Watching A Man Dance With The Devil
Posted By John Grant
It was sad watching Barack Obama cave in to the militarists on the war in Afghanistan. One, he didn’t have to give his speech on the war at West Point, which was 100% Bush; he could have given it at some location symbolic of the dire need to invest in America’s many domestic problems. Where exactly did Obama go wrong? From a progressive vantage point, he seems to have made a classic pact with the devil in order to reinforce his political capital. A writer I knew wrote a book called The Liberal Dilemma in which he outlined the problem everyone on the left faces in this country. How adamantly does one stick to one’s progressive ideals (and remaining marginalized without power) versus how much does one compromise those ideals in order to obtain power (in order to actually accomplish much-needed reforms.) Last night, Obama went too far on the compromise end of this continuum and may have fallen off the continuum entirely.
Garry Wills, below, expresses the betrayal well. The item, at bottom, about Dan Senor’s support of the speech shows just how far he went. I met Dan Senor in the Green Zone in Baghdad in December 2003, where he was a high-powered Bush flak supporting the Iraq War who sat in with several other Green Zone warriors on a meeting our veteran and military family group had with Paul Bremer’s assistant. Senor was interested in us, he said, because a visit by the parents of soldiers in a hot war zone was “unprecedented,” something reminiscent of Russian mothers taking buses to visit their sons in places like Chechnya. Senor is now co-author of a book in stores reveling in Israel as a modern free-enterprise miracle, an “exceptionalist” argument that totally dismisses Palestinian rights. That someone like Dan Senor is supportive of Obama’s decision to escalate in Afghanistan only underlines that the decision was a bad one.
It will now take time to tell how really bad the decision is to send 30,000 more young American targets into a doomed war. John McCain said, “the worst thing we can do in Afghanistan is pursue half-measures.” To me, that means either heed the hard historic realities of counter-insurgency warfare and go all-out and send in 500,000 plus troops equipped with our most super-lethal weaponry and unburdened with moral concerns for killing civilians — or use our intelligence and diplomatic powers to remove our military forces and take a different tact. Trying to have it both ways like Obama has done is only doing exactly what we did in Vietnam — escalating the violence to avoid the really hard decisions and advance the crisis to a later date. As Stanley Karnow wrote about the war in Vietnam, our escalation decisions were about the “prestige of the American government” and not about “winning,” since McNamara and others knew early on that was impossible. That Obama chose West Point to give his speech only emphasizes how much “the prestige of the American government” — and especially the prestige of our post-Vietnam brotherhood of generals — played in his decision. He seems to have employed his well-known intellectual and analytic powers to bolster his political position in a war culture rather than using those powers and his bully pulpit to extricate the nation from the disastrous legacy of the Bush/Cheney period. He took the easy road. Tragically, it could have been different, and he could have given an altogether different speech outlining why, for our own good as a nation, we cannot afford this war any longer — and how we are going to honorably extricate our military without abandoning the Afghan people. He would have had to concede a hit on our “prestige,” but in the end it would have gone down in history as a “profile in courage” just like Kennedy’s when he stood up to Curtis LeMay in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
We in the peace movement now have our work cut out for us to continue to speak truth about this doomed war and to hold the Obama’s feet to the fire on his declared July 2011 withdrawal.