It is a measure of how much cynicism the Obama Administration has instilled in me that I read his announcement of a 2013 troop draw-down as a nakedly political act. Indeed, it is hard to imagine an announcement more obviously pandering to several constituencies at once, which is how each of the President’s moves on the Afghanistan-Pakistan war have functioned.
When he volubly declared the surge in Afghanistan (and quietly authorised the expansion of the war into Pakistan), he did so saying that George W Bush had taken his eye off the ball and made our country less safe by invading Afghanistan.
Liberal, Bush-hating base: check.
He announced that he had listened to his generals and was sending tens of thousands more soldiers to Afghanistan to engage the enemy.
Military brass and their Congressional lapdogs: check.
And he proclaimed that this war would be one of limited objectives and means (he just couldn’t tell us what these were), fought honourably and sensibly.
Political establishment, high priests of realpolitik, and ‘independents’: check.
It all fits the same formula this time around.
2013 is soon enough after re-election year that it lets any deluded progressives kindle some hope that Obama really is the candidate of change who’ll oppose our dumb wars if we wait long enough.
The base: check.
2013 is far enough after 2008 that Obama can argue that we’ve given it a good hard slog and seen the war through to some sort of conclusion. I’m confident that the Pentagon can cook up some dog’s breakfast of lingo-vomit that will pass for statistics showing how we’ve secured victory against al-Qaeda. Or the Taliban. Or Karzai. Or somebody.
Military chickenhawks and fiscal cuckoos, who can’t decide whether to beat their chests and howl or castigate the President for over-spending: check.
2013 is also, significantly, after the election, so that if everything starts going to hell as a result of U.S. troops leaving the President won’t be held accountable in an election.
Naysayers and assorted riff-raff who still believe that bombing and occupying another country and then telling its people how to run things while smashing down their doors at night and pedalling Arabian Nights fantasies makes us safer: check.
Of course, there is also plenty of time before 2013 for plenty more U.S. soldiers to be killed in a pointless war; for their actions to further legitimate violence on the ground; for them to kill, torture, humiliate and insult Afghan civilians; and to suffer debilitating and traumatising injuries, some of which leave easily-discernible scars, others of which, while invisible, will destroy relationships, marriages, career-prospects, and lives.
But that’s probably a plus for Obama and the neocons too. Because then they can wax sickeningly lyrical about our brave troops, their noble sacrifices, and their work in making us safer and defending democracy.
And let’s remember...2013 is just the beginning of an easily-reversed drawdown that could stretch out for a decade and which makes no concessions to criticisms of the war or its premises. It’s a formula for declaring ‘victory’ that ensures that we learn no lessons, think no critical thoughts, and hold no-one accountable for the tragedies that have seen more Americans die in wars on an undefined enemy than were killed on 9/11.
Someone who was in their second or third week of kindergarten or first grade on September 11th will be just old enough to vote in 2013. Just old enough to serve. For the whole of their lives since, our country has been at war. Sometimes openly in two or three countries at once. Often secretively in half a dozen or more. All their lives they’ve been seeing the coffins come home, hearing the vacuous war speeches, learning why we must always fight. If that isn’t tragic, I don’t know what is.
As an idiot from Texas once tried to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...”