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Why Afghanistan Won't Become Another Vietnam

There is reason for optimism among the many Americans who have lamented the near-decade-long U.S. war in Afghanistan (and the broader conflict in the Muslim world).

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Clinton and some European allies succeeded in forcing the President’s hand regarding the initial intervention to stop a feared mass killing of Libyans opposed to dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But a bloody stalemate has followed after the same grouping blocked any negotiations with Gaddafi and Obama balked at making a major military commitment to the oust-Gaddafi campaign.

One of the key harmful results of the Libyan conflict has been the cutoff of easily refined Libyan crude, contributing to a spike in oil prices. That, in turn, drove American gasoline to more than $4 a gallon, dealing a blow to the fragile economic recovery and worsening Obama’s reelection prospects.

On Thursday, the Obama administration’s release of 30 million gallons of oil from U.S. emergency reserves was meant to bring global supplies roughly in line with what they were before the cutoff of Libyan oil. If the Libyan crisis had not arisen or had been resolved peacefully, the impact of higher oil prices might not have been so adverse.

Thus, Clinton’s neocon-lite enthusiasm for “regime change” in Libya is regarded as a factor in weighing down the U.S. economy and dimming Obama’s reelection hopes. That has further alienated Clinton from Obama’s inner circle which had hoped to be showcasing the prospect of the Arab Spring bringing non-violent political change to the region.

With Gates leaving and Clinton on the outs, the third member of the trio, neocon-favorite Gen. Petraeus, has been tapped to replace Panetta at CIA. However, there is talk about Petraeus taking much of the summer off to recuperate from his difficult tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Petraeus does get to CIA – assuming there are no change in plans – he will have a prestigious job but one whose influence depends on access to the president. As a relative outsider, Petraeus is not considered likely to have the clout that Panetta achieved.

So, Obama’s Afghan War speech and the events that have surrounded it suggest a decline in neocon influence inside the U.S. government, which the anti-imperialists on the Left (and the Right) might be expected to welcome.

Vanity of Perfectionism

However, for many on the American Left, Obama’s gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan and his continued pullout from Iraq have amounted to too little too late. Some leftists now regard Obama as the enemy and have essentially embraced the mantra of Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign in 2000, that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference” between the Republicans and the Democrats.

Though I have encountered many practical people on the Left who understand the difficult realities of modern-day American politics – especially the structural imbalance between a powerful and well-funded Right and a weak Left – I also have met a number of leftists who display what might be called the vanity of perfectionism.

For them, staking out the perfect intellectual position is more important than achieving social reforms that might help society or adopting a practical foreign policy that could save lives.

These folks really don’t see any meaningful difference between, say, Al Gore and George W. Bush, even though a Gore presidency last decade would have surely made the battle against climate change a high priority while Bush ignored the problem and helped build a right-wing political movement that continues to deny the science of global warming.

That “perfectionist” brand of leftists also accepts no blame for anything that happened under Bush, even though Nader’s campaign hurt Gore nationally and kept the margin in the key state of Florida close enough for Bush to steal it.

 
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