Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Stampede out of Afghanistan?

Republican presidential debates, especially the early ones, aren’t very reliable indicators of the foreign policy positions the Republican nominee will take into the general election. There’s usually enough consensus among serious Republican presidential aspirants to enable particular candidates to get by reciting innocuous platitudes (like basing policy respecting the Afghanistan war on “facts on the ground”). The only thing you can be pretty sure of is that the Republican nominee will end up holding down the hawkish side of the ideological spectrum.

If you had the fortitude to listen to the Republican debate the other night, you couldn’t help noticing the absence of hawkish sounds coming from the candidates.  That’s a marked difference from four years ago. Even when public skepticism about the Iraq War was peaking and the troop surge that Bush commenced in early 2007 hadn’t yet paid noticeable military dividends, every Republican presidential candidate besides Ron Paul was falling all over himself to remind us that, in matters military, there’s no substitute for victory. I don’t recall hearing much about “victory” in the Afghanistan (or in Libya or Yemen for that matter) the other night.

Here's Jeff Zeleny interpreting the sound of Republican silence:
"The hawkish consensus on national security that has dominated Republican foreign policy for the last decade is giving way to a more nuanced view, with some presidential candidates expressing a desire to withdraw from Afghanistan as quickly as possible and suggesting that the United States has overreached in Libya.”
If you’re a cynical sort, you’ll observe that this is how Republican Rambos sound when a Democrat is the commander-in-chief prosecuting a controversial war.  If you want to be more charitable, you can say that Republican presidential aspirants are having as much trouble as the rest of us figuring out what counts as “winning” in Afghanistan. But either way, an absence of hawkishness on the Republican side of the aisle is likely to cause an anti-war stampede among congenitally dovish Democrats. What are the chances that Democrats are going to let a critical mass of Republicans get to their left on any war, much less the 10-year-old nation-building exercise in Afghanistan?

As Lyndon Johnson found out, it’s hard enough for a Democratic president to resist his party’s dovish inclinations when he can count on mainstream Republicans to support his military ventures.  When even Republicans desert him, it has got to be impossible. That means that it’s unlikely that Obama will have a politically viable choice of keeping the troop surge going for the two more fighting seasons that military optimists are telling us it will take to make it succeed on its own terms.

That may be good news for the country, but it's more bad political news for a president in desperate need of a foreign policy success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's my prediction. Before the election in 2012, Obama will launch a re-think of the Afghanistan War policy. He will begin a new decision-making process that will include painstaking consultation with military experts, diplomats and everyone else who could possibly have an opinion (including the Secretary of State who won't be Hillary Clinton) and will spend hours and hours considering what to do. There will be still photos of him in briefing sessions, cradling his jaw, looking deep in thought. This will begin several weeks before the election but won't conclude till after. This way, Obama will be able to appease all the liberals and newly dovish Republicans who want out of Afghanistan. He'll say that all options are on the table, including a quick exit and a change in heretofore set US policy.

I believe Obama will appear to be extremely anti-war just in time.