President Obama is talking to thirty or so Congressional leaders today about the war in Afghanistan. It’s either another bit of theatrics–as Christian Brose suggested, or the weekend photo-op with his unruly general implied–or a true moment of indecision/soul searching. Whatever it is, the President certainly wants to give the appearance of hearing many points of view before he either a) sends the 40,000 more troops or b)figures out an elegant way to not send 40,000 troops. ( Having already unilaterally declared in August that we are fighting a “war of necessity,” it’s going to be difficult for him to not meet his commander’s request, I think. )
Before this debate goes further, I’d like to present an oversimplified account of our recent history, with many “air quotes,” to outline the hidden logic of our thinking over the past nine years.
1.) After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we decide to invade Afghanistan.
2.) The Afghanistan invasion is such a success, we more or less declare victory.
3.) We say, ‘Hey, that was easy!’ Let’s take the “lessons” we learned there–that toppling these brownish regimes is a piece of cake!–and apply them to Iraq.
4.) We invade Iraq.
5.) We find out that Iraq isn’t as “easy” as Afghanistan.
6.) After a catastrophic four or five years, we learn new “lessons” in Iraq. These lessons are aborbed under the rubric of “The Surge.”
7.) Iraq stabilizes, relatively speaking. We finally notice that Afghanistan has “gotten worse.”
8.) Wait, hadn’t we won there already?
9.) Not to worry! We’ll take the “lessons” we just “learned” to “win” in Iraq and apply them to Afghanistan.
10.) We ponder sending 100,000 Americans to Afghanistan so we can win again.
To sum up: We applied the “lessons of victory” in Afghanistan to justify invading Iraq. Oops. Now we are applying the “lessons of victory” in Iraq to justify the escalation in Afghanistan. Oops?
My brain is hurting trying to give a name to this. An absurdity? Hubris? History as usual? A dog chasing its tail? I don’t even know if I found the right formulation for what I’m trying to say. But there’s some kind of strange circular dynamic at work that gives some serious concern.