Sunday, February 24, 2008

After Bush 2

If you support John McCain, you expect the United States to continue spending its treasure and lives in Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as it takes. It reminds me of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The day would come when McCain or his successor would bring our troops home, but only because our military could no longer afford to fight, our morale destroyed, our defense critically weak.

If you support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, you expect the United States to begin quickly withdrawing its troops, and be completely gone within months or a couple of years at the most - I think that's a common expectation. The day would come when Afghanistan would once again be the killing ground of warlords and the Taliban. Iraq very likely could descend into a bloody religious and ethnic civil strife. The United States might, indeed, find itself the target of a terrorist war fed on this strife.

I don't think that either view is realistic. I believe our next President has to sell a realistic policy for Afghanistan and Iraq to the American people, and to the nations cooperating with America's war on terror. I don't know what that policy is, but I think it would have some of these attributes:

  • The President and our political leaders must spell out for the American people what our strategic stake is in Afghanistan and Iraq. The American people need a dialogue and debate about the wars.
  • The American people need to tighten our belts and pay for the war as we go. We must have a tangible stake in the war. This is our generation's war - don't pass the cost on to our grandchildren. Raise our taxes to pay for this war.
  • Our nation must pay the price for peace by offering a realistic plan for reconstruction in both Afghanistan and Iraq. We have a moral obligation in both nations to help them rebuild.
  • Our next President must persuade the American people to follow through. Too often in our international obligations, we go with quick fixes and half-measures. The true test of our own democracy is to have the strength and moral fiber to meet the challenges of the Middle East with the time and resources that the challenges require. We cannot just walk away.

None of the candidates has given the American people a believable vision of a post-war world: how our nation is going to get there, the cost of getting there, the time to get there, and what that world will be like. Personally, I think all the presidential candidates have dangerous proposals for the future when it comes to the Middle East. I know the present course is not sustainable, militarily, financialy, or morally.


Tim said...

I agree that our country cannot undertake an expensive long-term project without the knowledgeable support of the American people. That knowledgeable support is not merely desirable, it is indispensable. Such projects will fail without it. This requirement restricts our options. Maybe we should reconstruct Iraq to a stable, unified country but that's irrelevant if we cannot, i.e. if we won't, more particularly if no leader can be found to sell such a plan (assuming one can be found) to the American people. So not only do such plans have the formidable obstacle of needing to be practicable given the support of the American people, they must also be able to win that support. Otherwise, long-term expensive projects for reconstructing Iraq, however abstractly feasible, must be viewed with the greatest skepticism. Little is more dangerous than embarking on such a project ("going over the hill") in the hope that the American people will (have to) follow.

Of course Rumsfeld and Cheney (Bush here something of the flea on the axle) thought that "victory" would be so swift and decisive that any pretext that mobilized the American people would suffice. Insofar as Clinton and Obama are committed to expeditious withdrawal (i.e. not to an expensive long-term project) they needn't win the support, knowledgeable or otherwise, of the American people. They need "only" be ready to reconcile them to the ensuing situation, the status quo post.

As for the morality, we owe Afghanistan, which harbored a gang the struck directly at our country, nothing. Iraq we may owe a little more—not for having removed Saddam (as ill-advised as that may have been) but for having stayed around and mucked up their own reorganization. However much we may wish for a stable, unified Iraq, we must not assume that our occupation forces are part of the solution. On the contrary, we need to carefully consider the extent to which they may be part of the problem.

Happy said...

Contrary to what Tim writes, I believe that Senators Obama and Clinton (and Senator McCain) do need the knowledgeable support of the American people, precisely because the status quo post may be full of those pesky unintended consequences. The American people deserve to have their political leaders lay out their future vision. After all, our leaders are committing our tax dollars and the lives of our children to the end result. How long will it take to get to the status quo post, and what exactly will that future look like?

I'd rather know ahead of time what kind of situation our politicians are going to drag our nation into. Being President isn't an easy job, but I'm not going to trust that he or she will just do the right thing. I can't be sure, as Tim appears to be, that an expeditious withdrawal is the right thing, and oh, by the way, we'll worry about reconciling the American people to the status post quo later. That's a recipe for profound political disappointment and international disaster.