Remember when NFL commisioner Roger Goodell made the highly controversial decision to reinstate Michael Vick? There was this big outcry over the summer, and Goodell would say a few things here or there about the case, inching towards his decision, making like he was really torn, though we all knew he was going to say yes. Just before the beginning of the season, Goodell announced that Vick would be suspended for up to six weeks. And finally, Goodell ended up splitting the difference–don’t let Vick back right away, just suspend him for only four weeks. By the time Vick showed up in Philly, the public outrage had been effectively dissipated and muted, and the PETA dudes had all gone home. Eventually, Vick turned out to be kind of a wash and by week 8 or whatever, it hasn’t really worked out, but everybody has moved on. (Football fans, I’m doing this from memory, so please feel free to correct my facts.)
Obama seems to be taking a page from the Goodell playbook with this Af/Pak thing–drag it out so long that the issue burns itself out, and escalation takes on this inevitable feel. The most recent example are the leaks saying that Obama is planning to send around 40,000 or more troops, but, of course he hasn’t yet made his decision, and he just talked to Colin Powell, who told him to “take his time,” but he’s going to make up his mind some day soon, and anyway the troops won’t get there until sometime next year…And by that time nobody, except those playing and the superfans, will care.
Anyway, enough with the sports analogy.
After visiting Afghanistan last year, I wrote a story that basically said: this thing is a bad idea, Obama beware. I suggested, with my infinite Biden-esque wisdom, that we lost sight of our goal in Afghanistan, confusing a new passion for counterinsurgency with counterrorism. That is, if we’re no longer there to primarily fight and kill the kinds of Al-Qaeda types who attacked us on 9-11, then, well, what the heck were we doing?
At the time, I felt more or less like I was shouting into the wind. I could tell myself, well, I did my best to raise a red flag or two, so hey. Obama had just announced sending 17,000 more troops, and Afghanistan was off the front pages. Then, during the summer, we saw the highest level of U.S. casualties of the war. Then the unsurprisingly unfair election. Then the McChyrstal leak.
Then something that I didn’t expect to happen happened: folks against the escalation started coming out of the woodwork, from George Will to Thomas Friedman to Matthew Koh to Richard Haass, joining the ranks of gentlemen like Andrew Bacevich and Douglas Macgregor, who’d been shouting into the wind for sometime themselves. Even Vice President Biden was said to be against the escalation, giving those who agreed with him a glimmer of hope that maybe Obama wasn’t going to drive of the cliff, as Rory Stewart put it. A poll even showed that over 50 percent of Americans now didn’t think the war was worth fighting.
But, despite all of that, it looks like Obama is going to decide to escalate. As Michael Brenner over at the Huffington Post puts it today:
Obama’s decision to go along with the Petraeus/McChrystal campaign for a massive escalation in Afghanistan and the Pakistani borderlands contradicts every precept of sound strategy and statesmanship. Rarely, if ever, has a great power so willfully set itself down the path of self-destruction with so little reason. This is pathological behavior that cries out for diagnosis and correction.
But, if the public doesn’t support it, and big name pundits in the media don’t support it, and a bunch of Dems don’t support, and the anti-war left that help get Obama elected don’t support, then who is still left to correct our course?