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March 30, 2009

Conservatives Claim Credit for a Strategy they Opposed for Years
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It is quite odd to see conservatives celebrating how Barack Obama stood up to his base and adopted the Afghanistan strategy they have advocated all along.  Bill Kristol  is clearly pleased.  Bob Kagan praises the president for standing up against those who wanted a minimalist approach.  Christian Brose writes about the left coming around.  And Kori Schake essentially implies that Obama's plan was originally the McCain plan.

One problem with this story.  When progressives including Barack Obama, John Kerry and Joe Biden as early as 2002 were warning about the dangers of neglecting Afghanistan, conservatives were focused on Iraq and essentially treating Afghanistan like a backwater.  We can have a serious discussion on Afghanistan and I think the folks at Shadow Government have been making some very smart and interesting contributions.  But for them to somehow declare victory now and praise Obama for taking their advice is patently absurd.  The history bears this out quite clearly.  Conservatives were on the wrong side of this argument for years while progressives saw it coming.


Robert Kagan an Bill Kristol:  "the endgame seems to be in sight in Afghanistan.” 


Joe Biden:   “It’s simple: the very same conditions that enabled the Taliban to come to power in the mid-1990s are rapidly emerging again…Unless we take a serious look at our policy, I greatly fear we may be setting the stage for a tragic replay of recent Afghan history.”


Joe Biden:   “With our attention focused on Iraq, we run the risk of overlooking the alarming deterioration of security in Afghanistan.”

Howard Dean:  “We must follow through on our commitments in Afghanistan to prevent that troubled land from ever again serving as a base for terrorism.”

John McCain:  “There has been a rise in al Qaeda activity along the border. There has been some increase in U.S. casualties. I am concerned about it, but I'm not as concerned as I am about Iraq today, obviously, or I'd be talking about Afghanistan. But I believe that if Karzai can make the progress that he is making, that -- in the long term, we may muddle through in Afghanistan.”

Bill Kristol:  “The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably.”


John Kerry:  "And Iraq is not even the center of the focus of the war on terror. The center is Afghanistan, where, incidentally, there were more Americans killed last year than the year before; where the opium production is 75 percent of the world's opium production; where 40 to 60 percent of the economy of Afghanistan is based on opium; where the elections have been postponed three times.”

John McCain:  "I’d say, first of all, the facts on the ground are we went to Afghanistan and we prevailed there."


Center for American Progress:  “Up to two active brigades – approximately 20,000 troops – would be sent to bolster US and NATO efforts in Afghanistan and support counterterrorist operations in Africa and Asia. In Afghanistan, more troops are urgently needed to beat back the resurging Taliban forces and to maintain security throughout the country. If NATO is unwilling to send more troops, the United States must pick up the load.” 

John Kerry:  “We will never be as safe as we should be if Iraq continues to distract us from the most important war we must win - the war on Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the terrorists that are resurfacing even in Afghanistan.”

John McCain:  "it was in Afghanistan, as well, there were many people who predicted that Afghanistan would not be a success. So far, it's a remarkable success.”


John Kerry:  "The central front in the war on terror is still in Afghanistan, but this Administration treats it like a sideshow. When did denying al Qaeda a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan stop being an urgent American priority? How did we end up with seven times more troops in Iraq – which even the Administration now admits had nothing to do with 9/11 – than in Afghanistan, where the killers still roam free? Why is the Administration sending thousands more American troops into the crossfire of a civil war in Iraq but we can’t find any more troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan?”

Max Boot:  What should the U.S. do? Sending more troops isn’t in the cards. The coalition troop presence in Afghanistan—20,000 U.S. troops and 20,000 NATO soldiers—is already at an all-time high, and no one has soldiers to spare. Instead of sending more GIs, we should send more greenbacks. U.S. financial assistance to Afghanistan has never been adequate.


Barack Obama:  “As President, I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to re-enforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against the Taliban. As we step up our commitment, our European friends must do the same, and without the burdensome restrictions that have hampered NATO's efforts. We must also put more of an Afghan face on security by improving the training and equipping of the Afghan Army and Police, and including Afghan soldiers in U.S. and NATO operations.”

Center for American Progress:  “The United States should increase troop levels by approximately 20,000 by redeploying troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, shifting the military strategy fully to a counterinsurgency framework, reducing civilian casualties, strengthening the Afghan National Army, and unifying NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and the United States’ separate Operation Enduring Freedom under one NATO command. All of these actions must be coordinated with civilian actors and integrated with other aspects of a counterinsurgency strategy.”

Harry Reid:  “It is a travesty that Osama bin Laden remains at large nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks and appears to have found new sanctuary to operate freely in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions. The Bush Administration and most Congressional Republicans would rather stubbornly stick with a flawed strategy and fight a war that senior military leaders say cannot be won militarily, than adapt to fighting the enemy who attacked us nearly six years ago. It is essential that we dedicate our resources and attention to Al Qaeda and the real threat it poses.”


Joe Biden:  “The next President will have to rally America and the world to ‘fight them over there unless we want to fight them over here.’ The ‘over there’ is not, as President Bush has claimed, Iraq, but rather the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Harry Reid:  "We've been so focused on Iraq, and we all know Afghanistan has not received the attention and resources it needs...We are where we are, but not where we should be. After 9/11, we spent a little time here and left."


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During the campaign McCain and his foreign policy staff, despite their claims to be more experienced than Obama and his crew of 300 foreign policy staffers, were always either out of step or were several steps behind Obama on significant foreign policy issues. McCain appeared to be running a campaign with the foreign policy theme of "me, too, and more." Now long after the election it's no surprise then Kori Schake would try to claim credit for McCain on this issue. As shown by her statements during the campaign she had a hard time determining where McCain stood on Afghan strategies and operational issues.

Christian Science Monitor, 7/7/08: Christian Science Monitor Reported that McCain "Has Resisted Calls For More Troops In Afghanistan." "McCain has resisted calls for more troops in Afghanistan and has rejected criticism that the Iraq war is detracting from efforts to secure Afghanistan. He labeled Barack Obama 'naïve' for saying he'd strike terrorist targets in Pakistan with or without the cooperation of President Pervez Musharraf. … Aides to the Arizona senator said Wednesday that he continued to view success in Iraq as the best chance for victory in the global war on terror. 'As on many things, Senator Obama is not listening to our commanders, and Senator McCain is,' says Kori Schake, a senior policy adviser to McCain. 'General David Petraeus believes Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. Al Qaeda has even said it is.' … Ms. Schake's comments came about two hours after Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said additional troops were needed in Afghanistan but that too many were tied down in Iraq to send more."

McCain press release, 7/15/08: McCain Called for Sending Three Additional Brigades to Afghanistan and Suggests They Would Come From Iraq. According to a press release issued by the McCain campaign on Tuesday morning, McCain would announce in a speech that he now supports sending at least three additional brigades to Afghanistan: "The status quo in Afghanistan is unacceptable, and from the moment the next President walks into the Oval Office, he will face critical decisions about Afghanistan. … John McCain Supports Sending At Least Three Additional Brigades To Afghanistan. Our commanders on the ground say they need these troops, and thanks to the success of the surge, these forces are becoming available, and our commanders in Afghanistan must get them."

TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE 7/15/08 (CONFERENCE CALL AFTER THE PRESS RELEASE): Kori Schake, senior foreign policy advisor for McCain, outlined McCain's strategy in Afghanistan. McCain will work with allies to make sure their is unity of leadership, appoint an Afghani official to better organize U.S. policy, and increase the amounts of troops by three brigades, Schake said. Two brigades would be for combat and one would be for training, Schake said. McCain will also increase non-military assistance, such as counter narcotics strategy and regional diplomatic issues.

I am glad that we are finally reinforcing our strength in Afghanistan. It is a bold move by President Obama, and one that he will be criticized a lot for, but a good move. I found a video that discusses this issue from an international point of view.

When progressives including Barack Obama, John Kerry and Joe Biden . . .

There you go again, calling neoliberals "progressives". The fact that the policies of Barack Obama, John Kerry and Joe Biden are now being embraced by neocons is prima facie evidence that this is not the case. Progressives want the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday.

We just need to put an end to all of this by cutting the head off the snake. Obviously we are mired in Iraq because there is no real good way to get out. We still need to attempt to go after the real source of terror wherever he is hiding.

Why do you guys constantly use the word "progressives" when all you really mean is "Democrats"? Is every Democrat automatically a progressive? Personally, I'm still smarting over the way neoliberals hijacked the word "progressive" over the past four or five years. Until the neoliberals started playing this game, "progressive" had evolved into a term designating the politics of anti-neoliberal left. Now that left needs to find another term I suppose.

If some future historian a century hence, without prior knowledge of the political history of the Iraq and Afghanistan debate, were to examine Ilan's quotes from the past six years, I submit it would be impossible for that historian to discern which of them come from "conservatives", "neoconservatives", "liberals" or "progressives". Although we know that the people who made these statements have ideological predilections, the quotes themselves are all lacking in distinguishable ideological character. It just looks like a debate among two broadly like-thinking camps about national military strategy, and the best way to dispose US troops abroad.

Here's the way this post-2002 debate looks to me: The main foreign policy division among Americans is between those who are deeply skeptical, and frequently hostile, to US military engagements abroad, and those in both parties who tend to embrace such engagements and support a "forward", imperial US posture in the world. The former generally oppose military interventions of all kinds; the latter are very open to military interventions, seek them, and debate among themselves mainly which interventions, and where.

As it happens, most of the anti-imperial, antiwar Americans are in the Democratic Party. They have a powerful voice in the party and in the voting booth, but have almost no institutional power in Washington, which is a committed imperial capital. This puts the Washington contingent of the Democratic Party in a bind. To satisfy their antiwar constituents, and win their votes, they have to find various ways of seeming to agree with them. But they have to do so without destroying their imperialist cred inside the Beltway.

That's what happened during the Iraq debate. Democratic anti-imperialist and antiwar voters were up in arms about Iraq, but not quite as strongly opposed to Afghanistan. So the Democratic pols and think-tankers hit on the clever idea of opposing the Iraq War as a matter of bad imperial strategy, and combined their anti-Iraq position with calls for escalation in Afghanistan. The Democratic antiwar voters, desperate to get out of Iraq, and perhaps afflicted with tunnel vision focused to the Iraq atrocity, said "good enough".

I'm not saying that there was no difference in intellectual merit on the two sides in the "stay in Iraq" vs. "surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan" debate. But there was never anything notably "progressive" about the Af-pak surger position. It was just a debate about military deployments on the broad imperial battlefield.

The neoliberal imperialists in the Democratic Party have never voiced the kinds of criticisms of the Iraq War that are found among antiwar Americans. The latter have frequently said that the war was a barbarous, murderous criminal endeavor, and have tended to focus on the war's wholly unjustified physical devastation of Iraq, and the butchery of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The imperialists, enthusiastic Pentagon-huggers who never have a discouraging word to say about the actions of our Brave Boys abroad, have contented themselves with pointing out the ways in which the war was bad for us.

Conservatives Claim Credit for a Strategy they Opposed for Years

No, they didn't. Ilan made that up.

But that aside, let's sum up Ilan's stance: Neocons wanted mostly to bomb the Middle East while progressives wanted mostly to bomb South Asia, and now that progressives will get their druthers it's unfair for neocons to support them. Again Ilan is wrong. This is a mis-use of the word progressive, so substitute neo-liberal, while understanding that there is not a bit of difference between a Will Marshall DLC neo-liberal and a Bill Kristol neo-con.

No, they didn't. Ilan made that up

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Can I do to express their views here,

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