Thursday, December 3, 2009
Taliban Dreams (5): Obama's Revolving Door Strategy
I watched Obama's West Point speech the other night on NBC, and the thing that stands out in my mind was the look on John McCain's face afterwards when Brian Williams asked him for a response. You could see he was not all that comfortable about how to answer without trapping himself into defending something he would later regret. McCain liked the ramping up of troops (all too predictably), but not the suggestion of a date when we would leave. "It gives the wrong signal to the enemy." We already know the drill--this is neo-con speak for endless war.
Everybody has been waiting for three months now to hear what Obama would come up with in the face of impossible, no-win choices. The more I think about his declared strategy, the more it comes across as being a revolving door--at least, that's the image that sticks relentlessly in my mind: we're going in faster with more troops, but we're also getting out sooner. At one point Obama even looked straight into the camera and spoke to the Afghan people. "We do not want to occupy your country," he said, and seemed to mean it.
In the McCain view, once you're inside the revolving door of war, you keep going round and round until you "win." The way I see it, for Obama, a revolving door represents a metaphor with more options. If you get out at just the right moment, for instance, you will end up somewhere (i.e. inside the building). But if you stay in too long, you end up back where you started, having missed the exit and having gotten nowhere.
On the one hand, Obama seems like he has thrown Republicans their requisite bone--a "surge" in troops. But on the other, he has significantly dropped from the equation any talk of "staying the course" indefinitely, a la Bush-Cheney, in order to "prevail." Indeed, the words "victory" and "winning" were never used. I have to believe Obama feels, along with General McChrystal, that we somehow still have a decent shot at this "degrading of al Qaeda and the Taliban" and must try to use it--before we can justifiably admit, if we should fail, that the thing was finally not doable. "It's an expensive gamble," says the Democratic senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold.
He's right, of course, but the bottom line remains: we cannot allow the Taliban to have a state structure to spread Jihadism throughout the region. This is 'no idle danger," as Obama said, "no hypothetical threat." These are not just a bunch of guys with Kalashnikofs sitting around in caves. "We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading throughout that country."
I only wish Obama would have gone further in mapping out this threat, especially for those who would opt for an immediate withdrawal. He needs to educate us better and state the bottom line beyond the bottom line--namely, the real prospect of World War III being ignited in the Middle East by Jihadists in their quest to re-establish a 7th-century Caliphate across the entire Muslim world. After that, the plan is to do the same in Europe. We in America are still the "far enemy," so it may take a while before they get us infidels more fully in their sights. But if Jihadists succeed in regaining control of Afghanistan and then moving on to destablize and overthrow the nuclear-armed government of Pakistan, I fear we will all be staring, not just at the prospect of another 9/11 attack--a mere two cents on the dollar--but at Armageddon.