Tacit Liberal Support of Afghanistan War

MoveOn.org, one of the most influential liberal organizations in American politics, tops its homepage today with this key issue: “Rescue government from corporations and lobbyists.”

Meanwhile, the United States is engaged in the longest war in U.S. history, costing billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and ironically “increasing and multiplying the terror threats we face”…and there is no end in sight.

If John McCain were president making the same decisions as Barack Obama on the war in Afghanistan — sending 30,000 more troops, backpedaling on withdrawal dates — my liberal friends would be in the streets protesting. Instead, liberals are peddling decades-old lines about corporate greed. Is the glamour of Barack Obama really so strong that they quietly accept his agenda even if they disagree?

I am not qualified to analyze Afghanistan in a serious way. I have never been there, I have never served in the military, I know little about the region. But from everything I read, it appears the counterinsurgency operation right now is a clusterfuck. If you read about the history of Afghanistan, perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise. In George Friedman’s credible analysis, these sentences stood out: “The United States is trying to invent a national army where no nation exists, a task that assumes the primary loyalty of Afghans will shift from their clans to a national government, an unlikely proposition.”

Andrew Sullivan has been heating up the rhetoric on Obama:

This much we also know: Obama will run for re-election with far more troops in Afghanistan than Bush ever had – and a war and occupation stretching for ever into the future, with no realistic chance of success. Make no mistake: this is an imperialism of self-defense, a commitment to civilize even the least tractable culture on earth because Americans are too afraid of the consequences of withdrawal. And its deepest irony is that continuing this struggle will actually increase and multiply the terror threats we face – as it becomes once again a recruitment tool for Jihadists the world over.

Or here:

This is a war based on fear, premised on a contradiction, and doomed to carry on against reason and resources for the rest of our lives. Maybe this is why you supported Obama – to see the folly of nation-building extended indefinitely to the least promising wastelands on earth, as the US heads toward late-imperial bankruptcy. It is not a betrayal as such. But it is, in my view, a huge and metastasizing mistake.

So will Obama’s liberal base — the people he must listen to more than any other — speak up? Will they acknowledge that not actively opposing Obama’s insane escalation of the war in Afghanistan constitutes tacit support?

21 Responses to Tacit Liberal Support of Afghanistan War

  1. PK says:

    Uh, have you been watching liberal commentators such as Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow? Both of them have been speaking out long and forcefully against Obama’s policies in Afghanistan. So the whole assumption of your post seems underinformed and faulty.

    Just to provide one example, Olbermann’s special comment from last November :
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34209743/

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    To be sure, I have not been watching Olbermann or Maddow. My comment was not on the liberal media as much as the activism (or non-activism) of individuals — and the organizations, like MoveOn, which very effectively mobilize them around certain causes.

  3. PK says:

    Ben, I have to say that it seems that you first decided your stance, and then picked things that bolster it, rather than inquiring with an open mind for the full facts. Simply Google “MoveOn Afghanistan” and you’ll see that MoveOn, like Olbermann and Maddow, has indeed spoken out, repeatedly, against Obama’s policies on escalating the war in Afghanistan. (e.g., “MoveOn blasts WH on Afghanistan”, http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2009/12/01/4430666-moveon-blasts-wh-on-afghanistan ).

    It strikes me that the whole premise of your article is apparently based on ONE day of MoveOn’s headline featuring an issue besides Afghanistan.

    Gotta do that homework if you’re going to be a commentator.

  4. Ben Casnocha says:

    Both your links are from 7 months ago. At present, it is impossible to find any mention of Afghanistan on the MoveOn web site. It’s not a “current issue.” It’s not in the “campaign archive” page.

    This is a critical time in the war because of talk the withdrawal deadline will be ignored under Petreaus. If you care about the issue, now is the time to speak up. (Not one day after the decision to send more troops, which is where your link is from.)

    But in any event, the impetus for this post was not some independent view for which I’m seeking confirmation. It emerged from conversations with liberal friends of mine.

  5. Ben
    I heartily agree with the opinions you cite (and wish they were more widely read) as do many Americans – some self-labelled as liberal – others who would not yet are worried for morale and/or economic reasons.

    They have been speaking up yet they/we have not swayed Obama.

    If the current, demoralizing and deadly events on the ground these days don’t sway him and if polling re the mid-term elections proves true and there is a push-back that can, at least in part be attributed to his choices – and that does not sway him I do not know what will.

  6. Frankerson P says:

    I didn’t vote for either big party candidate, but I must admit I was very hopeful to see an end to our wars when Obama was elected.

    I hear anger about his regime from most of my liberal friends, but I don’t follow any large political organizations so I can’t speak to that. However, I have a feeling that people are aware of what is going on and won’t put up with it for much longer. How many more American lives are needlessly lost in the interim is of course the great tragedy that doesn’t seem to get enough news time in my humble opinion.

  7. PK says:

    Come on, Ben: “But in any event, the impetus for this post was not some independent view for which I’m seeking confirmation”

    That smacks of an attitude, “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with facts!”

    Do some RESEARCH before simply making claims. MoveOn came out against the war in Afghanistan way before “one day after” troops were deployed. 9/25/09, “MoveOn to Call on Obama to Develop Exit Strategy for Afghanistan”: http://theplumline.whorunsgov.com/afghanistan/moveon-to-call-on-obama-to-pull-out-of-afghanistan/

    Both of my earlier links were from a while back, sure, but there’s plenty nowadays from liberal commentators. Rachel just televised two or three days of her show directly from Afghanistan. Huffington Post publishes articles all the time decrying the war; a recent one was “Afghanistan: Why Do We Stay?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gordon-adams/afghanistanwhy-do-we-stay_b_635569.html

    So you went out and had a couple of chats with “liberal friends” (oh, the horror), and decided to generalize your conclusions from what they had to say? And to attribute this supposed lack of interest in the war on the part of liberals to being seduced by Obama’s “glamour”? Come on. As I say, conclusion first, rationalization second.

  8. Ben Casnocha says:

    Peter, I’m glad to see there are some liberal commentators who are making it an issue. If Obama’s liberal base made it even more of an issue, perhaps it would change policy. I do believe it’s their voice that matters more than any other.

  9. Dave Cherry says:

    Ben;

    Your little jab at MoveOn notwithstanding, I wholeheartedly agree with you that Mr. Obama’s escalation of the Afghan “clusterfuck” is insane. A great many of his foreign policy decisions, at least in terms of the Middle East and Afghanistan, have been a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” I find it a bit optimistic, though, to think that even if the liberal base screamed at the top of their lungs from now until 2012, they would have much effect on Obama’s policies. He has proven from Day One that he is beholden to much more sinister (and decidedly not “liberal”) forces, perhaps the same ones which have kept him from forcibly taking control of the oil spill situation. Hmm, maybe MoveOn and their entreaties about corporate greed aren’t so irrelevant after all! ;-)

  10. During the campaign Obama made a very explicit distinction between Iraq and Afghanistan. He many, many times argued that by invading Iraq Bush risked complete defeat in Afghanistan.

    Further, back before he was even in the Senate, he made a speech 1) opposing the Iraq war but also 2) saying that he believed there are just wars, explicitly including the war in Afghanistan.

    Finally, he began boosting troop levels in Afghanistan in February 2009 – less than one month after his inaugration.

    It’s all well and good to oppose his policy in Afghanistan, but it’s BS to say he’s doing anything other than what he said he would do. Going after “liberals” is a tactic of partisans on both sides. How about just going after the policy?

    Also, just read Glen Greenwald to see a steady stream of criticism from the left.

  11. Ben Casnocha says:

    I’m not sure I understand your comment, Derek.

    “It’s all well and good to oppose his policy in Afghanistan, but it’s BS to say he’s doing anything other than what he said he would do. Going after “liberals” is a tactic of partisans on both sides. How about just going after the policy?”

    It doesn’t matter that he’s doing what he said he was going to do during the campaign. What matters is that as of right now it appears the policy he has adopted is failing miserably, and a course correction is needed.

    Going after “liberals” is a tactic of partisans on both sides. How about just going after the policy?

    The people of the party in power have the most sway to influence policy. It’s Obama’s base who has to vote for him again come re-election. If they disagree with what’s happening in Afghanistan, they need to speak up, loudly.

  12. Matt says:

    Ben,
    I am currently serving in Baghdad, Iraq. I am an officer in the Air force that enjoys conversations like the one I am assuming sparked this post.

    I can tell you that a large portion of young educated officers feel the exact same way. The consistent question I hear is “what the f*ck are we doing?” The writing is on the wall over here. Iraq is now an afterthought with all resources being shifted to Afghanistan. The question the majority of Gen Y’ers in the military are asking is “to what end?” What does the end state in Afghanistan look like? When do we know when “terrorist strongholds are eradicated?”

    The faulty logic of our politicians is that terrorism is bound to nation states. It takes only mild attention of the past few year’s headlines to see that the majority of our terrorist threats have actually come from domestic extremists or extremists that represent a specific group, not a specific area/region/nation. Of course there is also the argument that our presence in the region is actually creating more terrorists that it is deterring.

    Regardless of how anyone feels about how well the president past or present has stuck to their promises, the real issue we should be addressing is what national interests are we achieving and at what cost. No matter the party affiliation I think we can all agree that the cost of this war (in dollar figures alone) has not significantly returned much with regard to our national interests. Many would agree it has only damaged our influence abroad.

    I do not want to come off as bitter. I have seen the great things the military has done over here in Iraq. Yet the realist in me acknowledges that Afghanistan is a totally different ball game…..Great post man.
    Badski

  13. I honestly don’t know what the best policy is in Afghanistan, but I’m old enough to remember what happened the last time we abandoned them. I even remember what happened two days before 9/11 and wonder if more support in the years before that may have made a difference.

    I’m willng to give Obama more than 12 months to get it right. He inherited a situation that had deteriorated for years.

    Ben, my point about your going after “liberals” is that it’s a misdirection. Instead of making a cogent argument against the policy or for a new policy, you attack people for not treating him like they did Bush.

    Obama is doing what he said he would do. Many liberals may not like that, but it’s not like he lied to them. Or to the UN to justify an invasion.

    Badski, terrorists are not tied to nation states, but states do give material support to them. The majority of the recently stopped terrorist attacks in the US originated in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Though I oppose attacking Iran, there is no doubt that they make life harder for Israel by financing Hezbollah.

  14. Ben Casnocha says:

    Ben, my point about your going after “liberals” is that it’s a misdirection. Instead of making a cogent argument against the policy or for a new policy, you attack people for not treating him like they did Bush.

    This is not about policy. This is about people who believe X standing up and saying they believe X and letting the decision makers know that they believe X.

    I’m not sure why you put liberals in quotation marks, or what “treat him like they treated Bush” means.

    My point is simple: if you are part of Obama’s liberal base you carry disproportionate influence with him and the party. If you are against the war in Afghanistan, you should speak out and use that influence. Being silent constitutes tacit support.

  15. D says:

    You wrote:

    “If John McCain were president making the same decisions as Barack Obama on the war in Afghanistan — sending 30,000 more troops, backpedaling on withdrawal dates — my liberal friends would be in the streets protesting. ”

    To which I say: prove it. They did not protest the original invasion of Afghanistan en masse. For that matter, the major protests against the Iraq war took place outside of the US, mostly in Europe. Afghanistan was one of the issues Obama and McCain agreed about in the campaign.

  16. Matt says:

    Derek,
    Valid point. Sometimes I just wonder whether we would do better by providing the entire region internet access (joking….kind of) than by maintaining a large fighting force abroad. The root of the terrorist problem is undoubtedly tied to education and opportunity. If neither has improved and we are seen as “occupiers” by those we are trying to help then I do not see the terrorist support threat you describe decreasing in those regions.

  17. Ben Casnocha says:

    I cannot prove a hypothetical that did not happen. You say Obama and McCain
    agreed — exactly. My theory is that liberals are not protesting a policy
    under Obama that they would under McCain even if the policy were identical,
    because they may be blinded by the glamour of Obama.

  18. PK says:

    There you go again with that “blinded by the glamour of Obama” meme. This is a deflection.

    I have generally been impressed by your blog in its display of your ability to think cautiously, broadly, and critically, but this post, and your replies to the comments on it, is seriously disappointing in that regard.

    First you say that liberals aren’t speaking out against the war. When shown numerous specific counterexamples, you dismiss them for various captious reasons (the links are too old (!); you meant individuals rather than liberal media; you apparently didn’t really mean bloggers either, but “the liberal base”. (The last of which seems to mean the several liberal friends with whom you had conversations). Are there ANY conceivable examples that you would accept as meaningful ways to counter your argument? It doesn’t appear so. Your mind is made up.

    And, how does one possibly counter the vague charge that one is “blinded by the glamour of Obama”? It’s a meaningless accusation, one that reflects poorly on the maker. I can generally support the man and his demeanor, thoughtfulness, and direction, while strongly disagreeing with various act of omission and commission. Who here is “blinded” by the simple fact that we have in office an inspiring, charismatic leader? As my examples have shown, no one is being quiet about disagreement that I can see. In fact, just the opposite. The liberal base, as you like to call it, tends to go after EVERY discrepancy/disagreement, rather than align for common goals.

  19. Ben Casnocha says:

    Why are you not posting with your full and real name? Who are you?

    You dismiss them for various captious reasons (the links are too old (!);

    WHEN you protest something matters. Saying the “links are old” is misleading. It’s not about internet links. It’s about standing up for something when it can matter.

    you meant individuals rather than liberal media;

    I never said anything about liberal media. You were the one who brought up liberal media. Read the post. I mentioned MoveOn (advocacy group of individuals) and individuals themselves. As I noted in an earlier reply, I am glad to see the specific media examples you mentioned, which I was not aware of.

    The liberal base, as you like to call it, tends to go after EVERY discrepancy/disagreement, rather than align for common goals.

    Just as you accuse me, this is a broad statement of assertion backed with no data or facts. You tossed out a few examples. I tossed out a few examples. Unless one of us goes out and surveys a representative sample of liberals in America, asks them whether they agree / disagree with the war, and ask them whether they have done anything to make their opinion known in our democracy, there is no way to scientifically verify my blog post.

    All we have to go on is our intuitions based on our personal experiences. Hence, this is a blog post, not a Gallup study.

    But I doubt you will find this reply convincing. From your first comment you seemed passionately decided that my mind was already made up.

  20. Ben Casnocha says:

    BTW, by “convincing” I mean simply that this is an honest inquiry as opposed to some closed minded Obama rant.

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