Afghanistan war speech persuades no one

A memorial to the Soviet Afghanistan war stands in the Ukraine. Photo: Letitia Avierklieva. CC BY 2.0 Generic License.
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President Obama weakly tried to compromise with his Afghanistan war speech. He persuaded no one and invited military and political defeat.

Summary of the Afghanistan war speech

President Obama gave this speech to the American people beginning at 8:01 a.m. EDT last night (June 22). He will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by year’s end, and another 23,000 troops by the end of next summer. In all, Obama will withdraw as many troops as he sent in about 18 months ago..

The President talked about “nation building,” and hinted that it, like charity, begins at home. He also talked about the Libyan campaign, and repeated the refrain that

we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies[.]

Reaction on the right

The right is split. The Ron Paul half sees little gain from any further adventures in Afghanistan. The McCain-Graham half says that we can win the Afghanistan war, but not by withdrawing so many troops at once. In fact, Obama has rejected the advice of his commanding general in the theater, General David Petraeus. Recent word that the USA is negotiating with the Taliban for a “political settlement” confuses everybody. The reason: while he is negotiating with the Taliban, he is also negotiating with Hamid Karzai’s government to keep American drones and special forces in place. Everyone asks, Why? Why fight a war with half measures? Either fight to win, or get out, but make up your mind, Mr. President. So say the military experts, and the commentators on the right.

Reaction on the left

Afghanistan War protest in Boston

Bostonians protest after the 1000th US military death in the Afghanistan War. Photo: Michael Borkson. CC BY 2.0 Generic License.

The left is almost of one mind on the Afghanistan war speech: they hate it. If one single thing defines the hard left, it’s that they “don’t wanna study war no more.” They want American troops out now, and that means all of them. They won’t settle for anything less, no matter who is President. In fact, they voted for President Obama because they expected him to deliver just that. Now he won’t, and they hate him for it.

Paul Whitefield’s opinion piece in this morning’s Los Angeles Times is typical. He proposes three measures that he seems to hope will guarantee instant war weariness:

  1. The military should draft people again, and not rely on volunteers.
  2. Congress should enforce the War Powers Act of 1973.
  3. Congress should insist that any war be in the budget—and Whitefield specifically calls for higher taxes.

Whitefield has two good points: the government financed the war with borrowed money, and not even with the sale of specific war bonds. And the War Powers Act deserves either a direct challenge or detailed obedience—not Obama’s contemptuous dismissal.

More to the point, Whitefield and others simply do not like war. And even after withdrawing 33,000 troops from Afghanistan, Obama will leave about 67,000 of them in place. To fight a losing battle, says the right (both halves of it). To die for nothing, says the left.

The irony

The irony is that Obama made his Afghanistan war speech for political reasons only. He is trying to placate his anti-war base. If Paul Whitefield at the LA Times is any example, he has failed. The left thinks him a traitor. The right thinks him worse than Hamlet. And the soldiers must think that he is using them, not leading them.

Featured image: a memorial to the Soviet Afghanistan war stands in the Ukraine. Photo: Letitia Avierklieva. CC BY 2.0 Generic License.