I am not one who believes that criticizing presidential war policy gives you a big fat F on the litmus test for patriotism. But the high-profile bloggers and media pundits on the far right certainly adhere to that belief. Or at least they did adhere to it, throughout the eight years of the Bush presidency.
Now, not so much:
As to Obama’s plan – the “settlement” – it entails deploying significantly fewer troops than the number General McChrystal asked for (about three-fourths of the total, as I understand it). Obama apparently hopes to make up the difference by calling on our allies to add troops. He said he has sought such assistance but had nothing positive to report by way of any response he might have received. In any case, I wonder whether a high percentage of troops supplied by our allies would be interchangeable with U.S. troops.
More importantly, Obama set July 2011 as the target date for beginning our withdrawal. Although he did add that conditions on the ground will be taken into account, it is difficult to understand how the U.S. will secure the support and commitment it needs from a critical mass of Afghans when they know, or have strong reason to believe, we will be starting to pull out only about a year after we have ramped up.
Indeed, Obama’s timetable threatens to undermine not just the first prong of his strategy (military) but also second and third prongs (civilian and Pakistan). With only a short-term commitment, we’re not likely to exert much influence on civilian behavior. Nor are the Pakistanis likely to be impressed by an America that’s more interested in a prompt exit, so it can save money and focus on domestic issues (points Obama emphasized near the end of his speech), than in defeating its enemies.
Obama attempted to sell his timetable through his usual dishonest rhetorical tricks. He compared his approach favorably to a decade-long commitment. But no one has proposed that he make, much less publicly declare, a commitment of that length. Obama was positing a “false choice.” The real choice is between announcing a “fight and run” strategy and making no statement about when we intend to start leaving. The former approach is a new wrinkle in warfare.
Actually, there is nothing new about having an exit strategy or a Plan B strategy or a focused and specific definition of success, or an understanding that, as Obama said tonight, the goals you set must be achievable at a reasonable cost — and being clear on what “reasonable cost” is. What is new is the concept of “preventive war,” which then-Pres. Bush first announced in 2002, also in a speech at West Point. The concept of attacking a country that posed no threat to the United States on the basis of a mere belief that the country might someday pose a threat was entirely new — and it was the animating philosophy behind our invasion and occupation of Iraq. What is new is the concept of an open-ended indefinite war in which no cost in blood or treasure is too high.
And in this new way of thinking, a president who takes 92 days to consider how to set parameters of time, cost, and methodology within which our goals can be met at a cost we are willing to pay, is a quitter who lets himself be “deterred,” as Fred Barnes phrases it, by too many “things” (emphasis is mine):
I had hoped Obama would declare that nothing will deter him, as commander-in-chief, from prevailing in Afghanistan. But it turns out a lot of things might deter him. He listed a few of them: the cost of the war, its length (if more than 18 months from January 2010), the failure of Afghans to step up to the task sufficiently. He hedged.
Americans and our allies were looking for more, I believe. To have rallied the country and the world, Obama needed to indicate he would lead a fight to win in Afghanistan, with the help of allies if possible, but with the armed forces of the U.S. alone if necessary. He didn’t say anything like that. He didn’t come close.
Yeah, like that strategy worked so very well for the previous administration. For that matter, like the previous administration even adhered to that strategy. If it had, Afghanistan would not have been abandoned a year and a half after it was begun to go do a preventive war in a country that (as is required for the definition of a preventive war) posed no threat to us at all. But let’s not “scapegoat” Bush for that, heavens no. Don’t throw that ugly word, “responsibility,” around neoconservatives, please.
It’s also strange to see the likes of Paul Mirengoff and Fred Barnes complaining about all the flaws in Obama’s speech when, apparently, Gen. McChrystal was thrilled with it.
Having said all of this, however, none of it holds a candle to Dick Cheney’s performance earlier today. He gave an interview to Politico in which he accused Pres. Obama of “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” Which, in case you’re not aware, is the exact, word for word definition given in the U.S. Constitution for treason.
Joe already wrote about this latest example of Dick Cheney’s post-traumatic stress disorder (second link in the immediately preceding paragraph), and linked to further commentary at Memeorandum, but I wanted to single out Michael Goldfarb’s response. It is easily the most venal, hypocritical, moral travesty of a commentary I have ever seen on the right. I know, there’s a large field for that, and I haven’t read all the response on the right, but there couldn’t possibly be one worse than Goldfarb’s. Here is the final paragraph:
When Cheney goes after the president, the president starts making unforced political errors. More than that though, Cheney’s attacks seem to push Obama into a more positive direction on policy. No doubt, the White House considered how Cheney would respond to Obama’s speech tonight. Cheney’s critique of Obama as “dithering” on the decision may have expedited it, and his critique of Obama as insufficiently clear in his commitment to the mission may force Obama to dig in a lot deeper than he’d like — which is a good thing. Cheney’s still the MVP.
You’ve got to read the whole thing, though, to get the full flavor. I will not give Goldfarb a link for this contemptible piece of trash, but you can get it at Allahpundit’s blog. Allahpundit, to his enormous credit, is clearly shocked by Goldfarb’s reaction, and he has a lot of trenchant things to say. Please go read him.