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Obama’s Way of War

May 14, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 33 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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As Max Boot has pointed out, the president’s eager use of drones and the raid on Abbottabad have actually allowed Obama’s inner dove to come out. A strong preference for massive welfare-state spending aside, slashing defense spending is one sure and lasting way to militarily neuter the United States. Like many liberals under the age of 60, President Obama has a problem with American hegemony—the idea that American military power is essential and decisive in keeping malevolent ideologies and states at bay. Where downing an aggressive fascist dictator with a proven hunger for weapons of mass destruction and long-standing relationships with terrorists seemed sensible to senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden in 2003, a certain Illinois state senator knew better. President Obama’s profound foreign-policy “caution” is rooted in a common, if not sacrosanct, historical understanding of post-Vietnam liberalism: that America is more likely to do harm than good when it intervenes in the Third World. 

With drone attacks and bin Laden’s death for backdrop, the president seems to think—and he may be right—that he can disengage the United States from the Greater Middle East without political risk. Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun minorities know that an American withdrawal on the president’s schedule will unleash civil war that will likely bring the Taliban and their many jihadist allies back to the gates of Kabul. Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara are already envisioning the new Afghan Army’s crackup into its component parts. In 1990 it was impossible to argue in Washington that America should remain engaged in Afghanistan (in the CIA, you could have counted on one hand the folks who didn’t snore when Afghan-related intelligence crossed their desks). Americans were tired of the Cold War. It’s a delicious irony that many on the left who after 9/11 underscored George H.W. Bush’s failure to pay attention to Afghanistan when the Soviet Union retreated now 23 years later worry little about U.S. withdrawal.

On the left and right, Muslim-fatigue has set in. The conflict is too costly in dollars and manpower, the viability of non-Taliban Afghan power requires too much American support, and the American people, our elected representatives plead in private, just want out, consequences be damned. The Republican-controlled Congress has so far approved the enormous reduction in military spending that will likely create a downward spiral difficult to stop. Many Republican members would rather not talk about the Muslim Middle East, just as our fore-fathers once avoided talking about leprosy. Eleven years after 9/11, George F. Will, once a peerless supporter of a strong military and both Iraq wars, sees massive defense cuts as a good thing if they limit “America’s ability to engage in troop-intensive nation-building.” Muscular Wilsonian liberals and neoconservatism have become as injurious to the nation’s health as socialized medicine.

In great part, the president, his Predators, and the raid on Abbottabad loom large because Republicans have become so small. The world that George W. Bush gave them they cannot handle. The second Iraq war is probably the single greatest catalyst behind the Great Arab Revolt. In much the way that former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, twin beacons of American “realism,” predicted, the war shocked the region. What had been seen as immovable autocracies became fragile regimes fearful and contemptuous of all the talk of democracy that poured forth from Westernized Arab expatriates, disenchanted youth, and Islamists. The Iraq war provocatively and irrepressibly introduced the discussion of popular government into the region: “democracy through the barrel of a gun,” as antiwar Westerners and Arabs put it. For those Westerners who had eyes to see, knew Arabic, and kept an open mind, the conversation was deafening. All that was needed was a spark. The self-immolating Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi provided it.

The antiwar Democratic intelligentsia, which includes the president, has been wrong on just about everything in the Greater Middle East since 2001. It’s impossible to read The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right, by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, now senior administration officials and two of the best minds the Democrats have on counterterrorism, and not sigh. The 2005 book saw the Iraq war as our undoing. In a rush to judgment, Benjamin and Simon completely missed the developing conversation about representative government. They misapprehended the radical Islamic threat. 

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