Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Obama's address

By Richard Abrams

Caught in a no-win situation not of his making, President Obama made the best case he could -- as a lawyer representing a sorry interest must do.  Differentiating Afghanistan from Vietnam by noting that A. bore some responsibility for 9/11 where as V. was more of a war of choice, was a great lawyer's stroke.  But it doesn't alter the impossibility of achieving what the 30,000 increase in troop levels is supposed to achieve.  Relying on Karzai, or any individual Afghan, is a pipe dream -- there is no one there to do the work needed to bring order in the place.  Besides, increasing the troop levels greatly increases the likelihood of much higher civilian casualties, and thus much higher hostility among Afghans toward the U.S. 

Similarly, there is no Pakistan, though there may be some hope of bribing the main elements in the Pakistani military sufficiently to get them to protect the country's nuclear resources, and even possibly to contain the thugs in the northwest border with Afghanistan while the rest of the disorderly interests in the place continue to make life miserablefor the country's people, most of whom would just like to be left alone.  

The assault on Obama would have been vicious and destructive of everything else he hopes to do in his presidency, if he followed the wisest move and Vice-President Biden's advice to pull out now.  It would have been political suicide.  (Perhaps Garry Wills is right in suggesting that Obama do the heroic, self-sacrificing thing -- i.e., the wisest thing -- and become a single-term president.)  The military in its political role, contrary to longstanding American tradition but taken on especially since the Reagan Administration, would have been crushing.  Even so, McChristal and Petreus (sp?) will remain poised to attack if/when the new enterprise, "the surge," fails, because Obama has not given them the  40,000-80,000 troops they have (improperly) publicly asked for.  And the very noisy and aggressive right wing in our political scene would/will  have a field day, building on the bilious anger of those mindless Americans who (subconsciously as well as consciously) cannot accept a black man in the White House.  And they surely prefer spending a trillion more dollars on war rather than put such resources into reducing unemployment, to say nothing of building a humane and efficient health care system for all Americans.  (Ask McCain.  From what he has been saying lately as well as during his campaign, it is plain that that is what he favors.  And he is not even among the lunatics who still get most of the air time on popular TV.) 

Does anyone remember how LBJ told his advisors who wanted him to pull out of V. even in 1966 or '67 that if he did it, it would lead to a revival of McCarthyism stronger than that disease was in the early '50s.  Here we go again!

So, again, Obama has made the best of a bad case, no small achievement I suppose.  His address was intelligent, thoughtful, and even informative.  He has thrown a sop to the militarists who wanted still more military power to solve our problems, and a sop to the liberals who want some hope of an end-game as well as words on behalf of a non-military effort to pacify the god-forsaken place -- and even possibly to capture or kill bin Laden.  The pundits are now calling it "Obama's war,"  which is a way of telling us to forget the previous 8 years of abysmal idiocy and failure that got us all into this no-win situation.  But I guess there is nothing one can do about puncturing the pundits' ego balloons -- they control the mike.