Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Chants on the left

Chants on the left

President Obama´s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan has been praised by neoconservative commentators. (Ron Edmonds/AP)
President Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan has been praised by neoconservative commentators. (Ron Edmonds/AP)

 

 

Well, that certainly didn't take long:

"Hey Obama, yes we can / Troops out of Afghanistan!"

Antiwar protestors marched in Washington this past weekend, crafting a range of chants, including this one: "Barack, Barack / Afghanistan's the same as Iraq!" The ire on the left was triggered by the president's Friday announcement that he was dispatching 17,000 more troops to the southern provinces for the fight against al Qaeda. A number of noteworthy left-leaning activists have already voiced their dismay with Obama - including '60s radical Tom Hayden (who says that Obama is endangering Americans at home "by provoking a hornets' nest"); ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern ("Gallons of blood are likely to be poured unnecessarily in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan"); and Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War ("I can't shake this sinking feeling that what has now become 'Obama's war' is a one-way ticket into a quagmire").

Remember the GOP's ongoing bid to paint Obama as a captive of the left? It's tough to reconcile that caricature with the fact that the highest praise for Obama's Afghanistan announcement is being voiced by the likes of William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Max Boot - all prominent neoconservatives. Kagan, for instance, lauded what he called Obama's "gutsy and correct decision." Boot believes that Obama's Friday address "was pretty much all that supporters of the war effort could have asked for, and probably pretty similar to what a President McCain would have decided on." On the substance of policy, Boot says, "Obama is solid."

The new policy, by any traditional rhetorical measure, is anything but "liberal." According to the usual political shorthand, a traditional liberal doesn't lay down a blueprint for a long twilight war. Obama just did. Even though he framed the mission narrowly - announcing that he wants to clean out al Qaeda in the regions bordering Afgfhanistan and Pakistan - he basically indicated that the job would not succeed unless America sent more money, soldiers, and civilians to craft a self-sustaining Afghanistan...in other words, nation-building.

This should not have shocked the antiwar left, given the fact that Obama had campaigned all last year on the proposition that Afghanistan is a necessary and just war. Nevertheless, an antiwar coalition known as United for Peace and Justice is reportedly mapping a series of April protests, contending that we're already spending too much money in Afghanistan and that "our troops should be brought home now."

For sure, Obama left a number of key questions unanswered. He said he wants "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda" in the region where the 9/11 plot was hatched, but he didn't spell out how he would measure progress toward that goal (the "metrics," he said, have yet to be developed); nor did he offer a definition for defeat. He didn't suggest what level of Afghani stability would be deemed sufficient for America to downsize its commitment; in other words, he didn't frame the terms for an exit strategy. And there were dicey security issues that he didn't address at all - such as how he might seek to disrupt the aid and comfort that terrorists receive from factions within Pakistan's military intelligence service.

Obviously, if Obama fails during the next several years to satisfactorily answer these questions (and many others), and if therefore the war itself goes badly, he may well pay a steep political price at home. But it seems precipitous for the antiwar left to skip the debate over means and simply conclude that a war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting; to conclude that all our troops should be Out Now, simply because Obama can't guarantee a short time window for success.

We were struck on 9/11, only to retaliate by launching the wrong war and giving relatively short shrift to the right one. There is - regrettably, in my view - a persistent impulse among many on the left to minimize the real enemies that we do have, and to liken all American engagements to Vietnam (Ray McGovern this weekend: "Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President"). The actor/ activist Mos Def, during an appearance the other night on Bill Maher's HBO show, quipped, "I want us to fix New Orleans. I'm sick of bin Laden." The people who did attack us on 9/11 would be pleased if that was the centrist American sentiment.

It's not. The centrist sentiment is to fight smarter in the war on terror (by whatever name it will now be called), while, at the same time, holding this president accountable for how the fight is waged. The polls reflect this. While there is now a sizeable minority view that the war in Afghanistan has been a mistake, Gallup has also reported 2-1 support for Obama's move to send 17,000 additional troops; Pew says that Americans favor the decision by a margin of 15 points.

And I'd pose one question to those on the left who are already protesting the troop hike in Afghanistan: If taking the battle to our demonstrable enemy - via military, diplomatic, and political routes - does not constitute a necessary and just war, then what does?

 

 

Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
About this blog

Cited by the Columbia Journalism Review as one of the nation's top political reporters, and lauded by the ABC News political website as "one of the finest political journalists of his generation," Dick Polman is a national political columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is on the full-time faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, as "writer in residence." Dick has been a frequent guest on C-Span, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and the BBC. He covered the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 presidential campaigns.

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All commentaries posted before April 18, 2008, can be accessed at www.dickpolman.blogspot.com.

Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
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