Stop and savor this moment, amidst the rush of our daily lives. The Nobel Committee highlighted for us that we ate at a key moment in history. Andrew Bacevich explains why in “Afghanistan – the proxy war“, op-ed in the Boston Globe, 11 October 2009 — The most important and insightful part is at the end. Excerpt:
The question of the moment, framed by the prowar camp, goes like this: Will the president approve the Afghanistan strategy proposed by his handpicked commander General Stanley McChrystal? Or will he reject that plan and accept defeat, thereby inviting the recurrence of 9/11 on an even larger scale? Yet within this camp the appeal of the McChrystal plan lies less in its intrinsic merits, which are exceedingly dubious, than in its implications.
If the president approves the McChrystal plan he will implicitly:
- Anoint counterinsurgency – protracted campaigns of armed nation-building – as the new American way of war.
- Embrace George W. Bush’s concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label “global war on terror’’).
- Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.
Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis.
The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose – despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq – is to preserve the status quo.
Hawks understand this. That’s why they are intent on framing the debate so narrowly – it’s either give McChrystal what he wants or accept abject defeat. It’s also why they insist that Obama needs to decide immediately.
Yet people in the antiwar camp also understand the stakes. Obama ran for the presidency promising change. The doves sense correctly that Obama’s decision on Afghanistan may well determine how much – if any – substantive change is in the offing.
If the president assents to McChrystal’s request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths – costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.
… If the Afghan war then becomes the consuming issue of Obama’s presidency – as Iraq became for his predecessor, as Vietnam did for Lyndon Johnson, and as Korea did for Harry Truman – the inevitable effect will be to compromise the prospects of reform more broadly.
At home and abroad, the president who advertised himself as an agent of change will instead have inadvertently erected barriers to change. As for the American people, they will be left to foot the bill.
This is a pivotal moment in US history. Americans owe it to themselves to be clear about what is at issue. That issue relates only tangentially relates to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or the well-being of the Afghan people. The real question is whether “change’’ remains possible.
About the author
For links to his writings see Andrew Bacevich’s work.
Andrew J. Bacevich (Colonel, US Army, retired) is Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University. A graduate of the U. S. Military Academy, he received his Ph. D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University in 1998, he taught at West Point and at Johns Hopkins University.
His new book Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War is forthcoming.
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Other posts about Afghanistan:
- How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009
- Let’s blow the fog away and see what General McChrystal really said, 23 September 2009
- About those large and growing Afghanistan security forces…, 26 September 2009
- A General explains how the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics will bring us victory in Afganistan, 27 September 2009
- DoD did not consider troop levels when devising our latest “>Af-Pak war plans, more evidence that their OODA loop is broken, 8 October 2009
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