Obama Rejects Bad Choices on Afghanistan

When presented with various options for Afghanistan but none were satisfactory, Barack Obama had the guts to do the right thing and demand more choices. This shows a tremendous difference for his predecessor, who was so spineless and lacking in intellectual curiosity that he allowed the neoconservatives to call the shots after 9/11, regardless of how much harm their policies were doing to our country. No matter how badly things were going, Bush would never think of questioning what we were doing. Andrew Sullivan comments:

What we are seeing here, I suspect, is what we see everywhere with Obama: a relentless empiricism in pursuit of a particular objective and a willingness to let the process take its time. The very process itself can reveal – not just to Obama, but to everyone – what exactly the precise options are. Instead of engaging in adolescent tests of whether a president is “tough” or “weak”, we actually have an adult prepared to allow the various choices in front of us be fully explored. He is, moreover, not taking the decision process outside the public arena. He is allowing it to unfold within the public arena…

What strikes me about this is the enormous self-confidence this reveals. Here is a young president, prepared to allow himself to be portrayed as “weak” or “dithering” in the slow and meticulous arrival at public policy. He is trusting the reality to help expose what we need to do. He is allowing the debate – however messy and confusing and emotional – to take its time and reveal the real choices in front of us. This is politically risky, of course. Those who treat politics as a contact-sport, whose insistence is on the “game” of who wins which news cycle, or who can spin each moment in a political storm as a harbinger of whatever, will pounce and shriek and try to bounce the president into a decision. And those who believe that what matters in war is charging ahead regardless at all times will also grandstand against the president’s insistence on prudence.

But he won’t be bounced and his concern seems to be genuinely to do the right and the most sustainable thing. Which is a kind of strength we haven’t seen in a president since Reagan.

Considering the mess Obama inherited both at home and in foreign policy, it is good to have a president who can think outside of the box and not just continue along the same path. This doesn’t guarantee he will always make the right choice, but the chances for actually solving problems and avoiding quagmires is much greater.

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9 Comments

  1. 1
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    To quote from the lyrics  of Free Will, by the Band called Rush* (not to ever be confused with a certain radio talkshow host)
    “…If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
    How did you determine that all eight choices were bad? I don’t even know what the choices were, maybe they were all bad, but were they published or leaked somewhere and you applied your expert military analysis to determine they were bad? I wish Obama took his time with pushing the passage of stimulus money. I heard today they may use some of that money to pay down the national debt, any truth to that or was that just right wing propaganda that I heard?

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

    But Obama did not choose not to decide. He is likely to ultimately decide upon a better course of action by looking for better alternatives.

    “were they published or leaked somewhere and you applied your expert military analysis to determine they were bad?”

    There are these things called newspapers. Reading them gives information about what types of proposals there were. You don’t need to apply expert military analysis to realize that it doesn’t matter which variation of getting into a quagmire is being offered.

    “I wish Obama took his time with pushing the passage of stimulus money”

    We were sort of in an emergency. Personally I’d glad that he was successful in turning around the economy considering it looked like we were heading for a depression after all those years of Republican rule.

    So far the only thing I’ve heard with regards to the stimulus money and the national debt has been an occasional suggestion from conservatives to do this. I wonder if they realize which party is responsible for running up the debt since Clinton left office with a budget surplus.

     

  3. 3
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    If someone goes to a mechanic with a car they inherited and asks for options, the mechanic comes back with 8 options from installing new parts to taping things together with duct tape. The owner rejects all those options and wants more options.  The mechanic is going to think maybe the owner doesn’t want to fix the car.  The President asked for military options and was given them.  It is the President’s prerogative to reject all the military options.  Maybe, like with a troubled car, it is time to cut one’s losses.  If Obama wants to win hearts and minds of Afghans with Hospitals and Hershey bars, Ok then, go with it. But war is not like a fine wine that improves with age.  I can’t see how you can call him sitting on his hands as bold leadership.  Someone, perhaps you, said on this site the if Obama did walk on water, conservatives would criticize him for not being able to swim.  It is a valid point to dismiss most of conservative criticism as just being party and/or ideologically based.   But if one were to call this “wait and see” approach as brilliant strategy, that should be dismissed as well.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Mike,

    I know conservatives like to dodge the actual facts when discussing issues, but must you always raise analogies which have absolutely no bearing on the issue? This is not like going to a mechanic. Obama is Commander in Chief. He sets the policy and if the military options are not in tune with his policy objectives he should reject the military options until they present acceptable options which are consistent with a rational exit strategy.

  5. 5
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    I will attempt to remember not to use analogies for you.  Things in the military tend to be very straight forward.  If a commander is tasked with coming up with a plan to accomplish a specific objective, that commander will come back with something that is, in the opinion of the commander, the most likely to accomplish that objective.  I’m not sure what facts are alledgedly being dodged on this issue.  I certainly didn’t dodge that Obama is in charge, it is completely within his authority to reject the offered plans of the military.  I thought I was clear on that in my previous post.  I’m not one saying that because the military experts recommend plan X,Y, or Z, that Obama ought to do them.  I’m saying if they have followed his guidance in coming up with a plan that would have the best chances of acheiving a specific goal, then if he doesn’t like their answer, he should set a different goal.  This is assuming they followed his guidance on what he wanted to accomplish, if they didn’t, he should get different people for the job.

  6. 6
    Eclectic Radical says:

    ‘But if one were to call this “wait and see” approach as brilliant strategy, that should be dismissed as well.’
     
    Actually (while I admit my ‘military expertise’ is solely that of an interested student of military history) there have been times where ‘wait and see’ is the most effective strategic decision. The best examples are the American Civil War battles of Shiloh and Gettysburg, in which the patient commander who took the time to get an idea of the real picture of the situation and made small tactical adjustments to fit the facts as observed was victorious in the face of a highly aggressive opposing commander who chose to act on his assumptions or instincts before gaining a full view of the factual tactical picture.
     
    Likewise, the Battle of Nashville came about because of a ‘wait-and-see’ strategic attitude. General George Thomas took his time to reorganize his army, gain a proper view of the strategic picture, and plan his campaign. The tactical result, when the battle was joined, was one of the most decisive victories in the course of the war.
     
    There are other examples in other wars, but these examples are directly pertinent to American history.
     
    Ironically, as the Franklin-Nashville campaign was beginning, U.S. Grant was sending telegrams that Thomas should be relieved of his command for not acting ‘energetically’ enough.
     
    Works on military strategy and tactics are often very clear on the need for patience in the face of a crushing demand for immediate action and frequently define the ability to ‘wait and see’ as the difference between victory and defeat. Frederick the Great was very critical of his own greatest defeats (in all of which the /defining/ theme  was deperate action when patience would be have been more suitable) on this grounds.
     

  7. 7
    Barry says:

    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:
    “Things in the military tend to be very straight forward. ”

    Welcome back to consciousness; I hope  that you have a swift recovery from that coma you slipped into in May, 2003, 
    right after you slipped and fell while dancing a jig, watching the statue of Saddam falling.

    To help you catch up – we’re just now slowly drawing down forces in Iraq, after a megadeath war involving mass murder, torture and theocratic oppressive scum.  And that was on *our* side; the other side couldn’t keep up.  Iraq is now a free country, unless you walk in the wrong neighborhood, or are a woman with an uncovered head, or piss off the wrong militia leader/gang leader/politician.   Most of the police were heavily involved with mass murder, ethnic cleansing and torture, but they’re more relaxed now; they hardly ever casually kill people.

    We still have forces in Afghanistan (far from enough, and it’s not clear that the USA actually possesses enough troops for the job), and we’ve succeeded brilliantly!  The Taliban are down to controlling 80% of the country.  Our drug suppression raids have carefully targeted those drug lords who are not on our payroll.  Our logistics seem to depend heavily on the local truckers bribing the guerrillas not to attack them, as they resupply our bases (and it’s not like the guerrillas could do anything bad with all of that money, is there?). 

    Our operations have been conducted with the scrupulous attention to Superior American Morality; anybody torturing and/or killing prisoners is swiftly sent to prison - that is, *if* the pictures get into  the press, and *if* the fall guy evildoer is not an officer.

    You may find that, as you rejoin your fellow officers, that they may feel that the military is less straightforward than they felt back in May, 2003.

  8. 8
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    @Barry-Thanks for your comment.  You speak of many things of which I have no knowledge.  I don’t know of truckers paying off guerillas, but that would seem quite plausible in such an environment.  I don’t know how you calculate 80% of the country being controlled by Taliban.  The picture I get is a country highly fractured by various warlords and not much solidified control by any one group.  I don’t know what you mean by *our side* committing mass murder.  Are you speaking of U.S. troops in Iraq or Iraqi allies of the U.S. ?

  9. 9
    Eclectic Radical says:

    ‘I don’t know what you mean by *our side* committing mass murder. ‘
     
    There is the belief in many circles on the left that the continued use of air to ground weapons that did not hit the ‘correct’ target constituted negligent homicide at best. The argument can be made that the offering of sweetheart contracts to favored suppliers regardless of quality of past product or continuing to use weapons one knows are highly inaccurate constitutes depraved indifference. Legally speaking, ‘depraved indifference’ aggravates a charge of negligent homicide to one of murder. Hence ‘collateral damage’ becomes ‘mass murder.’ I think there is some legitimacy to this position.
     
    Others believe the military would not use said weapons at all if they were as inaccurate as claimed in news reports. This would make ‘inaccuracy’ a media excuse to cover up deliberate strikes on civilian targets. Thus ‘mass murder.’ I don’t know what I think of this. There has been documented evidence of the incompetence and corruption involved in sweetheart defense contracts. The military has to use what it has been given. On the other hand, there has also been documentary evidence highly suggestive of deliberately targetted strikes on civilians during the invasion. Some of the pilots interviewed for the pay-cable documentary ‘Why We Fight’ said some very interesting things.
     
    I think, however, that Barry most likely means the behavior of defense security contractors toward civilians in occupied areas. Blackwater and one or two other companies have been accused of inappropriate tactical procedures, when dealing with civilian civil disobedience, that some would characterize as ‘mass murder.’
     

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