According to Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz, war is the continuation of politics by other means. Sometimes, politics seems like the continuation of war by other means. President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan may be one of those times — not over there, but here at home. Many of the president’s supporters are up in arms over the proposal to raise the U.S. troop commitment to 100,000 personnel, at a cost of about $1 million per soldier.
Some of Mr. Obama’s partisans appear to believe he is betraying his principles, even though he said throughout the election season that the nation needed to focus its military efforts in Afghanistan. Exhibit A in the Obama-as-sellout thesis is the fact that neo-cons like Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan are falling all over themselves to praise Obama’s profile in courage. Exhibit B will arrive in February, when liberals learn that Obama wants to spend $700 billion on the military in fiscal 2011, more than George W. Bush ever requested. This from the candidate who won the nomination by pledging to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Clearly, we have not arrived at that strategic inflection point where the political system begins beating swords into plowshares. Quite the opposite: the president’s determination to avoid defeat in Afghanistan is undermining his domestic agenda. After all, the government is running a budget deficit of $4 billion per day — we can’t afford everything. But Mr. Obama’s gamble that he can change things in Afghanistan before the next presidential election may have a perverse electoral logic, because he is not acting the way Republicans predicted he would. He wants to stand and fight in a war where everybody agrees the Bush Administration was losing.
We all know what will happen in mid-term elections if U.S. troops suffer reverses during the early days of their Afghan surge. Democrats will be punished at the polls for much the same reason that Republicans were in the 2006 mid-terms. But they probably won’t be punished much because the economy will be recovering and voters won’t want to send the wrong message to our enemies. In addition, the Obama Administration won’t have to deal with Republican complaints that the Democrats “lost Afghanistan,” since war heroes like Senator McCain have blessed the president’s strategy.
So that means the real electoral fallout for Mr. Obama comes in 2012, at which point the public will see this: A president who went against his own party to keep up the pressure on terrorists has succeeded in reducing the level of violence in Afghanistan while finishing off Al Qaeda. The Taliban will still be active on some level in the country, but the threat to America will be largely gone thanks to Obama’s courage. Sounds sort of Lincolnesque to me. What will his political opponents have to run on, given the recovering economy, shrinking deficits and a successful war effort? Not much. Thus, odd as it may seem at the moment, President Obama’s decision to not back down in Afghanistan could solidify the hold of Democrats on the government and end for good the perception that the party of the left is weak on national security.
Find Archived Articles: