Obama Is No George Bush.
We got a demo yesterday of how wrong all of the “Obama=Bush” bullshitters are and always have been.
The agreement he went to Kabul to sign helps cement the plan and timetable that has been in operation since the so-called “surge” in Afghanistan that Obama initiated in late 2009. It’s easy to criticize that plan, but it has the very important features of being a plan with a timetable for ending our occupation of Afghanistan requested by the Afghan government. Last night, the President referred to the ongoing phased reduction in forces that will be complete by 2014 as the end to our “time of war.”
That is a highly significant choice of words. Consider what Bush did with the political and legal leverage of the idea that we were “at war” for 7 years. The war in Iraq was rationalized with an edifice of lies, but at the base of that structure was a truth: we were “at war” with a vaguely defined enemy under a vague Congressional authorization for the use of military force. Bush’s failure to take out bin Laden in battle at Tora Bora was entangled with his strategic goal of launching a war in Iraq. Whether one believes that the failure was merely a consequence of a strategic error influenced by the contingencies of prepping for Iraq and a loss of focus or (as I do) that allowing bin Laden and many others to escape into Pakistan was an intentional choice, it is matter of fact that the consequence of that blunder was the loss of any notional path to a decisive victory in Afghanistan. It became a contest for hearts and minds against an enemy whose leadership was safe from our military: a war that could never be called “over” no matter what we did. Having a war which never can be won or lost and which never calls for intensification is useful to an unscrupulous politician, particularly one who wants to start another war and to justify an attack on domestic civil liberties. Bush used the ongoing and going-nowhere war in Afghanistan politically and legally to justify the invasion of Iraq and the advancement of an authoritarian revolution in US law and public policy. The latter is clear in the rationalizations of torture and the legal arguments over the Guantanamo Bay prison, but it extends to the so-called Patriot Act, “homeland security” projects, and even the uses of the “unitary executive” theory in widespread areas of domestic governance. Agencies like NASA and EPA found themselves with political overseers silencing their scientific work on the pretense that as Commander in Chief in wartime, the President had no limit to his power over the Federal government. The highly flexible authorizations given Bush for both wars were used to expand executive power and weaken the controls on politicization of government functions. The wars without end also provided cover for insane fiscal and economic policies that led to the 2008 collapse and the current political gridlock over the budget: artificially low interest rates, deficits, spending tilted towards military rather then domestic needs.
Obama has followed through on the withdrawal from Iraq that was negotiated in late 2008 as he was campaigning on scheduled withdrawal and McCain was still rejecting the whole idea. He has negotiated a similar plan for Afghanistan despite resistance from the Right and he has cemented that plan with a long-term agreement for strategic cooperation that is predicated on ending our combat deployment by 2014. Force reductions have started and will continue. He has described this in a major address to the nation as an end to our time of war. Could anyone believe that Bush would have EVER given up the productive tool of a Forever War? John McCain made it clear in 2008 that he wouldn’t. Much of the GOP has been agitating for war with Iran, a project that Obama shows no signs of adopting. You can call this a cynical declaration of victory to cover a retreat but even if it is, how is it a bad thing? Is there anything to be gained for anyone for the USA to frankly declare Afghanistan a lost cause as a premise for withdrawal instead? I think not. Should we pull out as fast as possible and tell the people of Afghanistan that they are on their own in holding the Taliban at bay while they figure out how to govern their country sanely? I think we tried that once, and it was bad for them and for us.
I think that Obama’s choice of words is important, and that it raises the profile of the real stakes of the election. Those who have argued that it does not matter if Romney wins because Obama has not reversed the damage done by Bush using the excuse of war need to review their estimations. Do anyone really believe Romney would stick to Obama’s plan to give up the excuse of war by 2014? One need only look at the way he has pandered to the Far Right for the past 4+ years and adopted Loyal Bushie neocons for foreign policy advice to change that belief. There will be no end to war with Romney. We have a timetable for an end with Obama. It matters.