Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Trajectory of Liberal Opinion about Afghanistan

Exasperation at Bush’s decision to launch, and his conduct of, the Iraq war, is the formative experience of today’s foreign policy liberalism. In liberal circles, Bush’s prosecution of the war functions as a normative baseline for judgments about the morality and strategic wisdom of applying military power in the service of uncontroversial national security objectives. That makes Andrew Bacevich’s evaluation of Bush’s decisions about starting and prosecuting the Iraq war into an exemplary expression of contemporary liberalism: “The 43d president," he writes, "was a well-intentioned fool, who inflicted grievous harm on his country.”

Bacevich’s impeccable liberal credentials make his comparison of Bush’s conduct respecting Iraq and Obama’s conduct respecting Afghanistan all the more noteworthy:
“Obama doesn’t want to be in Afghanistan any more than Benjamin Netanyahu wants to be in the West Bank. Yet like the Israeli prime minister, the president lacks the guts to get out. It’s all so complicated. There are risks involved. Things might go wrong. There’s an election to think about.

“So the war continues. Sustaining some artfully updated version of the status quo becomes the easier (or more expedient) course. Thus does a would-be messiah promising salvation and renewal succumb to the imperatives of “politics”—with young soldiers and their families left to bear the consequences.

“The question demands to be asked: Who is more deserving of contempt? The commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause, however misguided, in which he sincerely believes? Or the commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause in which he manifestly does not believe and yet refuses to forsake?”
It's bad enough that Bacevich is comparing Obama to Netanyahu.  That serious liberals are starting to draw unfavorable moral comparisons between Obama’s and Bush’s wartime leadership is much worse inasmuch as it shows how tenuous Obama’s hold over the Democratic base has become.  Indignation is usually not a retractable moral impulse.  We’ve seen this dynamic before during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

No comments: