Friday, February 12, 2016

The new Nixon

The new Nixon

President Obama´s decisions on Afghanistan are drawing criticism from Democrats in Congress. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
President Obama's decisions on Afghanistan are drawing criticism from Democrats in Congress. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

OK, they're not exactly the same -- President Obama can probably say "I am not a crook"and really mean it. But when it comes to important issues of war and national security, the new president is starting to pull a Nixon, taking office in a time of great national tumult and despair, promising changes...and then largely carrying on the discredited policies of his predecessor.

We definitely have seen that in Obama's inconsistent but increasingly dismaying approach to dealing with the torture practices and related war crimes of his predecessors, which is causing some people (on, appropriately) to begin using that C-word from the Nixon era, which would be coverup.

And now there's growing alarm over the war that's been called Obama's Vietnam -- Afghanistan. I was stuck today by the insights of a rare member of Congress who served under both Nixon and Obama:

But American troop levels and war costs in Afghanistan will soar in the coming year, and party leaders, including Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, have warned that Democrats will most likely give the administration just one more year to get a handle on the military situation there before they start losing patience.

Mr. Obey said he would give the White House a year to demonstrate progress, just as he gave the Nixon administration a year to show progress in the Vietnam War inherited from the Johnson administration.

“With respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan, I am extremely dubious that the administration will be able to accomplish what it wants to accomplish,” Mr. Obey said last week. “The problem is not the administration’s policy or its goals. The problem is that I doubt that we have the tools there that we need to implement virtually any policy in that region.”

I think Obey is on the money here for the most part. Ever since 2002, I've thought that the U.S. should be heavily engaged in Afghanistan, including militarily with our allies, for several reasons but most fundamentally because Afghanistan had been the incubator for the 9/11 attacks. One of the selling points of Obama was that he promised a fresh approach here...but so where is it? While our policy there drifts, the flawed military strategy that needs to needless civilian deaths has actually accelerated during Obama's brief tenure. When will we see a new plan that's much more sophisticated than just sending a bunch of soldiers?

Time is running short. I actually want to see Obama emulate another Republican president's first term here -- but that would be Eisenhower in Korea, and not Nixon in Vietnam.

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Will Bunch
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