbs, marriages, and hearts there by leaving when things get too tough (not because we are unable to attain victory, but because continued involvement will not be politically sustainable). I would say the same if McCain were president, and I sincerely hope to be wrong.