Sunday, March 28, 2010

Obama visits Afghanistan, challenges Karzai, and talks up the war

"In Afghanistan," headlines the Times, "Obama Presses Karzai to Fight Corruption."

Good luck with that, Mr. President, but I suspect you'd have about as much of a chance for success pressing McConnell and Boehner to fight extremism and obstructionism in the GOP.

Honestly, I'm not sure which is in worse shape, Afghanistan or the Republican Party.


[He] rallied the troops in Afghanistan during his first visit to the country as commander-in-chief today, acknowledging both military successes and personal sacrifices, and noting, "the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something."

Well, it was important for him to make an appearance there, not least given that so much of his presidency has been dedicated to domestic issues, however important themselves, in recent weeks/months, and I suppose it's important for him to try to boost the morale of the troops by standing firm on the mission, and by saying all the right things from a flag-waving perspective, but... come on... America doesn't ever quit? Sure it does. It quit in Tora Bora, it quit in Iraq (or, rather, on Iraq, by not having a plan for the occupation and counter-insurgency), it quit in Afghanistan once attention was diverted to Iraq. Okay, maybe America just quit under Bush and now won't under Obama, but it's not about quitting or not quitting, it's about a clear purpose for being there as well as defined objectives and if not a definite sense of what would constitute victory at least a realistic sense of the war's end.

And is there a clear purpose, or rationale, for the continuing conduct of the war? I still say no -- and I say that as an initial supporter of the war.

I won't get into the details here, but I outlined my objections after Obama's pro-war West Point speech back in December:

In making the case for war, Obama sounded at times a lot like Bush. Yes, there was good reason (a solid, defensible rationale) to go to war, and the war, early on, may have been legitimate (in other words, the U.S. was justified in going to war to confront an enemy that had attacked it), but the war now is not the war then. Back then, it was about removing the Taliban from power and denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan. That was accomplished, quickly, even if Karzai's government doesn't really run the country in any meaningful way. It is not clear what it is about now. Rebuilding the country? Propping up the government? Holding back the Taliban?

In the absence of a clear purpose, or rationale, for the continuing conduct of the war, there is an astonishing lack of legitimacy for the war. And even if the rationale for the war is to hold back the Taliban, as well as to maintain some semblance of stability in neighbouring Pakistan (which may descend into chaos even if the U.S. remains engaged militarily in Afghanistan), it isn't clear that continuing to wage the war, let alone escalating it, is worth the cost, both monetary and human.

So what now? Well, we get the president waving the flag, pumping up the troops, and pressing Karzai. Great. But so what?

I'm sure the troops, American and otherwise, are generally performing admirably, but, honestly, what the hell's the point? Just saying you won't quit won't win the war -- and certainly doesn't provide the war with a genuine and realistic purpose.

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