Monday, October 12, 2009

"Come Home, America" Watch, Day 22

The shoe phone may be on the other foot. The Obama administration is accused of overlooking intelligence reports from Afghanistan that would militate against its likely change in Afghanistan policy:

Some U.S. intelligence and military officials expressed deep frustration with what they see as the administration's single-minded focus on al Qaida's threat to the U.S., saying it's not discussing publicly other, more serious consequences of a U.S. failure in Afghanistan as identified in some assessments.


MK said...

Very interesting article. It’s as if it were 1973 and the war in Vietnam was ending but Nixon had to decide whether to ramp up a U.S. military effort in another country in Southeast Asia.

The reference to public opinion is interesting. Republican hawks may be hoisted on their own petard here, at what potential cost, we don’t yet know. Blaming liberals (as he would, of course), Charles Krauthammer recently argued that for the U.S. as a player on the world stage, “decline is a choice.” He failed to look at how, if that is so, the right played a role in that as well. By the end of the Bush administration, polls showed that a majority of Americans were skeptical of the premise of the Iraq war after hearing shifting reasons for it and coming to reject most of them. More and more, they just wanted troops out of there. One pundit who follows defense and national security issues made this observation of the Bush administration, in a discussion in late 2007 or early 2008 of forthcoming primaries for the 2008 election. He said that the public had made up its mind on Iraq and moved on: “they’re not paying attention any longer.”

Current polls show little appetite among the public for a long, open-ended effort in Afghanistan. Public perceptions of the need to act in Afghanistan might be different had there been no war in Iraq. That’s something people on the right and the left have to grapple with now. Presidents inherit the situations they do, not the ones they wish they faced. Just as with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, the political ground for Obama to make his decisions in foreign policy were shaped by what happened during previous years.

The latest poll on party identification show Independents at 36.4%, Democrats at 33.9%, and Republicans at 22.0%. There may be terrible consequences down the road to war being associated with Republicans so strongly during the Bush administration, rather than with America as a whole. I think some Republicans erred in applauding Vice President Cheney’s partisan rhetoric and jeering at Democrats as surrender monkeys while Bush was in office. Cheney made it clear that he did not care about public opinion. He failed to take into account his stewardship obligations for an approach he clearly believed in very strongly. The voters are in the mix in that they have the say on who becomes President and who is elected to the legislature. And the voters had tuned out Cheney by the end of the Bush administration. The power of the ballot box trumped the power he had amassed and once held as a supposedly savvy and comitted old Washington hand. Democrats now control the White House and the Congress.

Bloggers at The Corner, such as John Pitney, deny they ever called anyone unpatriotic for criticizing the Iraq war, but for better or worse, especially after 2004, there was such a vibe. Much more so than Vietnam, the Iraq war came to be strongly associated with one political party rather than with the United States. Yes, Bush won re-election as a war President in 2004. But the longterm strategic objectives may have taken a terrible blow due to a divide and conquer approach to elections and Cheney’s disdain for public opinion. If the American people became disillusioned with military action and more inclined towards isolationism, it is in no small part because of the decision to go to war in Iraq and the way questions about the war were handled by the past administration and by Republican bloggers during the last 6 years.

Perceptions haven't changed with the election. Cheney and Republican bloggers now need the support of the very people they once disdained. I think RN would have handled that much better, but he thought strategically as well as tactically, had served during World War II, read and studied issues related to foreign policy and war very deeply, and belonged to another age. As someone who lived through the Vietnam War period (and still has some of her Silent Majority and Tell it to Hanoi buttons!), I'm fascinated by what is going on now.

Fr. John said...

Thanks, MK. I'm inclined to think that the over-the-top rhetoric of Iraq War proponents was a way of compensating for the lack of a clear rationale for being there in the first place. Once we came up short on WMD, the justification was either nation building (which GWB himself had once opposed, for reasons which remain sound) or humanitarianism (even though the American people wouldn't have supported going to war for the sole purpose of getting Iraqis a better government any more than they would have for the Afghans' sake during the Taliban's heyday in the 1990s).

As for Vietnam, I think it's fair to speculate that, if elected in 1960, RN wouldn't have gotten the U.S. into Vietnam. Inheriting the war in 1969, he considered it a vital U.S.interest to sustain our commitment to South Vietnam while envisioning a steady decline in the number of U.S. troops. Obama seems to be doing something comparable. Frankly, I would resent a fellow Republican saying that supporting the President's discernment means one is weak, anti-military, or unpatriotic. Whether preventing terrorist attacks on the U.S. or its interests is the work of 70,000 or 110,000 troops (or more, or fewer) strikes me as a question for tacticians, not ideologues. Given the stakes for tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans, I commend the President for taking his time to come up with the right answer.

MK said...

Good answer! (Don't ask me what I'm doing still on the 'net at 1:00 am eastern time when I have to go to work tomorrow --oops, later this -- morning, LOL). I agree with you about RN and 1960 and Vietnam. What might have been. . . . ah well, I was only 9 then but my family and I supported him. Still have my Nixon button from '60, as it happens.

Thanks again for the good response and the good reads at your blog.