Obama Embraces the Rationale He’d Snubbed

In an extremely interesting Dissident Voice column Gareth Porter documents the evolution of administration rationalizing of the Afghan War escalation. I have compared Obama to Hamlet, wrestling with the generals’ demands and the sentiments of his liberal base, delaying a decision on troop strength, “dithering” as Cheney puts it. Porter gives a fairly precise chronology of the regime’s internal dialectic:

Sept. 21: Washington Post publishes article by Bob Woodward with excerpts from Gen. McChrystal’s “Initial Assessment” with its warning of “mission failure” if his troop deployment request is rejected. Anonymous White House official responds that military is trying to pressure Obama on the issue. One official criticizes chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen for suggesting the war in Afghanistan would “probably need more forces.” Obama tells press conference that Afghan government’s legitimacy may have been so undermined that a counterinsurgency strategy will not succeed and states we should not “think that by sending more troops, we’re automatically going to make Americans safe.”

Sept. 27: Washington Post publishes Woodward interview with national security advisor Gen. James Jones in which he questions McChrystal’s argument that al-Qaeda would be moving back into Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan from havens in Pakistan.

Oct. 1: McChrystal gives a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London in which he argues, “[W]hen the Taliban has success, that provides sanctuary from which al-Qaeda can operate transnationally.” This implies that the Taliban needn’t reacquire state power to provide sanctuary for al-Qaeda and provides a broader justification for continued “counterinsurgency.” (He was rebuked the next day in a face-to-face meeting with Obama in Copenhagen for his bluntness, and criticized implicitly by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and national security advisor James Jones for stepping outside the chain of command with his comments.)

Oct. 4: New York Times reports “senior administration officials” stating that Obama’s national security team was “arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States.” One of the officials interviewed says explicitly that the administration was now defining the Taliban as a group that “does not express ambitions of attacking the United States,” that the Taliban were aligned with al-Qaeda “mainly on the tactical front,” and could not be defeated militarily because they were too deeply entrenched in Afghan society.

But in the next few weeks Gates works feverishly with chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, McChrystal and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (against Vice President Joe Biden) to promote a plan to “protect” about 10 population centers with increased troop strength, leaving Special Forces and drones to cope with “insurgents” elsewhere. This will be sold as a “compromise” plan (out of four) and the announcement of the details left to the soaring oratory of the president whom, Gates knews well, wants to be seen as a uniting, judicious figure on the right side of his national security team.

Nov. 11: the national security apparatus led by Gates, Mullen and Clinton, coalesce around the plan for 30,000 more troops.

Porter points out that Obama previously rejected his own surge rationale, as expressed in his speech Tuesday night—that is the national security rationale. The escalation is for a “vital national interest,” he told his audience of cadets, warning them that more attacks on the U.S. from Afghanistan “are now being planned as I speak.”

Does he really believe his own rhetoric? I think he has “coalesced” around an argument crafted by his national security apparatus, which isn’t really concerned with national security or interest (in the sense of your security or interest or mine), but the expansion and projection of a kind of malevolent power and control that just shouldn’t be.

What is for sure being planned as we speak is the ongoing attack on Afghanistan by the U.S. eight years after Arabs, not Afghans, crashed planes into New York City and Washington DC and after the Arabs have all been driven out of Afghanistan.

It doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.

Senior White House officials know that the Taliban doesn’t threaten the U.S. But somehow the military won in this struggle, and the McChrystal line of argument (fear mongering) won out too. Obama is part of a system he cannot change had he ever wanted to, the imperialist president of an imperialist country deeply entrenched in an imperialist war. Such wars can never be justified to the people frankly, for what they’re worth, but have to be based on lies and supported by fear.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu. Read other articles by Gary.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 3rd, 2009 at 3:13pm #

    It does seem that the pashtun 10 centers which US want to protect have existed for millennia without protection from outsiders.
    It appears s’mwhat comical for US to invade a country to ‘protect’ some of the occupied people while waging warfare against same ethnic group elsewhere.

    I guess it is easy to invent new reasons for not only increase of occupation forces but also continuing the aggresssion and occupation.
    And i suppose US hoping that the US ‘promise’ of withdrawal by 2011 wld be evalauted by pashtuns as true?

    Or is all this just meant for american ears. Well, it wdn’t surprise me that mns of usans wld accept this ‘promise’ as true.
    But, then, does US care ab approval from powerless people? I think US is there to stay for decades or even centuries. tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on December 3rd, 2009 at 3:45pm #

    Alright that did it. Let’s do it. A meeting of the minds we are out of time. DV did it once before all of us invite who the best minds we can find the purpose organize big time and as many people as possible a get together Capital do you need a permit? Who knows how to get funds for people who need help getting there and the meet. Then off to New York City same one voice calm at peace do we need a permit for that. Stop the warming stop the war. I know already tried we try again a lot of us who knows how work together and stay organized. Now is not the time to give up.