odd time signatures

Thoughts on Afghanistan, redux

The minefield for President Obama isn’t laid in Afghanistan, nor are his enemies laying in wait for him on the right. They’re on the left, the right, in front, and behind him. As I wrote before, there are no easy or formulaic answers to the question of how to approach Afghanistan.

This is why I find Greenwald’s comparison of President Bush’s argument for a surge in Iraq to President Obama’s intentionally leaked tidbits of tonight’s speech particularly insulting. Greenwald, in his zeal to make his case that our President is a warmongering, babykilling, self-destructing leader destined for failure, takes the easy shot. Someone ought to tell him to stand down on the friendly fire until he at least hears the entire speech.

I don’t know if President Obama will say anything tonight that goes beyond the talking points we’ve heard leaked already. I don’t know if he’ll reveal the entire strategy. I suspect he will not, if for no other reason than to play some cards closer to the vest than others for the sake of success.

I’ve been doing nothing but reading about Afghanistan over these past weeks, and find it difficult to understand how any progressive can support complete withdrawal unless they’re also willing to shut up about Darfur and other nations where culture and poverty dictate a miserable existence for their people.

Forget the Taliban, forget Al Qaeda, forget Pakistan, forget the nuclear weapons at risk. Forget history, forget the fall of empires on Afghanistan’s poppy fields, forget it all.

To summarily withdraw from Afghanistan or support such a withdrawal suggests abandonment of any principled approach to foreign policy and human rights. It serves as signal to the Afghan people and the world that Americans are simply opportunistic political animals with no real moral compass or will to at least attempt to repair what they broke.

It hasn’t been lost on me that he or Secretary Clinton have met with all the major players in that region over the past month: Pakistan, India, China, Russia. Surely Afghanistan arose in their discussions, don’t you think? At the very least, it appears that the President has reached out to those countries with far more at risk in that region than we have.

What I know is this: I watched him stand before the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan as their bodies returned to the United States. The man who saluted those heroes did not view their deaths lightly, or their lives as ones easily spent. He stood before grieving wives, children, mothers and fathers and felt the weight of his decision. He understood that sending more troops to Afghanistan meant more planes burdened with death, and more backlash from those who supported him most strongly in his campaign for election — young men and women under the age of 30.

Still, the cynical left weighs a political cost to the President for making this decision, a decision which will be wildly unpopular not with conservatives, but with progressives and liberals. (Conservatives, of course, will waste no opportunity to find fault with his decision as well, but that’s to be expected.) The left is already eulogizing him as a one-term President, the LBJ of our time. Really? Should his decisions be solely made on the basis of what gets him re-elected? Does it truly come down to nothing more than a political risk analysis?

Speaking for me, I will gladly support a President who makes a decision which he has obviously weighed for some time after facing the worst and most painful result of that decision — the return of dead young people to their native soil for burial. I will respect that decision not because I respect war, or because I am so intensely loyal to Afghanistan. I hate war. I have an affinity for Afghanistan, but have always held the belief that we should NEVER have made any military commitment there. Given that we have, we’re stuck with the fallout, and so is our President.

It is a decision with no easy or formulaic answers. It can’t be made as if Afghanistan were Iraq or as if President Obama were George Bush. But it deserves some respect.

I will respect that decision because I believe that a man who has stood before the faces of grief and loss and understands that cost will not squander those lives, or make such a decision lightly.

I will respect that decision because those troops deserve for each and every one of us not just to support them, but to support what they are doing. It’s lipservice to say we “support the troops” while condemning the job they’ve been sent to do.

Finally, I will never, ever forget that the persons responsible for forcing this President to make this decision are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, nor will I keep quiet about that fact when I speak or write in support of the President’s decision.

I have a son who served in the Army. I have draft-age children. I have friends whose kids are in Afghanistan. They deserve our respect, our support, and our commitment to their assignment for the time they have remaining in that country.

When you listen to the President tonight, remember that he stood before those families. Remember that he stands before them now. Remember that he isn’t moving pieces around a chessboard. If he’s willing to take the risk of losing the support of those who elected him, I believe he has reasons beyond what we’ve heard play in the media that support his decision, and warrant our support as well.

Afghanistan is not Iraq.

Barack Obama is not George W. Bush.

It’s good to remember that.

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