September 02, 2009

The Obama Administration: MIA on Afghanistan?

So I was on the Newshour last night debating Afghanistan with a favorite of this blog and its readers, Andrew Bacevich. As readers of this blog know, I am uncomfortable when placed in the position of being expected to lustily defend the war. I think the war is in the nation's interests at the moment, sure, but I'm quick to add that my own thoughts are not wholly formed, I am open to dissenting views, and what views I do offer are accompanied by admissions of how difficult the mission is and a rather un-Abu-Muqawama-like degree of humility. (One of the things that turns me off to Bacevich's arguments on Afghanistan, for example, is how certain he is of his knowledge and opinions on the country, its peoples, its history and NATO operations there without, to my knowledge, having ever traveled to Central Asia. Rory Stewart, obviously, is another matter -- as is the wider Bacevich thesisir?t=abumuqa-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0805090169 about the use and abuse of American power.) As I walked out of the studio last night, though, Gwen Ifill turned to me and said, "Look, I understand you're not some fire-breathing hawk, but you're about the only person we can find in Washington to defend this war at the moment."

Woah. The only person who will defend this war? If this blogger is the only person in the nation's capital willing to defend the war, we have a big problem. I'm more used to hosting debates on Afghanistan than participating in them. I do not think it would surprise any reader of this blog, though, to note the speed with which the debate has shifted on the war in Afghanistan. What was, 12 months ago, "the good war" has now become, for paleoconservatives and progressives alike, a fool's errand. And the Obama Administration has thus far shown little energy for defending a policy and strategic goals (.pdf) they themselves arrived at just five months ago. I thought that once the president had settled on a policy and strategic aims, the rest of the administration would then go about executing that policy. That's the way it's supposed to work, right? Yet the policy debate seems to continue within the White House, with the Office of the Vice President apparently pushing for a much more limited approach than what was articulated in March by the president himself and following a lengthy policy review. No wonder, then, the uniformed military is getting nervous about the administration's support for their war. Either the White House has been too busy with health care, or they have failed to notice how quickly the debate has shifted under their feet (as with health care).

What needs to happen? Well, first off, I guess we should decide what we're trying to do in Afghanistan. (Again, when we set about reviewing ISAF operations in June and July, we thought this question had already been resolved in March.) Once that question is settled, the administration needs to go about defending and explaining their policy. Until then, it's understandable why everyone from voters in Peoria to Mullah Omar in Afghanistan (?) are confused as to what, exactly, U.S. policy is at the moment.