In February of 2009, Obama had signed into law a nearly $800 billion stimulus package that received a grand total of 3 Republican votes in Congress, despite the very troubled economy and the huge number of monthly job losses at the time (700,000 per). It would seem illogical for the Republicans to vote against a bill aimed at getting the economy out of recession, but they and their media wing did an apt job of selling the bill as a socialist tool that would not be as beneficial as tax cuts and tax cuts alone.
That February he also announced a troop increase in Afghanistan of 17,000 soldiers. In March, Obama ordered 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan and gave us more insight into how he perceived the war there and what his strategy to “win” was:
If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged, that country will again be a base for terrorists.
So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.
That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you.
At this moment, the war in Afghanistan became Obama’s war, and it should have come to no surprise to anyone who paid attention to candidate Obama whom in 2008 said he wanted to pull troops out of Iraq and send them to Afghanistan . Obama saw the Afghanistan mission as one that Bush abandoned, and he was right about that. Thus, he wanted to combat terrorism where he felt it needed to be fought. But the mistake Obama, and his predecessor, made was thinking that terrorism was something that could be fought by more conventional military means. It is hard to argue that sending more of our military to the Middle East, an area of the world leery of U.S. policies even before the “War on Terror”, and escalating the conflict, thereby causing the loss of civilian life (sometimes intentionally), would inspire people of that area to join “our side”.
This was not a bold and courageous move by the President; it was the safe and expected one. And it did not win him any political points with his opponents as would be clearly seen in the subsequent year when the health care debate took center stage (more on that later).
I do not know if Obama truly wanted to escalate the war in Afghanistan or if he felt that, given the situation, he HAD to. If you recall, when defending the stimulus spending he deflected criticism of being a “tax & spend liberal” by saying he did not want to spend money to bail out banks and auto companies, but that he had to in order to keep the economy from going into a depression. I suppose whether you believe this or not dictates what side of the political divide you fall on.
All I know is that I can only hope that he did not make such a difficult decision because he felt a full withdrawal and acknowledgment that our efforts there were futile and probably creating more enemies, would be political suicide. Remember, this is a man who opposed the war and subsequent surge in Iraq, but felt the need to distance himself from at least the latter position when the surge showed signs of success.
The evidence overwhelmingly supports Obama’s choice to oppose the Iraq war, and probably the surge no matter what its eventual outcome, but that he felt he needed to distance himself from those positions (if, in fact, that is what he was doing) once again underscores the lengths our political leaders must go to in order to appease a misinformed and distracted nation. Obama had to tread carefully because he had to; we are a country of “all that matters is now”, and what is said and done in the past is irrelevant (unless politically expedient) and what can be done now to solve problems in the future is almost just as irrelevant.
(Quick tangent, somewhat related to these points about our problems as a populace: This idea that America has never done anything wrong, is doing nothing wrong now and can never do wrong is naïve, myopic and dangerous. And that anyone would question, criticize, or express remorse for some of our actions and be called unpatriotic and anti-American for it, is just as dangerous. There would be no U.S.A. had citizens not questioned and criticized their ruling government. But we have allowed some in our country, led by the Republican party and their media wing, to claim the authority on what constitutes “patriotism”. In their eyes, unquestioning faith and devotion to American foreign policy decisions and denouncing any domestic initiatives that do not contain the words “tax” and “cut” in them is the only patriotism that matters. It is what “real” Americans think. Meanwhile, they are free to call their sitting President a “socialist”, compare him to Hitler, imply he is in league with Muslim terrorists, and not once have their patriotism questioned. Why? Because being critical, no matter who off-base the criticisms may be, is part of what makes this country tick, what makes us great. Too bad they do not show those of us who question in our own way the same sort of respect. I can speak only for me of course when I say that I do not criticize our actions because I hate our country; I do so because I want our country to be exceptional. Republicans already think it is.)
Maybe Obama is more of a hawk and genuinely thought a surge in Afghanistan was the right call, and frankly, I hope that is the case. Because if the move was a “cave-in” to pressure from his opponents and the populace, who have been sucking on the tit of fear for the last nine years enabling us to sit by and watch while we waged two wars, spent a trillion dollars doing it, lost countless American lives and destroyed countless others, unlawfully detained and tortured innocent people, and saw our moral standing in the world diminished (and probably created more enemies than we destroyed), then that would be an extreme example of how cynical our politics has become.
And now, with McChrystal out a year into the Afghanistan mission and Petreus in, I have serious doubts (and I’m not the only one) about Obama being able to proceed with his planned withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. I say “being able” because, again, even if he wants to, politics and public pressure will probably prevent him from doing so.
(Part III to come)