'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, March 29, 2009


More troops for Afghanistan, 4,000 more in addition to the 17,000 already ordered, in the service of a confused policy:

The commanders in the field wanted a firmer and long-term commitment of more combat troops beyond the 17,000 that Mr. Obama had already promised to send, and a pledge that billions of dollars would be found to significantly expand the number of Afghan security forces.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pressed for an additional 4,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan — but only to serve as trainers. They tempered the commanders’ request and agreed to put off any decision to order more combat troops to Afghanistan until the end of this year, when the strategy’s progress could be assessed.

During these discussions, Mr. Biden was the voice of caution, reminding the group members that they would have to sell their plans to a skeptical Congress.

In this article, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times have pulled away the curtain and revealed the way that decisions are made in the Obama administration, much as Ron Susskind did in regard to the Bush administration in 2004. The contrast is striking, with the missionary hubris of the neoconservatives absent, replaced by, as has become the signature feature of the new administration, a reliance upon experts, leavened by the necessity to account for political considerations.

No longer do White House staffers arrogantly exclaim, we make our own reality, rather, the emphasis is now upon choosing among unpalatable alternatives, with strengths and weaknesses described in varying shades of gray. Even so, such a radical transformation has not resulted in an improvement in policy, merely a perpetuation of catastrophic foreign policy initiatives by different means. The evangelically inspired grandiosity of Bush invariably expressed itself in reductionist, broad strokes like the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as primary features of a utopian war on terror, while Obama now administers over the chaotic imperial system that it has created through an attention to detail.

Hence, commanders on the ground in Afghanistan ask the White House for 4,000 ground troops in addition to 17,000 already dispatched, which, upon consideration by Gates and Mullen in the Pentagon, is amended to 4,000 troops to serve only as trainers to our Afghan surrogates, as if the successful or failure of the mission is dependent upon such distinctions. Obama, ever wary of the domestic consequences of an escalation that is too visible, consequences to which his Vice President is especially attuned, agrees with Gates and Mullen, with the paradox being that a policy that is presumably being developed through the application of objective criteria (yes, you guessed it, Obama is also going to gauge performance in Afghanistan against benchmarks) is undermined by bureaucratic and political influences.

Such an approach, with Obama consciously in the background, should have been easily anticipated, after all, one of the strongest lines of attack upon Bush by liberal commentators was his purported willingness to rely upon incompetents to develop and administer policy, as if an ideologically flawed approach could be rescued by relying upon better trained, better educated academics and bureaucrats. Liberals have centered their case for governance upon such elitism for many years, I first recall encountering it during the Reagan years. Of course, it has the redeeming feature of allowing liberals to compete for political power without threatening entrenched interests with dramatic changes in policy. Apparently, empires slowly decay from within as memorialized through innumerable memoranda.

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