Will Afghanistan be Obama's undoing?

Early next week, according to all the news reports we have seen, President Obama will announce a major escalation of troop numbers in Afghanistan. This will be accompanied by a new "strategy" designed to get them in, do the job, and then get them out--an "exit" strategy.

Does this sound familiar? Yes it does, to anyone who has been alive during the past several decades, or to anyone who has studied the history of the past 50 years going back to the Korean War. The "strategy" will fail, just as it has in the past, the death toll will mount on all sides, and Obama's presidency--begun with such promise, and with important accomplishments such as health care reform already underway--will crash and burn just as Lyndon Johnson's presidency did in the wake of the Vietnam War.

Does anyone doubt that at least part of Obama's calculations in Afghanistan include the political attacks he would endure from the right if he were to pull most of the troops out of Afghanistan and forget about a military solution to the problem? If there is no doubt about that--and I think there is not--then Obama will be guilty of playing politics with the lives of American soldiers just as John McCain and Dick Cheney are doing now when they accuse the president of "dithering" over his decision.

What is truly sad here, in addition to the thousands of lives that will be needlessly lost, is that if Obama escalates in Afghanistan he will add to his enemies on the right those of us on the left who will have no choice but to build an antiwar movement directly opposed to his policies. To build such a movement takes passion, dedication, conviction, and a casting aside of the nuanced politics that might say something like, oh, I like what Obama is doing domestically, but I oppose his foreign policy. It will make those who campaigned and voted for him increasingly intolerant of the compromises he has made on health care reform, the economy, gay rights, and other key domestic issues. Over time, it will make the students who are taking over buildings at the University of California over fee increases into hardened antiwar activists, just as the cultural revolutions and free speech movements of the 1960s were radicalized once it became clear how hard the battle would have to be fought to end the Vietnam War.

Let's hope the news reports are wrong, and that Obama has been "dithering" because he has been considering another path entirely, because he has concluded along with pretty much everyone who knows anything about Afghanistan and its history that escalation will only bring disaster. But if that is not the case, then he is not the man I thought I had voted for (or at least he is no longer that man), and I will no longer be able to give him a pass. He will be my enemy, even if my eyes will fill with tears for what could have been every time I take to the streets to oppose his policies.

The Lost World of Old Europe. A terrific free exhibit for those interested in prehistory, and who find themselves in New York City between now and April.

Israel's collective punishment of Gaza-based students. The latest from Gisha, the Israeli human rights organization, on the case of Berlanty Azzam.

Post a Comment


Jeffrey Kaye said…
Hi Michael, Sorry for the surprise, but the man you voted for is doing what he said he would do: "[M]y presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan... It is not too late to prevail in Afghanistan. But we cannot prevail until we reduce our commitment in Iraq, which will allow us to do what I called for last August – providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our efforts in Afghanistan." - March 2008.