We want to believe that Obama’s marvelous powers of reason can check a ruthless enemy and reverse decades of tragic history in one of the world’s most treacherous backwaters.
Obama’s speech struck me as the sincere product of serious deliberations, an earnest attempt to apply his formidable intelligence to one of the most daunting Rubik’s Cubes of foreign policy America has ever known. But some circles of hell can’t be squared. What he’s ended up with is a too-clever-by-half pushmi-pullyu holding action that lacks both a credible exit strategy and the commitment of its two most essential partners, a legitimate Afghan government and the American people. Obama’s failure illuminated the limits of even his great powers of reason.
The state dinner crashers delineated those limits too. This was the second time in a month — after the infinitely more alarming bloodbath at Fort Hood — that a supposedly impregnable bastion of post-9/11 American security was easily breached. Yes, the crashers are laughable celebrity wannabes, but there was nothing funny about what they accomplished on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Their ruse wasn’t “reality” television — it was reality, period, with no quotation marks. It was a symbolic indication (and, luckily, only symbolic) of how unbridled irrationality harnessed to sheer will, whether ludicrous in the crashers’ case or homicidal in the instance of the Fort Hood gunman, can penetrate even our most secure fortifications. Both incidents stand as a haunting reproach to the elegant powers of logic with which Obama tried to sell his exquisitely calibrated plan to vanquish Al Qaeda and its mad brethren.
Americans want our country to be secure. Most want Obama to succeed. And so we hope that we won’t get bogged down in Afghanistan while our adversaries regroup elsewhere, that the casualties and costs can be contained, that the small, primitive Afghan Army (ravaged by opium, illiteracy, incompetence and a 25 percent attrition rate) will miraculously stand up so we can stand down. We want to believe that Obama’s marvelous powers of reason can check a ruthless enemy and reverse decades of tragic history in one of the world’s most treacherous backwaters.
That’s the bet Obama made. As long as our wars remain sacrifice-free, safely buried in the back pages behind Tiger Woods and reality television stunts, he’ll be able to pursue it. But I keep returning to the crashers at the gates, who have no respect for our president’s orderliness of mind and action. All it takes is a few of them at the wrong time and wrong place, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan or America or sites unknown, and all bets will be off LinkHere
JUST A REMINDER
The Crushing Legacy of Bush and Cheney
By Joe Conason
From now on, the headlines about Afghanistan will be slugged “Obama’s War,” and perhaps that is fair enough given the president’s many endorsements of what he has called a war of necessity. It would be much less fair, however, to ignore the events that led us to this moment, when any choice offers no great guarantee of progress and no small prospect of trouble.
Those events began with the inexplicable decision by officials of the previous administration to allow Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other ranking leaders of al-Qaida to escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001. At the time, as a new Senate report on the battle of Tora Bora recalls, Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, and Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, decided not to augment the tiny contingent of special operations troops on the ground with sufficient force to capture or kill b in Laden and his deputies. They later claimed to be worried that “too many American troops in Afghanistan would create an anti-American backlash and fuel a widespread insurgency,” a rationale that can only evoke bitter laughter now.
None of the reasons offered back then for inaction at Tora Bora made sense after the outrage of Sept. 11, when the entire world, including the Afghan people, were cheering the U.S. invasion. The pattern of deception that later led to war in Iraq began with expressions of doubt by both Franks and Vice President Dick Cheney about bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora—a doubt that none of the commanders on the ground shared and that always sounded more like an excuse than an explanation. If there was any chance that the perpetrators of Sept. 11 could be found in those mountains, then maximum force should have been deployed as rapidly as possible.
What we know now, of course, is that Cheney, Rumsfeld and President Bush himself were distracted from the vital necessity of victory in Afghanistan—which meant not only driving out the Taliban but installing a real government in their place—by their obsession with Iraq. Not only did the al-Qaida leadership escape, but so did Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, who returned to mount a threatening insurgency two years later, just as the Bush White House and the Pentagon were declaring “mission accomplished” in Baghdad.
The resulting neglect of Afghanistan—with all the corruption, disillusionment and anger that have ensued—had reached a critical stage when the Bush administration finally departed. Its own commanders were left behind to warn the new president that after eight years of war, the enemy had gained the upper hand.