Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 2, 2009

SOUNDING LIKE BUSH OR BLAMING HIM?.... One of the more common complaints I heard last night about President Obama's speech on U.S. policy in Afghanistan is that it sounded a bit too much like his immediate predecessor.

The NYT noted today, for example, that the Obama "at times sounded like Mr. Bush in justifying this war. He celebrated the United States as a nation 'founded in resistance to oppression' and talked about its long record of sacrifice in 'advancing frontiers of human liberty.'"

That's certainly fair, and any similarities to George W. Bush are necessarily discouraging. But, while it was hardly the most important part of the West Point speech, one of the elements of the address that stood out for me was the way in which Obama called out Bush for pursuing a failed policy for so long.

The president noted that, soon after the war began, "al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope." It was Obama's way of reminding us that conditions in Afghanistan, not too terribly long ago, were fairly stable and headed in the right direction.

And in the interest of explaining why a shift in U.S. policy is necessary now, Obama explained what went wrong in Afghanistan after the country had "reason to hope."

"Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known and need not be repeated here. It's enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention -- and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world. [...]

"[W]hile we've achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda's leadership established a safe haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it's been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient security forces.

"Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistani people.

"Now, throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive."

There's a passive quality to the rhetoric -- the president said "reinforcements did not arrive," not, "Bush didn't send them" -- but the underlying message is hardly subtle.

Afghanistan was headed in the right direction ... then Bush turned to Iraq ... then Afghanistan began to deteriorate ... then al Qaeda reorganized ... then the Afghan government faltered ... then the Taliban started reclaiming much of the country. U.S. commanders requested more U.S. troops and didn't get them.

In context, this hardly constituted Bush-bashing -- it makes perfect sense for Obama to explain how we got to where we are -- but it left no doubt who bears responsibility for a U.S. policy that stopped being effective years ago.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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Comments

Bush set fire to the house. It's not so easy to leave a burning building. I give credit to Obama for trying to put out the fire and find a way out.

Posted by: Newton Whale on December 2, 2009 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

There is no temperate way to reach the high minded spirits who write here and about , prettily describing President Obama as an imbecile . With their slippery logic and silver tongues , they paint the poor fellow as a prisoner of a dull mind with little beyond vague wishes for possible achievement of probable good . The effort to reach these solons is very dodgy . But at least they are fair , they are very frightened that many don't share their myriad fears .

Posted by: FRP on December 2, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

Obama's Afghan policy is a good example of what the consequences of electing unqualfied ideologues like George Bush and Dick Cheney are.

Here's hoping we don't repeat the Bush mistake in the future.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 2, 2009 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

And the MSM and pundits will totally miss the content of the entire speech, focus on several phrases fitting their preconceptions and declare its failure or success based on that. Way to go guys.

Posted by: Darsan54 on December 2, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Darsan54 is exactly right , which would be amusing if it were not so painful .

Posted by: FRP on December 2, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

So, Obama slaps Bush on the hand for killing hundreds of thousands of people and ruining millions of others' lives in a meaningless war in Iraq which simultaneously forfeited Bush's plan to make the rubble bounce in afghanistan or whatever...

Now Obama's back to make the rubble bounce with 30,000 more american soldiers...Back to square one of the Bush strategy circa 2003...

I guess there'll be a Repugnant Pres to slap Obama's hand for the thousands and thousands he is about to kill in Afghanistan and Pakistan-- in what...4 years, 5 years?

Posted by: neill on December 2, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Obama could direct his AG to prosecute perjurers and felons associated with the bush regime . There does seem to be a bit of reluctance of the king beheading the king . That may have something to do with seeing what is coming when an aroused opposition is not as dainty as the one he is faced with now . Can you imagine the swell of outraged teabaggins when Jonah Goldberg writes a book about liberal socialism ?

Posted by: FRP on December 2, 2009 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Obama: ¨When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive."

Steve: ¨There's a passive quality to the rhetoric -- the president said "reinforcements did not arrive," not, "Bush didn't send them" -- but the underlying message is hardly subtle.¨


I would not have commented were it not for this remark by Steve. There is no quality to that particular rhetoric. On the contrary: Obama states that commanders asked for support, but did not get it. He states that AFTER his sentence: when I became president. So, one may mistake that rhetoric with ¨I didn´t send them´.

More to the point: instead of sending 30.000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, it would have been much better if Obama had sent an army of special prosecutors to Wall Street, where the ¨financial weapons of mass destruction¨ (Buffett, 2003) are still fully loaded. The greed, fraud, theft and corruption going on there is a MUCH greater threat to the US!!

Posted by: carol on December 2, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Passively forceful

The more forceful part of the speech was when he reminded everyone exactly the situation he inherited. In defending himself from the slings and arrows of forgetful minds, there was a touch of anger in his delivery. I would argue that Barack actually does suppressed indignation well. It supercharged the speech. His speechwriters need to watch that segment carefully and write to it more often.

It might have won the health care debate for us...

Posted by: koreyel on December 2, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

but it left no doubt who bears responsibility for a U.S. policy that stopped being effective years ago.

"I basically don't," -Dick Cheney

Posted by: Bobo Teh Clown on December 2, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

which simultaneously forfeited Bush's plan to make the rubble bounce in afghanistan or whatever...

What are you talking about? Neither Bush, Cheney, nor Rumsfeld ever wanted to be in Afghanistan. They had no plan, they didn't care about breaking up al-qaeda there or capturing bin laden. Iraq was always their obsession to the exclusion of everything else.

So now Obama wants to do what we never even tried since 2001 in Afghanistan, and he's just like Bush? Please.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on December 2, 2009 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Explaining what most Americans have known for 5 years or more is nothing to cheer about.

Obama has adopted the mentality of seeing a failed pattern and then following that pattern.
Banks failed because they speculated on loans they knew were largely worthless.
Bush/Obama give them imaginary tax money and allowed banks to go out and spent that money on the same types of speculations.

Bush made multiple bad decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq so Obama is following his pattern and putting more troops paid for with more imaginary tax money to do what didn’t work before in Afghanistan, under Bush and the Russians and other great warring nations before them back through 2000 plus years, and didn’t work in Vietnam under 5 different Presidents, and several great warring nations back through about 5000 years.

As the great peace anthem of the 60's and 70's goes. "When will they ever learn?"

Posted by: Marnie on December 2, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Barrak O. Bushma. He's not in charge, either. Those who are in charge are not elected officials, but they always need a figurehead to keep scrutiny and pressure off of them. O. Bushma will do.

Why do politicians usually do the opposite of what they have said they will do? It's all doo doo.

Posted by: anomaly on December 2, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

"Why do politicians usually do the opposite of what they have said they will do?"

Gee, that's right. Obama said all during his campaign that he would draw down in Iraq and focus on the fight in Afghanistan, but he's not doing that now.

Oh, wait...

Posted by: Shade Tail on December 2, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

@Marnie

Reminds me of the pragmatic anthem of the current century, "When will those peace-niks stop their singing about utopia and offer a realistic alternative to get us out of this mess?" (sung to the tune of "Get a Clue")

Posted by: converse on December 2, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

In context, this hardly constituted Bush-bashing

Look, reality constitutes Bush-bashing. Any honest and accurate reporting of the past eight years is Bush-bashing. Facts, to use the well-known phrase, have a Bush-bashing bias.

Posted by: Stefan on December 2, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

The big question now is whether a do-over in Afghanistan is still possible, or whether it's eight years too late. I at least give Obama credit for setting a date by which the military has to produce results or give it up.

Does anyone here besides me remember how optimistic we were when the American troops rolled into Afghanistan? The people did seem genuinely glad to see us, and to be liberated from the oppression of the Taliban. Women in Kabul proudly unveiled their faces after years of mandated burka-wearing. Afghan filmmakers made movies like "Osama," which bitterly condemns the Taliban's oppression of women, and documentaries about Afghan women who had new hopes for pursuing careers. (I know this because I was the chair of a film festival on this subject, and screened a lot of them). And then, Bush/Cheney walked away from Afghanistan to chase off after Saddam.

Should we just give it up as a bad job now? We've been an occupying army there for eight years, and we know from the experience of the USSR how that's likely to end. Then again, the last time we turned our backs on Afghanistan, after the fall of the USSR, we know what happened to the country, and to us, as a result. I don't know. I just hope to God that McChyrstal has a plan that's different from the escalation strategies that we saw in Viet Nam, and the "surge" in Iraq which accomplished nothing except to buy time for Bush to get out of office.

Posted by: T-Rex on December 2, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should not accept the Nobel Peace prize.

Posted by: Leslie on December 2, 2009 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Last night a friend of mine who was career military and taught strategy at the War College said that Obama can't bring the military home and have further unemployment..we are now in a very sick cycle of spending one half of the US budget on the military. Anything we do to curb this will create unemployment and displacement, especially in light of the current "recession" with 17.5% unemployment...not to mention bring home many, many mentally ill humans who are accustomed to a lot of benefits, and turn them loose on civil society. We are in the downward trend of empires...sucked from the inside out. To quote the raw unpleasant truth from one of my favorite academicians.."The military-industrial complexes of the United States...have become 'essential' revenue earning and job providing elements in the political economies of these economies. They are frightening and very distorting features of the respective political systems." page 318 Tony Allan, The Middle East Water Question.

Posted by: christine on December 2, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

And Bush's good friend Gen Musharraf overturned an elected (but wretchedly corrupt) gov't in Pakistan, destroyed the judiciary of that country and made a craven settlement that gave Al Qaida "rights" to their sanctuary. For which President Bush awarded Gen Musharraf the U.S. Medal of Freedom.

For what it's worth.

Posted by: JohnMcC on December 2, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

There are already 68,000 troops in Afghanistan PLUS 78,000 contractors from KBR, Haliburton Xe (blackwater) etc. ...So now adding 30,000 = 176,000 troops and supporters on the ground in that country.

There is only a 10% literacy rate so no one there knows anything about our reasons for occupying we are just seen as occupiers in this tribal region of the world.

Just go ahead and drop the 60,000 million for 2yrs min. into the region and we'd gain more without all the death. The insanity of legalized murder will destroy all who allow it.

Posted by: bjobotts on December 2, 2009 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

btw...anyone else remember that Bush promised to make it impossible for the next president to get out of the ME.

Remember McCrystal said Tillman was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan...er wait...friendly al qaeda fire...yeah...that's the ticket.

Fuck Obama's speech or how good it or he is...this is just wrong and more war profiteering by the usual players...now over 170,000 boots(troops and contractors) on the ground as our nation plunges into poverty.

Justifying insanity is still insane.

Posted by: bjobotts on December 2, 2009 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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