Obama's Afghanistan speech
My first thought watching Obama's speech last night was to wonder whether he'd borrowed Bush's speechwriter for the evening. But the mirrored rhetoric is to be expected, I guess. This is a policy that Bush could have announced, too. It stands to reason that the two men would talk of it in similar terms.
None of that is to suggest it's the wrong policy. Or, for that matter, the right one. Attempting to predict the success of approaches to war is much harder than, say, assessing health-care policies. With health care, you can judge what's proposed against real-life models, and ask whether it's closer to the models that seem to work (as the exchange is to the large group market), or farther (as with John McCain's expansion of the individual market). There really is no strong template for what we're trying to do in Afghanistan. It's closer to the surge than the initial phase of the Iraq War, but it's also closer to staying in Afghanistan long after the mission has gone sour than it is to following the lessons of past empires and getting out.
You're left analyzing the motivations of the players. Do I trust the Obama administration, and the Obama administration's process, more than I did the Bush administration? I do. But do I trust them and their process in more absolute terms? I don't.
For all the effort the administration has put into emphasizing the dissent, and thus the openness to critical arguments, within the White House, it's a lot harder to say no to the military, and no to the mission in Afghanistan, and no to the Afghans your advisers tell you will die or be oppressed, and no to the possibility of turning around this war, and no to all of your rhetoric about "the good war," than it is to say yes. That's particularly when you're not paying for it, or making the initial commitment, both of which tend to sharpen the mind on these matters, not to mention create a heavier lift with Congress.
But unlike the effort required to find funding and convince the country that it needs to begin a war, expanding an existing conflict is probably the easiest of your options. Your military guys, after all, have every reason to tell you that with more resources, they can do this job. And if they tell you that, and sound convincing, you have every reason to let them take a shot at it. The deck on this decision was always stacked, and something very much like this approach was the obvious outcome of the process starting months ago.
That's not to say Obama hasn't agonized over this policy, and it's not to say that it's the wrong policy. It's to say, really, that it's hard to say. A lot of the normal tools pundits use for second-guessing the president aren't useful here.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson.
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