Thursday, October 15, 2009

Respectfully, I disagree

By Carl

Anyone who has known me for any length of time ought to know two things about me:

1) I oppose nearly every war in all its facets, and

2) I am a lifelong liberal Democrat, but I do not take marching orders.

In fact, my favorite T-shirt says "I Don't Fetch And I Don't Beg."

That said, today I read a troubling piece from one of the limelight A-list bloggers for the Progressive movement,
Arianna Huffington. I distrust Ms. Huffington, who was stridently conservative before she was stridently liberal (as was David Brock, among others). I find that over the past five years or so she has become more trustworthy, but being paranoid like I am, I still take her with a grain of salt.

But I digress... sort of.

Here's what she had to say today:

Joe Biden met with CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus this morning to talk about Afghanistan -- an issue that has pushed the vice president into the spotlight, landing him on the cover of the latest Newsweek.

I have an idea for how he can capitalize on all the attention, and do what generations to come will always be grateful for: resign.

[...]It's been known for a while that Biden has been on the other side of McChrystal's desire for a big escalation of our forces there -- the New York Times reported last month that he has "deep reservations" about it. So if the president does decide to escalate, Biden, for the good of the country, should escalate his willingness to act on those reservations.

What he must not do is follow the same weak and worn-out pattern of "opposition" we've become all-too-accustomed to, first with Vietnam and then with Iraq. You know the drill: after the dust settles, and the country begins to look back and not-so-charitably wonder, "what were they thinking?" the mea-culpa-laden books start to come out. On page after regret-filled page, we suddenly hear how forceful this or that official was behind closed doors, arguing against the war, taking a principled stand, expressing "strong concern" and, yes, "deep reservations" to the president, and then going home each night distraught at the unnecessary loss of life.

This is a fair position to take, like Colin Powell's, of leaving a group who clearly hold strong opinions in opposition to yours.

The unfortunate thing is, Biden is right. Further, he's not being furtive in his opposition, as the
Newsweek article makes clear.

Undoubtedly, this article was sanctioned by the Oval Office, and so Biden's opinion being on display for all to see is both comforting to me as a liberal Libertarian and as a fan of good government.

Here's Biden's position, as noted in Newsweek and quoted by Ms. Huffington:

"Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?" Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. "And how much will we spend on Pakistan?" Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. "Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?" The White House Situation Room fell silent.

Indeed, why are we wasting our time in Afghanistan if we are fighting Al Qaeda? Now, there may be plenty of other reasons to engage the Taliban and its ally Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

A show of faith in the battle waged by the Pakistani government springs to mind, and that the Taliban, recently the focused of renewed energy by the Obama administration (I'll get to that in a second) is less influential in Pakistan than in Afghanistan also must be considered.

What Biden is pointing out is the thuddingly simple rationale that any average American can understand. Al Qaeda cross the Afghan-Pakistan border with impunity, and the way we are battling them is kind of like
duct taping one side of a leak in a boat. It'll work, sort of, but eventually you're going to sink.

This is good. This is the sort of advice a president needs to hear. Cogent, simple, and not lock-step voicing of conventional wisdom.

Ms. Huffington, THAT'S what got us into this mess in the first place! By forcing Colin Powell (or any number of military advisers)and the
"Pottery Barn" doctrine out, the Bush administration guaranteed itself insulation from bad news. Insulation from bad news guarantees bad results.

By raising this issue, it appears Biden has already forced the administration to alter course, even if a little: by
repurposing the efforts in Afghanistan (and justifying the increase in troops) as a fight against the Taliban. This does provide some political cover to pressure Pakistan to accept US help.

That Biden is whispering in Obama's ear "Sic Transit Gloria" is a good thing, Ms. Huffington.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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