Obama's Misguided War Speech Shouldn't Be the Last Word on Afghanistan
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President Obama delivered a carefully-constructed and nuanced call Monday night for the extension of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Obama came to the wrong conclusion about a military adventure that should be coming to a conclusion, rather than ramping up. But Obama's attempt to find a middle ground between anti-war forces and supporters of a Iraq-style occupation at least recognized that the debate over Afghanistan has many sides and many players.
At times, Obama seemed so tortured in his attempt to placate both those who want to send more troops and those who want a bring-the-troops-home exit strategy that his speech had the ring of Greek tragedy -- or, perhaps, "fall of the Roman Empire" history.
Unfortunately, there has been nothing artful about the media coverage of Obama's speech.
Most of it follows the predictable patterns of the post-September 11 "war on terror" era.
Compromise, even bad compromise that keeps the U.S. involved in a quagmire, is portrayed as rational, even necessary, while blunt calls for rapid withdrawal or all-out war are simply dismissed as outside the realm of rational thought.
So it is that we are left with in murky-middle moment where prominent Democrats rally, for the most part, to back the president even when the president embarks on what House Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisc., refers to as a "fool's errand," while prominent Republicans such as House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, whine that the president is not doing enough.
In fact, the picture has more shades of grey than the pundits would have us believe.
There remains substantial Democratic discomfort with Obama's plan to surge more than 30,000 additional troops into what -- despite the talk of an exit strategy -- is sounding more and more like an endless, and very probably pointless, war of whim. One hundred members of the House, the vast majority of them Democrats, have now sponsored Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern's call for the development of a formal plan to bring the troops home. In the Senate, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders make no secret of the fact that they believe the president is making a mistake, as does Obey, author of the "fool's errand" characterization.
Perhaps even more significant, however, is the fact that there is a good deal of division within the ranks of the Republican caucus, particularly in the U.S. House. Not every member of the Grand Old Party is banging on Obama for taking too long to do too little in Afghanistan. In fact, some key conservatives are echoing the call of liberals for a "Bring the Troops Home" plan.
The first cosponsor of Jim McGovern's resolution was North Carolina Republican Walter Jones, Jr., who says of the Afghanistan occupation: "We're trying to police the world. Every great nation prior to America that tried to police the world has failed economically. That's why I tell people that I'm a Pat Buchanan American. I want to stop trying to take care of the world and fix this country. Our problems are so deep that there is no easy way to fix them."
Among the other stalwart conservatives who do not merely reject a surge but who are outspoken in their advocacy for the development of a plan to withdraw U.S. forces in Afghanistan are California's Dana Rohrbacher and Tennessee's John Duncan Jr.
They were joined on the eve of Obama's speech at West Point by an unexpected Republican dissenter, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who used a speech Monday at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.to declare: "Mr. President, it is time to bring our troops home."