President Obama has just performed an act that seldom occurs on the American political landscape. He has kept a campaign promise… regretfully, I might add.
The decision to become further ensnarled in Afghanistan, by many accounts one of the most God forsaken, desolate, corrupt and uncivilized places on the face of the earth, can only be accounted for by an overnight surge of political testosterone. The geo-political logic defies justification or explanation though the president has tried eloquently to provide both.
The President can only hope to prevail by knowing something few others know and even fewer are willing to execute. The prospects of the Afghan incursion have been likened to the Vietnam experience, a sordid black eye on the face of American military adventurism. President Obama could, if not careful, fall into that operationally inept trap and by so doing deservedly become a one-term president. There is very little appetite for this to be a long playing record.
Or President Obama and the current War Cabinet may be comparing the Afghan incursion and the circumstances leading up to it to those circumstances preceeding World War II. History usually concedes that though American entry into World War II was an inevitability, Pearl Harbor sealed the deal and made FDR’s sales job to the American population about as difficult as selling air conditioners in the Sahara desert. Volunteers were lining up to join the forces before the speech started.
But only by using the most catastrophic means known to man at the time was Harry Truman able to bring the war to a conclusion, albeit belatedly and amid a world wide fury of hostile debate.
President Obama’s sales job is decidedly more difficult. His backdrop to the West Point speech justifying the Afghan incursion was a verbal illustration and reminder of 9/11 and where the operatives of that initiative originated. If one assumes that explanation as the bottom line rationale for even a temporary occupation of Afghanistan one can, with equal logic, equate it to FDR’s rationale to escalate America’s involvement in World War II immediately following Pearl Harbor. In that FDR did not live long enough to “finish the job” one must wonder if his anticipated end game or “exit strategy” was similar to Truman’s. Truman did not issue the declaration of war but he most certainly did “finish the job.”
Obama has summarized his strategy by announcing he will “finish the job” in Afghanistan and will not “hand this war to my successor.” Questions abound about what “the job” is or should be, or what can be reasonably accomplished. The world is an infinitely more dangerous place than Harry Truman confronted and the proliferation of even more devastating and potentially catastrophic weaponry makes the stakes incalcuably higher. There is debate about whether Islamic jihadism is the contemporary equivalent of Nazi military expansionism.
But it is only by taking a significant risk that Obama can hope to “finish the job” and assure himself a place in the annals of American Military Exceptionalism. He will otherwise almost assuredly preside over defeat or hand off the Afghan situation to his successor. The dual questions are, what risk is Obama willing to take to prevail quickly and decisively and what might the price be to do so? As Harry Truman proved in a less dangerous time, all military options must be on the table, including big bombs and the courage to use them after all measures have been exhausted in a reasonable time to avoid their use. The margin between humanitarian restraint and justified military decisiveness is growing painfully blurred.
As conservative columnist George Will states, “This will not end well.”
John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at john.kliebenstein@