Thoughts on the Eve of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner's Second Escalation Address

"I feel very confident that when the American people
hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve
our goals, that they will be supportive."

Barack Obama, November 25, 2009

"I feel very confident that when the American people
hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve
our goals, that they will be supportive."

Barack Obama, November 25, 2009

As President Obama prepares to deliver the rationale for the
eight-year-old Afghanistan War this Tuesday night at West Point, I wonder if
anyone on the White House staff has looked into how Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand
II or Denmark's King Christian IV went about rallying their folks for continuing
the war effort, eight years into the Thirty Years War. Or maybe even
Edward III of England or Philip VI of France, eight years on in the Hundred
Years War.

Probably not - the White House is, after all, in the business of
making history, and not studying it. Yet, there are signs that the
Administration is actually paying close attention to the arithmetic: White House
spokesman Robert Gibbs tells reporters, "We are in year nine of our efforts in
Afghanistan. We're not going to be there another eight or nine years." So,
the message is that we've passed the halfway mark and the President will
implicitly assure the nation that we are not fighting the Seventeen Year War -
fifteen maybe. Probably we can anticipate a program, elaborated over
the next weeks, that would achieve success somewhere in a second term - assuming
that the enemy does what it's supposed to.

At first blush, it might seem that Obama faces a tough task in
mustering support for yet another Afghanistan troop increase. True enough,
perhaps, so far as the logic of the situation goes, but politically speaking,
it's probably not as tough a task as it ought to be. He has three basic
alternatives: Start to withdraw American troops - and implicitly or explicitly
acknowledge that it makes little or no sense to continue this military
venture. Keep doing what we're doing - and expect to watch the mounting
signs of defeat. Or up the ante, in hope of turning the tide.

And it seems hard to argue but that it will be the latter course that
"mainstream" debate will treat as the path of least resistance on the domestic
political front, notwithstanding the fact that it will entail the highest levels
of death, destruction, and expense.

Like other wartime leaders before him, Obama will no doubt give some
type of "war to end war" speech and, since he is recognized as a Peace President
- where George W. Bush proclaimed himself a War President - it will be easier
for him to pull it off than it might be for others. The Administration
will likely downplay the additional troops deployed and emphasize just how soon
our boys and girls will be coming home, once they have achieved the previously
elusive victory. (The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has timely
released a report condemning the Bush Administration for failing to commit
enough troops to an operation that could have/should have captured or killed
Osama bin Laden and Taliban's Mullah Muhammad Omar eight years ago.)

The President will certainly reprise a theme that he (and his
predecessor) have hit on many times: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war
of necessity." He will no doubt speak of democracy,
self-sufficiency, and the rights of women in Afghanistan. He will not
focus on numbers that might prompt questioning of the rationality of deploying a
force approaching 100,000 against a primary enemy, Al Qaeda, thought to number
as low as 100 in Afghanistan, and a secondary enemy, the Taliban, that American
troops are already also estimated to outnumber by about 12-1.

The speech will not focus on geography: He won't say much about the
missiles the CIA launches into Pakistan from pilotless drone planes.
(Under repeated questioning on the subject during a recent Pakistan visit,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly would reply only that "there is a
war going on," not specifying whether "there" was Afghanistan or
Pakistan.) Nor will the President focus on history: If you're hoping for
recognition of the next-door Soviet Union's military failure in Afghanistan or
of past US government support for groups that developed into the current enemy -
when they were deemed useful as proxies against the Soviet Union - well, you'll
probably have to change the channel.

In fact, one of the speech's more notable aspects will likely be the
degree to which it won't be pitched to Obama's base, where there is a large and
growing sense that pursuing a metaphorical a War on Terror into a second decade
of actual war in Afghanistan represents metaphor creep at its most deadly.

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