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McChrystal Doesn’t Get It—Does Obama?
Posted on Oct 29, 2009
By Scott Ritter
Thus the solution itself becomes the problem, thereby creating a never-ending circular conflict which has the United States expending more and more resources to resolve a situation that has nothing to do with the reality on the ground in Afghanistan, and everything to do with crafting a politically viable salve for what is in essence a massive self-inflicted wound. It is the proverbial dog chasing after its own tail, a frustrating experience made even more so by the fact that any massive commitment of troops brings with it the fatal attachment of national pride, individual hubris and, worst of all, the scourge of domestic American politics, so that by the time this dog bites its tail, it will be so blinded by artificialities that rather than recognize its mistake, it will instead proceed to consume itself. In the case of Afghanistan, our consumption will be measured in the lives of American servicemen and women, national treasure, national honor, and, of course the lives of countless Afghan dead and wounded.
The manner in which McChrystal has peddled his plan for Afghanistan to the American media, and to Congress, may be politically savvy. It is certainly insubordinate. The decision to employ American military power is the sole prerogative of the American president. A general may offer advice, but any effort to engage the machinery of politics to pressure a sitting president defies the basic constitutional tenet of civilian control over the military. President Obama, once a constitutional law professor, should know as much, and would do well to severely reprimand McChrystal for his actions. Or better yet, Obama should fire McChrystal and replace him with someone who respects the rule of law and the chain of command.
Obama may have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but if he allows himself to be bullied into supporting McChrystal’s foray into Afghanistan, he will reveal himself as the worst kind of warmonger. True, he didn’t invent the Afghan quagmire. That honor resides with George W. Bush, who also is to blame for the American fiasco in Iraq. But history will be surprisingly gentle toward America’s 43rd president. Bush will share the blame for his calamitous military decisions with the mistaken policies of previous administrations, a compliant Congress, headstrong advisers, servile intelligence agencies and, of course, the shock of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush will be seen more as a useful idiot than a ruthless ideologue. Obama, with his obvious intelligence, soaring rhetorical skills and Nobel credentials, does not readily fit such a characterization. If he decides to reinforce failure in Afghanistan by dispatching tens of thousands more American troops to that disaster, America’s 44th president will cement himself as a grand fraud, a hawk hiding in dove feathers. Given his potential for doing good, one clearly would not want such a scenario to play out.
The president’s lack of military experience screams out when he calls America’s involvement in Afghanistan a “good war.” He would have been better off trying to make the case for a justifiable war, or even a necessary war, but to label a process that brings about the death and injury of thousands as “good” makes me wonder about Obama’s fitness to be commander in chief. His seeming inexperience on national security affairs and foreign policy leave him vulnerable to domestic political pressures that emanate from these arenas. The president does possess the vision to see a world in which America stands side by side with other nations as an equal, operating with a shared notion of due process and respect for the rule of law, but that doesn’t square with any decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. Expanding the war in Afghanistan will lend credence to the central worry about Obama: that, at the end of the day, this man of vision might in fact be little more than an Illinois politician who is willing to barter away American life, treasure and good will for political gain on the domestic front. And, in doing so, it will undermine his noble vision of an America “resetting” its relationship with the world following eight years of unilateralist militarism.
A true leader, one with substance and gravitas, would be able to stand up to the combined pressure of the military, the right-wing of Congress and the American media. He would draw the correct conclusions from the lessons of history, which prove again and again that Afghanistan is not a problem that can be solved by foreign military intervention. The fact that Obama might be compelled to alleviate the political pressure he is receiving from these sources by condemning America to another decade of death and destruction in Afghanistan and, most probably, Pakistan, reinforces any perception of his weakness as a national leader.
Afghanistan has, over the centuries, earned its reputation as the graveyard of empires. Just ask the Greeks, Mongols, British and Russians. If Barack Obama ultimately agrees to dispatch more American troops to Afghanistan, he will ensure not only that America will add its name to the list of those who have failed in their effort to conquer the unconquerable, but also that his name will join the ranks of those leaders throughout history who succumbed to the temptations of hubris when given the choice between war and peace. The Nobel committee will have failed in its gambit to motivate America’s 44th president to embrace the mantle of peacemaker, and the American people will be left to sort through the detritus of war brought on by yet another failed president.
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