Obama and Afghanistan
Déjà vu all over again?
On Tuesday night, President Obama addressed the nation from West Point and outlined his plan to commit more troops and resources to Afghanistan. After watching and reading the speech, as well as taking in reaction from (mostly liberal) commentators, it seems that the crucial question is this: Has Obama embraced the Bush Doctrine?
The Bush Doctrine, made famous posthumously as a result of Sarah Palin’s ignorance of it, was a widely criticized approach to foreign relations that allowed for pre-emptive aggression against states which are deemed potentially dangerous. Under these guidelines, we can – and should – invest American resources and lives in occupying territories that harbor suspected terrorists, even if they haven’t attacked us yet.
Liberals have responded to the Bush Doctrine in two ways. Some have rejected fear-based interventionism, replacing it with humanitarian interventionism. Let’s get to our enemies before they get to us, but let’s do it by promoting political reform, diplomacy, education, and human rights. Others have argued that our efforts are better spent at home; America can help others only if it helps itself, and most of our so-called “help” goes unappreciated anyway. Here’s Glenn Greenwald:
“The greatest cause of Terrorism is our endless wars, invasions, bombings, occupations and other means of interfering in the Muslim world, and our escalation will only fuel the anti-American hatred and resentment that — as even our own Government has recognized — is the primary fuel of the threat we’re supposedly trying to arrest.”
And Tom Friedman:
“Given our need for nation-building at home right now, I am ready to live with a little less security and a little-less-perfect Afghanistan.”
For these liberals, tired of over-ambition and its consequences, Obama’s decision to downplay the humanitarian argument is welcome; his speech made relatively little mention of development-related concerns. But he didn’t go for the domestic / pragmatic alternative either. According to the President, the security of the U.S. and indeed the rest of the world requires a continued commitment, to the tune of 30,000 additional troops and a recommendation for $1.5 billion per year in aid to Pakistan.
This constitutes a significant philosophical shift for Obama. Dan Froomkin dug up the then-Senator’s probing questions to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2007, and found that Obama was insistent on having a viable, trustworthy, and independent Iraqi government as a requirement for American engagement. He suggested that if we can’t force Iraq to show clear, measureable progress according to explicit benchmarks, we ought to just pull out and focus on our own problems.
How can we square the more reserved, less ambitious senator with the grand-narrative-toting, hawkish commander-in-chief? How is the philosophical outlook expressed in Tuesday’s address different from the Bush Doctrine, so despised by the left? The Administration might say, “this time, we’re going after the right country.” But that doesn’t negate the basic doctrinal stance – if it walks and talks like pre-emptive, threat-based interventionism, well, it probably is.
(Official White House photo)