Apparently President Obama decided Ato finish the job@ in Afghanistan. For starters, I find it outrageous that American politics forces a president to announce to the country, the world and those we are fighting, what we are going to do a year in advance.
Getting beyond that, the politics is plain. Liberals have nowhere to go. The battle is for the independents. Obama=s ratings are slipping. Any president would face enormous pressure to satisfy the independents. With lives at stake, politics shouldn=t belong, but it=s a fact of democratic life and presidents are politicians. So as we predicted, Obama cannot be as liberal as many of us want him to be.
The important issue, however, can=t be his motives; it has to be whether he made a good decision?
By fighting terrorists with police work and criminal prosecution, other countries minimized encouraging the recruitment of terrorists. That strategy taxes everybody=s patience, but war tends to do too much, to ensnare the innocent with the guilty, to make us the enemy. And to accomplish nothing. Scholars tell us that countries that avoided using the police instead of the military to fight terrorism have done better. But Bush rejected that strategy eight years ago.
Denied the choice to capture and try terrorists, I would have finished the job while we had the Taliban on the run in 2003, shortening the war, doing less collateral damage and minimizing the fighters flocking to the Afghani cause.
But denied that choice, can we get out?
Afghanis tell us the west has been fickle, leaving them in the midst of trouble. A friend of ours served as a military photographer documenting the war in Vietnam. He showed us pictures of people at a civilian hospital. When we left, the Vietcong killed all the people in those pictures. Contact with the Americans made them radioactive. The Afghanis have a point. If we withdraw, they may pay the price.
The big mistake in Vietnam was not to see that as a local war, for national independence. With the war over, we are trading partners.The Soviet war in Afghanistan started as a local conflict but brought recruits from around the globe. Our war in Afghanistan was never local. Global terrorism almost certainly will not shut down like the Vietcong battle against America.
So will staying to finish the job protect more lives by shutting down the recruitment network and stabilizing southern Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China, with half the world=s population? Or continue to draw global jihadists with international repercussions? Or both?
No one actually knows. That depends partly on how well and quickly our Armed Forces implement more effective policies. But they can=t control the way the hell of war is magnified all over the world. They can=t control the resourcefulness of the enemy or match its familiarity with the terrain. There is no sure thing in war.
So what are we to do? Americans, used to quick and powerful solutions, want a response, just as the Israelis do; our politics and presidents will reflect it. AMuscular patriotism@ is powerful because Americans have not adjusted to the limits of power, any more than Britain before the loss of its empire..
We have an intelligent president, who obviously understands the problems, and who has decided which risks have to be taken and which risks should not. Poker players know that luck matters. The president will need a great deal of luck. I will pray that he, and we, have luck on our side.
This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, December 1, 2009.