…But in turning to the nation’s most prominent general, Obama has embraced a commander who may become a formidable advocate for slowing, or arresting outright, the pace of troop reductions next summer. […] – Petraeus could provide calming influence after leadership change
Pres. Obama and the administration have succeeded in squeezing the left and the right on Afghanistan, with the vice grip tighter with the pick of Gen. Petraeus to replace McChrystal. Perhaps having Petraeus as a buffer is exactly what Obama and his national security team have in mind. According to the Times, Biden, Gen. James L. Jones, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Rahm Emanuel, who knows triangulation better than anyone in the Administration because of his Clinton years, were the most influential. Obama’s Afghanistan strategy is pure Clintonian. It has put the anti-Afghanistan war left in a box of their own making.
I’ve supported Pres. Obama’s Afghanistan strategy from the start, simply because we had to repair the damage done by the neglect of Bush-Cheney, but also because of the lift it gave women, without whom Afghanistan will never be stable. However, I’m now in a wait and see mode after McChrystal’s implosion. Along with the grim casualty reminders, which were predicted with COIN, McChrystal airing his frustrations publicly reveals a sort of pain that his strategy isn’t working. Nothing could be more obvious.
For 16 months I’ve been writing that what we’re doing in Afghanistan is nation building. Pres. Obama and his team have avoided that framing for a good reason. The COIN component allows for it, because of the military action that is coupled with the civilian interaction component, as well as other diplomatic features built in to COIN. As casualties rise, which was predicted through the COIN strategy, with little progress and the “surge” delayed, it’s clear that the U.S. and NATO allies are risking far too much for little results.
However, both the anti-Afghanistan left and right have blown it by being seduced by Pres. Obama’s “war in Afghanistan against al Qaeda/Taliban” talking point. The general American public understands this framing because of 9/11; we are also a country that doesn’t like the notion that we’ve lost a campaign, so any withdrawal or campaign against the “Afghanistan war” drives into the Administration’s framing that we must “win the war.”
But are we winning at nation building? That’s the question no one is asking, because Obama has succeeded in convincing people that’s not what we’re doing when it is.
As long as it’s framed as the “war in Afghanistan,” the right will be with Obama. However, if the right, including people like Sen. McCain was pressed on the nation building component by someone who knew the facts and wasn’t timid, he’d be in quite a fix with his Tea Party opponents.
What it would also do is get the debate where it belongs.
Anyone against the Afghanistan war, especially those openly campaigning against it, should be utilizing any variation on this theme: Why are we nation building in Afghanistan when we should be nation building at home? You could replace “at home” with “the Gulf Coast,” “by creating green jobs to get us off of oil,” the list is endless. I’m sure you have your own ideas on that theme.
Instead, the anti-Afghanistan left (and right, for that matter) is focused on the question: Can we win the war? It was shouted at Obama after his Rose Garden address yesterday and picked up by several, including Rachel Maddow. It’s the exact question Pres. Obama wants asked, because it accepts the framing that what we’re doing is a classic war situation.
For the left, nation building has always been important. However, Democrats have a history of what can happen when interventionism goes off the wheels, so they’ve been wary on this one. The problem is they’re fighting a Democratic president whose more right than left on issues of national security, though his supporters got sucked in by his anti Iraq war speech. If this weren’t true he would never have kept SecDef Gates or appointed Hillary Rodham Clinton to State. The gap between candidate Obama and Pres. Obama’s actions is what is weighing down his support.
For the right these two words, nation building, have been the battle cry against Democratic foreign policy strategy for decades. If Republicans were truly conservatives they’d pick it up and run on it in 2010 and beyond. But since they’ve been co-opted by neoconservatism they won’t. Even the Tea Party queen, Sarah Palin, has been snookered by Randy Shoeneman, with her foreign policy “strategy” anything but conservative.
Pres. Obama’s pick of Gen. Petraeus was brilliantly inspired because it keeps the framing where he wants it on “winning the war in Afghanistan,” ignoring that as we try to drive out the Taliban, who will be there long after we’re gone, what we’re actually doing is nation building.
How the American people and voters would react to Pres. Obama doing nation building in Afghanistan versus “a war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban” remains to be seen. Given our economic challenges and the money being spent in Afghanistan for such little payback, the anti-Afghanistan left should try to find out.