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Afghanistan: Making Good on a Campaign Promise Is a Bad Idea

November 30, 2009

All the news leaks indicate that President Obama will make good on a campaign promise that helped to win him the presidency.  That’s one promise I’d like to see him break, because war is not the answer in Afghanistan and more troops won’t bring more peace to Afghanistan.

Tomorrow night President Obama is scheduled to address the nation to inform us of his decision about what to do in Afghanistan. The news leaks say he’ll focus on strategy as well as on force level.

On strategy, the news leaks indicate that he’ll substitute “finish the job in Afghanistan” for the “win in Afghanistan.”  I guess he hopes that “finish the job” will appeal both to those who say “win in Afghanistan” and to those who say “get out of Afghanistan.”

On force levels, the news leaks say he’ll satisfy General McChrystal’s request by allowing another 30 to 40 thousand U.S. soldiers to be put into harms way, but, remember, he’s sending them to “finish the job.”  So, opponents of the U.S. war are supposed to be happy.  We just have to accept that the way out is to go in harder and smarter militarily.

If these leaked reports are accurate, then President Obama is about to make the Big Mistake, just like the best and the brightest of previous administrations.  That Big Mistake broke LBJ’s presidency.  Obama apparently has the audacity to think that he can succeed where LBJ, the political wizard, failed.  In any case, he’ll be keeping a campaign promise.

During his presidential campaign, then Senator Obama criticized the Bush administration for its failure to fight and win the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Obama said, again and again, that Afghanistan was the right war, but Bush chose to neglect that right war for a wrong war in Iraq.  Apparently, many swing voters agreed, and their votes helped Obama win the election.

During his presidential campaign, Obama impressed on the pubic mind the message:  the U.S. war in Afghanistan is the “good war,” and the U.S. war in Iraq is the “bad war.”  The public associates the “good war” with World War II.  Obama was wrapping himself in the WWII battle flag.  If elected to be president of the United States, Obama promised to end the “bad war” and to fight the “good war.”

Previously, I’ve said that, as a rule since his election, conservatives have slammed Obama because they fear that he will keep his election promises, and liberals have criticized him because they fear that he will not keep his election promises.

The Afghanistan promise may be the exception to this rule.  Conservatives may support Obama because they think he will keep his promise to fight the “good war” in Afghanistan, whereas Obama’s base constituency may oppose him for keeping his promise.  They see another Vietnam ahead. Unless, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT) turns his fellow conservatives around; he’s calling for Obama to withdraw U.S. forces.

Afghanistan is no Vietnam.  No, it is probably worse. Vietnam turned out not to be the domino that, if lost, would turn all of Asia communist.  Today, U.S. –Vietnam relations are good and improving.  However, the continued U.S. war fighting in, and military occupation of, Afghanistan could be a boon to the handful of violent extremists who exploit a flawed interpretation of Islam to build a global anti-American movement.

Obama’s making good on his campaign promise will likely help to end his presidency at one term, to grow the federal budget deficit, and to run up the U.S. debt.  Worse, it will put tens of thousands of lives at risk to pay for the Big Mistake made by others, others who will never pay the cost.  It will almost certainly continue the destabilization of Central and South Asia.

What to do instead?  See FCNL’s recommendations to President Obama for ending the U.S. war in and occupation of Afghanistan.  What do I think about Rep. Dave Obey’s (WI) call for a war tax?  I’m a long time war tax refuser.  Since 1970, I have refused to voluntarily pay U.S. war taxes.  Yet, I think the war tax is a good idea.  Those who advocate this war fighting should pay for it, rather than pass the cost to our children and grandchildren.  I won’t voluntarily pay the tax, if it is enacted, and I’ll take the consequences, not evade responsibility.

Obama still has 24 hours to learn the lessons of Vietnam and Iraq.  He could still rewrite his speech to break his campaign promise to fight the “good war” in Afghanistan and, thereby, liberate us all from the military myth that freedom and security come from the barrel of a gun.  That spirit which delights to do no evil might yet visit his conscience and save our country from the Big Mistake.

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