Monday, September 07, 2009

All In, Indeed

A conservative with a sharp sense of satire and a consummate grasp of snark: who knew such a creature existed? I surely didn't, but this glaring hole in my education was rectified this morning after reading Professor Andrew J Bacevich's op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times. Professor Bacevich (Boston University) is a self-described "conservative Catholic", a graduate of West Point, and the author of several books and many opinion pieces. Make no mistake, the man is a conservative, but not the kind of conservative we are being treated to this summer. He opposed the war in Iraq even before the tragic death of his son there. He has made it clear that militarism is not ever an appropriate form of foreign policy. In this essay, he takes on President Obama's direction of the war in Afghanistan and what he must do.

The military, after hearing Candidate Obama promise to make Afghanistan a winnable war, have made Afghanistan a priority. President Obama is now receiving plenty of advice on what it would take to "win" without ever defining just what "victory" would consist of (sound familiar?). Military leaders want more boots on the ground, but, as far as I can tell, have not yet presented a viable strategy with an end point.

Meanwhile, members of Congress, including Democrats, are not so certain another prolonged war can be sustained. The American public has also made it clear that it is war-weary as well. So, what does President Obama have to do in light of his campaign rhetoric?

Professor Bacevich suggests two possibilities, and it is the first one that really knocked my socks off in its sheer brilliance:

So the president faces a real challenge if he intends to make the case for starting from scratch in Afghanistan. To persuade the American people to buy in, he will have to reassure them on five points:

* Afghanistan constitutes a vital national security interest -- victory in this primitive, impoverished, landlocked and distant country will contribute materially to driving a stake through the heart of violent jihadism.

* Armed nation-building -- securing the Afghan population, developing the economy, building legitimate institutions, eliminating corruption and drug trafficking -- provides the most realistic and effective way to satisfy those interests.

* The failure of past efforts by other great powers to impose their will on Afghanistan is beside the point -- history has no relevant lessons to teach.

* The United States possesses the money, troops, expertise and will to get the job done -- notwithstanding the recession, the mushrooming deficit, the diminishing enthusiasm of our allies, the stress and strain already endured by U.S. forces and the uneven performance of government agencies in the analogous U.S. effort to "fix" Iraq.

* No other priorities, foreign or domestic, exist that outrank Afghanistan and should have first call on the resources that years of additional war will consume -- several hundred billion dollars and several hundred additional American lives by a conservative estimate.

Or...he can behave as a leader should: recast the terms of the debate and demand reasonable alternatives from his advisers, military and civilian:

As difficult as it is to do so at a time when war has become a seemingly perpetual condition, when it comes to Afghanistan, the really urgent need is to recast the debate. Official Washington obsesses over the question: How do we win? Yet perhaps a different question merits presidential consideration: What alternatives other than open-ended war might enable the United States to achieve its limited interests in Afghanistan?

At this pivotal moment in his presidency, if Obama is going to demonstrate his ability to lead, he will direct his subordinates to identify those alternatives.

Exactly so. Mr. Bacevich, you and I may disagree on any number of issues, but on this one we agree. Nicely done. And thank you.

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Anonymous larry, dfh said...

Bacevich is naive. I'm sorry, truly, about his child. But then again, imho you have to be pretty naive to allow your child to go to a war zone unless they were all green-zoned up like joe biden's kid. As a Korean War vet told me in a bar, "When the U.S. gov't says their behind you, they are, They're WAY behind you!"
It's the poppies that are in the (c.i.a.'s) nation's interest. And they don't want to share them, they want them all for themselves. And the hasheesh. Of all the promises that obama could have broken, one of the few that he hasn't has been the Afghan war. I guess the same people who caused him to break his transparency, rule of law, and anti-torture promises are the same ones who don't want him to break his Afghan war promise.

11:28 PM  

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