Maddow, Herbert, New Site Urge US to Get Afghanistan Right
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. I can’t believe I just had to type that, but when it comes to US policymakers vis-à-vis America’s war footing, the Obama Administration is looking all too ready to embrace the melodic cynicism of Pete Townsend.
Rachel Maddow began a Tuesday segment on Afghanistan by reporting with a degree of disbelief that Bush appointee Lt. General Douglas E. Lute would stay on as Barack Obama’s War Czar (officially the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan). Add Lute to a team that already includes Bush warriors Robert Gates and David Petraeus, along with a new Secretary of State that has a few authorization for military force votes under her belt, and one might be inclined to start checking one’s pockets for missing change.
Take, for example, a front-page article from yesterday’s Washington Post reporting that the incoming president plans to sign off on a Pentagon plan to send an additional 30,000 US troops into Afghanistan. This “plan,” says WaPo, is designed to “help buy enough time for the new administration to reappraise the entire Afghanistan war effort and develop a comprehensive new strategy for what Obama has called the ‘central front on terror.’”
Escalate the conflict while you think about what to do. . . isn’t that the kind of “shoot first, ask questions later” approach voters rejected just ten august weeks ago?
Some folks have a different idea: How about we ask those questions first? One group of such people have put together Get Afghanistan Right, a campaign and affiliated website that opposes the escalation and calls for an informed discussion of alternative, non-military strategies to end the conflict and stabilize the region. (Full disclosure: I know many of the people working on GAR, and was an early supporter of their efforts.) Maddow gave getafghanistanright.com a nice plug in her Tuesday broadcast.
Another prominent voice asking the Obama Administration not to deepen the quagmire is New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. “Get out of it as quickly as you can,” says Herbert.
Herbert draws a comparison with an incoming Kennedy administration escalating US involvement in Vietnam while it tried to define its strategy.
Herbert, Maddow, and the writers and activists at Get Afghanistan Right want some questions answered by the soon-to-be president before any more treasure is expended in the Afghani conflict; as I see it, they go something like this:
- What are the goals of US involvement?
- What is the main objective of the military strategy?
- What would “victory” look like, and what allows US troops to leave?
- How will we pay for an escalation in Afghanistan?
- What diplomatic and non-military aid initiatives will the US pursue in the immediate future?
- What role does Pakistan (and other surrounding nations) play in this conflict and its solution?
- What kind of permanent presence in Afghanistan does the Obama Administration envision, and how does that benefit America and the region?
- What is the plan for de-escalating the US military presence?
Without answering those questions—both internally and publicly—Obama’s posture on Afghanistan fails to make the transition from campaign rhetoric to presidential leadership. It is up to a President Obama to do more than escalate while he thinks about what to do next; he has to make the case for his defense policy—he owes it to the troops, he owes it to the country, and, not least, he owes it to himself.
Only in that explanation, that teaching moment, the answers to the questions asked above will Americans have any hope to believe we, uh, won’t get fooled again.