Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Reactions to the Afghanistan escalation

Mr. Obama never used the words "Coalition of the Willing," but his high-flown rhetoric about NATO and an international alliance to deal with Afghanistan stood in stark contrast to reality. Hardly anyone in the international community appears to have much interest in sharing or increasing the burden of continued warfare - a few of those hesitant nations have personal experience with that region in their history, none of it positive - leaving Mr. Obama and the United States pretty much on their own going forward. This may change, but not by much.

Where Mr. Obama departed from the well-worn script of Mr. Bush was in the realm of the rhetorical. He weaved a tapestry of interconnected American interests - economic, social, diplomatic - to explain why the war in Afghanistan must not just go on, but grow. Take this gem, for example:

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended - because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.

Indeed, it was all wonderfully phrased and brilliantly delivered. But in the end, Mr. Obama simply told us what we have been hearing for too long already: we must beat our swords into ploughshares by using swords. Mr. Bush never said it so well, but he said it all the time nonetheless.

Mr. Bush was proud to call himself a war president - "I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind," he famously boasted to Tim Russert with that signature smirk on his face. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama was nowhere near as blunt, but nonetheless, the torch has been passed. Whether or not his strategy for Afghanistan will be successful remains to be seen, but he sold it to the American people in exactly the same fashion as his predecessor. There was a little more sugar to make the medicine go down, but the taste of it remained all too terribly familiar.

-- William Rivers Pitt

This is a continuation of the Bush Doctrine; the waging of war based on the possibility of a future threat.
-- Rachel Maddow

I oppose sending 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan because I am not persuaded that it is indispensable in our fight against Al Qaeda. If it was, I would support an increase because we have to do whatever it takes to defeat Al Qaeda since they’re out to annihilate us. But if Al Qaeda can operate out of Yemen or Somalia, why fight in Afghanistan where no one has succeeded?"

I disagree with the President’s two key assumptions: that we can transfer responsibility to Afghanistan after 18 months and that our NATO allies will make a significant contribution. It is unrealistic to expect the United States to be out in 18 months so there is really no exit strategy. This venture is not worth so many American lives or the billions it will add to our deficit.

-- Sen. Arlen Specter

I may be the only person in the United States who was trying to wait for President Obama's Afghanistan speech to make up my mind about his war plans. Of course, I mostly failed at that. Sure, all of Obama's options are bad, but still, few decisions seem as clear-cut as this one. Escalation is hard to see as an exit strategy. Obama has no clear path to "victory." We are likely to waste more lives than we save. I thought that was true before Obama's big speech, and I still think it now, afterwards.

At the moment he needed all of his persuasive powers, Obama gave the worst major speech of his presidency. I admit: I expected to be, even wanted to be, carried away a bit by Obama's trademark rhetorical magic. But I wasn't; not even a little. I found the speech rushed, sing-songy and perfunctory, delivered by rote. I despise the right-wing Teleprompter taunts, but even I wanted to say, Look at your audience, not the damn Teleprompter, Mr. President. Obama looked haggard, his eyes deeper set, and I believe this decision pained him. But I'm not sure even he believes it's the right decision. Neocon Danielle Pletka Tweeted happily mid-speech: "So far, could be Bush speaking" and later, approvingly: "count me gobsmacked." That makes two of us. Rep. Maxine Waters spoke for me on "Countdown" tonight when she opened her remarks by telling Keith Olbermann: "I'm very saddened." ...

So what's an increasingly disappointed Democrat and Obama supporter to do?

-- Salon's Joan Walsh

I agree with President Obama that it would be a setback for democracy and stability if the Taliban regained power, but I have serious concerns.

First, why are American taxpayers and our brave soldiers bearing almost all the burden in what should be an international effort? Where are Europe, Russia, China and the rest of the world? Second, why in the midst of a severe recession – with 17 percent of our people unemployed or under-employed and one out of four kids on food stamps – are we going to be spending $100 billion a year on Afghanistan when we have so many pressing needs at home? Third, I worry about how we can forge a dependable partnership with an Afghan government that is ineffective and corrupt.

My nightmare is that we may get caught in a quagmire situation from which there will be no successful exit.

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders

It's the strategy that worked in Iraq.

-- Sen. Joe Lieberman

And I would have to ask a question: Why 30,000 troops and not 40? Why 30,000 troops and not 20? Why 18 months and not 16 or 24? These are artificial time lines and numbers that have no true military significance as planners sit down and develop what's called "troop to task" requirements. There is nothing that I heard tonight that would convince me that we are embarking on a strategic mission that is both vital and necessary. We invaded Afghanistan with less than 1,000 special forces personnel and killed or captured over 98% of all the terrorists that we could identify.

And now with the remaining few, less than 100 according to the national security adviser, we are going to deploy an army of 100,000 to rebuild a nation?

The president says, as one of his major points, we are going to act as a partnership with the Afghan government and yet we all know, anyone who has studied it, anyone who has his eyes and ears open, that that government is corrupt beyond malice. I think and I hold strong objection to sending American soldiers into harms' way and combat to prop up a government that is more corrupt than Tony Soprano and his lieutenants. And so, no, I heard nothing tonight that would sway me against my absolute objection to what I consider to be a fool's errand.

-- Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY)

Don't be deceived into thinking that sending a few more troops into Afghanistan will make a difference, or earn you the respect of the haters. They will not stop until this country is torn asunder and every last dollar is extracted from the poor and soon-to-be poor. You could send a million troops over there and the crazy Right still wouldn't be happy. You would still be the victim of their incessant venom on hate radio and television because no matter what you do, you can't change the one thing about yourself that sends them over the edge.

The haters were not the ones who elected you, and they can't be won over by abandoning the rest of us. ...

All of us that voted and prayed for you and cried the night of your victory have endured an Orwellian hell of eight years of crimes committed in our name: torture, rendition, suspension of the bill of rights, invading nations who had not attacked us, blowing up neighborhoods that Saddam "might" be in (but never was), slaughtering wedding parties in Afghanistan. We watched as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were slaughtered and tens of thousands of our brave young men and women were killed, maimed, or endured mental anguish -- the full terror of which we scarcely know.

When we elected you we didn't expect miracles. We didn't even expect much change. But we expected some. We thought you would stop the madness. Stop the killing. Stop the insane idea that men with guns can reorganize a nation that doesn't even function as a nation and never, ever has.

Stop, stop, stop! For the sake of the lives of young Americans and Afghan civilians, stop. For the sake of your presidency, hope, and the future of our nation, stop. For God's sake, stop.

-- David Van Os, "An Open Letter to President Obama"

As a nurse, I have been involved in major traumas. I remember one in particular: a young woman was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Her sports car went under the back of an 18-wheeler. It took the top of her head off, as well as many other injuries, but that was the most spectacular. She came in with large bore IV's. We were squeezing the blood in by hand while it was running out of holes everywhere else. We were literally ankle deep in it. She was losing it so fast that we couldn't keep up with the volume.

After slamming in 15+ units of blood, and still not able to get a viable blood count, we had to let her go. All of the blood in the world couldn't replace what was lost. We tried, but there was nothing more we could do.

This is how I feel about Iraq. It is analogous to a country bleeding to death and our troops are the transfusion. However we simply cannot transfuse fast enough, because when we stop one bleeder, there are 20 others to take its place.

It's time to pronounce the patient, Mr. Obama. Our resources can be conserved to utilize when it can make a difference. Now, it simply does not.

-- "Horse With No Name"

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