Thursday, July 8, 2010

Unfounded Assumptions About Obama & Afghanistan

There's a provocative article in The New Republic by historian Andrew Bacevich, called "Non-Believer." Bacevich advances a theory that goes something like this. George Bush was an incompetent idiot, but he went to war in Iraq because he firmly believed he was doing the right thing. Obama is smarter and more competent, but he's escalated the war in Afghanistan even though he doesn't believe in it. He's waging war there because he's too cynical and gutless to get out. It's hard to know where to start in pointing out Bacevich's many extremely dubious assumptions.  Let's start with this one. After describing Bush as a "well-intentioned fool," Bacevich writes about Obama.
Barack Obama is anything but a fool.
Really? Maybe if you ignore all the evidence of his presidency. 
Much as Iraq was Bush’s war, Afghanistan has become Obama’s war. Yet the president clearly wants nothing more than to rid himself of his war.
That's a pretty big assumption. Interestingly enough, it's shared by many on the right.  
Obama has prolonged and escalated a conflict in which he himself manifestly does not believe.
Is there any way to know whether or not that's actually true? Again, that's a huge assumption that claims unwarranted insight into the president's brain. Bacevich provides no evidence for his position, other than a single meaningless line spoken by Obama.  The actual evidence clearly contradicts such a view. Obama took a ridiculously long time to reevaluate U.S. strategy for Afghanistan. After that time, he signed on with the counterinsurgency (COIN) school of thought, which specifically required an escalation of U.S. forces, and even more nation-building efforts. He went with General McChyrstal, a leading proponent of that strategy, and in large part adopted his recommendations. Those are not the actions of someone who "manifestly" does not believe in the war effort. Bacevich's assertion is ludicrous, which is why he has to pretend to some special insight into what the president is secretly thinking.
Yet the expectations of change that vaulted him to the presidency went well beyond the issue of priorities. Obama’s supporters were counting on him to bring to the White House an enlightened moral sensibility: He would govern differently not only because he was smarter than his predecessor but because he responded to a different—and truer—inner compass.

People who actually believed such nonsense -- and presumably that includes Bacevich -- have no business referring to anyone else as fools. Bacevich was apparently completely clueless about Barack Obama before the election, and now he claims special knowledge of his inner thoughts. 

Obama doesn’t want to be in Afghanistan any more than Benjamin Netanyahu wants to be in the West Bank. Yet like the Israeli prime minister, the president lacks the guts to get out.
Maybe he doesn't want to get out because once he became president, he was forced to face reality, and forced to recognize that a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a major strategic defeat for the U.S. Maybe as president, with all the information and advice at his disposal, he feels that he can no longer adopt the simple-minded viewpoint of naive and ignorant anti-war types. But Bacevich prefers to believe that Obama really thinks the way he does, but is cynically prolonging the war purely for political purposes. His entire article is a typical example of imputing bad motives to those you disagree with politically.
The question demands to be asked: Who is more deserving of contempt? The commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause, however misguided, in which he sincerely believes? Or the commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause in which he manifestly does not believe and yet refuses to forsake?
What's contemptible is a professional historian who can't tell the difference between his own assumptions and assertions and facts. 


  1. Ann Coulter wrote a similarly stupid column as Bacevich lately claiming that Obama has made Afghanistan "his war" of choice.

  2. Yes, I saw that. I was thinking of responding to that, but Coulter doesn't have much credibility anyway. All of the sudden she comes out of the woodwork to defend Michael Steele and attack Bill Kristol. She completely missed the point that Steele, as RNC head, undermined the GOP's own positions on Afghanistan.