On Wednesday of this week, President Obama is set to make an announcement about the beginning of the drawdown of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
He will undoubtedly take care to couch the move in language that will appeal to both sides of the debate: he will assure those of us who are deeply troubled by the un-ending commitment to waging a bloody, wasteful and pointless war that this is the start of a process of ending the conflict; and he will guarantee those who see the War on Terror, the Long War, the Fight Against Radical Islam, etc, as central to our national security that this is in no way a withdrawal, and that the U.S. will not waver in its commitment to winning the war.
Obama’s Afghanistan policy is one utterly devoid of principle. It’s not about fighting for any specific view of the future of Afghanistan (and it shouldn’t be—people need to make their won call about their future), because we’re involved in negotiations with the Taliban. It can’t be about national security, because we have actually seen an uptick in ‘terrorist’ activities and attacks since 9/11. It has become about two things: the vindication of our warmongering generals and Obama’s poll numbers.
That Obama knows he won’t win the 2012 race based on ideas or agenda is already clear. Thus his obscene and morally reprehensible effort to raise a billion dollars in the course of that campaign. But he will be hard put to rally the progressive supporters whose wallets and shoe-leather won him first the Democratic nomination and then the presidency in 2008 given his failure to re-orient the debate about the role of government and public institutions in our economic and social lives, his argument that civil rights should be decided at the state level (because that worked out well before?), and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, our continued and escalated presence in Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan, and our involvement in Libya.
Nor has he been able to bring the kind of fresh thinking into his administration that he promised. The people running our economy are those who plunged it into recession before his election, the military industrial complex ranges ever farther afield and exerts ever more control over our economy and policies, and the people making foreign policy calls exhibit an appalling ignorance of the historical background to our present troubles and a criminal disinterest in performing a serious re-think of our policies.
During every moment at which a sharp break from the past was required, Obama has capitulated, and fallen back on the tried-and-failed methods that have ruined our economic framework, our social community and our security. And his announcement about Afghanistan will be no different. Some are calling for a withdrawal of over half of our troops—not enough, I would say, but far, far better than any of the scenarios Obama is likely to propose.
Now, the President who inveighed against “Dumb Wars” is waging the stupidest of them all for the shallowest of reasons. And he is in serious danger of being politically out-flanked by Republicans. Ron Paul has called for an outright withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Other Republicans are parsing their positions.
Today, former-Utah Governor Jon Huntsman entered the race. Huntsman is one of a dying breed of ‘reasonable’ Republicans. I don’t care for many of his political positions, his financial backing of George W Bush, his pandering references to Reagan or his own hewing to formulaic remedies for social and economic ills. But he is in danger of introducing a degree of sanity to the otherwise lunacy-ridden primary, with his pronouncements on the need to roll back our military commitments abroad, his self described “comfort” with a healthcare mandate, support of civil unions as well as the science behind climate change, etc.
But Huntsman is not averse to policy U-turns, embraces only a mildly-watered down version of the free market approach of his fellow Republicans, and is certainly not a stranger to uttering absurd homilies. On Afghanistan: “It’s a tribal state, and it always will be”. This kind of vacuous statement obviously ignores the extent to which Afghanistan, as we know it today, is a product of over a century of armed foreign intervention and manipulation, and has never been allowed the chance to actively determine its future.
At the end of the day, there is no difference between Obama and the majority of Republicans on the question of his wars, and where there is, it is where some Republicans are expressing (politically expedient?) doubt. We have yet to see an approach from Obama or the more rational of the Republican candidates that begins to seriously end the series of wars that have crippled our economy any take a daily toll on military and civilian lives in a half-dozen countries around the world. What we desperately need is an anti-war movement to put serious pressure on these people to end our damaging wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and our ill-advised interventions in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and the more secretive security operations elsewhere.