The official explanation for Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is that the Norwegians are using the Nobel as an incentive for the president to fulfill what many see as his bright promise and a kind of prophylactic against a repeat of Bush-era warmongering. After all, how could a recipient of the Peace Prize engage in the kind of brazen militarism that has characterized U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 era?
Easy – do it on the sly.
If the Nobel committee was attempting to preemptively block a further escalation of the Afghan war by giving the prize in anticipation of future actions – actions they hoped would be motivated by a desire to live up to the award – they were too late, and their efforts too little. Because Obama – in addition to the 21,000 combat troops he has already announced he’s sending to the Afghan front – has quietly added 13,000 more "support" troops to the mix, and there are plenty more where that came from.
For an administration in which virtually every public announcement and initiative involves a careful manipulation of language, this kind of craftiness is a key tool in keeping the public hazy about what exactly is going on in Afghanistan. The difference between "combat" troops and "support" troops is a slippery one, which the Obamaites have used previously to obscure their real intentions in Iraq. You’ll recall that, way back during the presidential campaign, they announced their plans for "withdrawal" in the same breath they proposed a "residual" force of "support" troops that numbered in the tens of thousands. Not many noticed this bit of legerdemain – but now that he’s in office, and with the spotlight trained so heavily on every nuance of his Afghan policy, these little details are coming to the fore.
While the pundits and the public have been debating the whys and wherefores of whether Obama ought to give in to his generals and send more troops to the "Af-Pak" battlefield, the escalation is already a fait accompli – a nice Halloween surprise for all those "progressives" who still believe in their Dear Leader. Never has a political constituency been so willing to be deceived.
That’s one reason it won’t be too hard for the Obamaites to continue their masquerade. Another is the administration’s skill at double talk. Soothing words will emanate from the White House to ameliorate the panic of antiwar progressives, both in Congress and the Democratic grassroots, and the latter will content themselves with gay-rights protests and nightly broadcasts on MSNBC caviling about healthcare "reform."
We want butter, and you can have your guns. That’s what it boils down to in the end. It’s the historic compromise of the liberals in the Democratic Party: you can have your "war on poverty," say the party elders, just let us have our "war on Communism" or, today, the "war on terrorism," and we’ll both be happy. It works every time.
Conveniently diverted from an issue they’ve been evading ever since Obama took office, by the time the Democratic Party base wakes up and finds it has a burgeoning war to defend it will be too late. As "centrist" (i.e., interventionist) Democrats bloc with Republicans on the Afghan issue and head off an incipient revolt in Congress, Obama’s war is being rolled out right on schedule, albeit not fast enough for eager beavers like Dianne Feinstein, Rush Limbaugh, and the laptop bombardiers buzzing around the op-ed page of the Washington Post.
All this praise being heaped on Obama by the Europeans is really a way of complimenting him on his methods of deception. The Bush administration never made any bones about its militaristic agenda: they openly proclaimed their policy of aggressive ultra-nationalism, and woe unto anyone who stood in their way. The personality of this policy – its style of implementation – was personified by the volatile John Bolton, Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, who once remarked, "I don’t do carrots."
Obama, however, specializes in handing out carrots. We’ll see how long it takes for them to harden and coalesce into one giant stick. I give it a year, on the outside.
As our pundit shrikes take flight, shrieking their bloody war cries on the op-ed pages of the nation’s newspapers, the wolves are howling in the distance and the vultures are circling overhead. Amid all this cacophony, many of the more thoughtful progressives wonder aloud how the administration can fight two wars and still hope to solve the nation’s dire economic problems. With the real unemployment rate hovering somewhere around 20 percent and the banks making those awful creaking noises – as in the moments before a giant edifice collapses – can we really afford to divert money away from jobs and education and healthcare, and send it to Waziristan?
"Money for jobs, not for war!" That’s the battle cry of the antiwar movement, such as it is, but these protesters miss the point. The real policy of this administration is money for jobs and for war, with the former to be generated by the latter. As loyal followers of John Maynard Keynes, the Depression-era economist who believed we could spend our way out of penury, Obama’s economic brain trust surely recognizes that all government spending is fungible. You can spend it on building bridges and repairing decayed infrastructure, but this has certain political disadvantages, namely conservative opposition to too much government spending. One way to get conservatives of both parties on your side, however, is to pour money into the military: that, at least, will get the armaments industry humming and keep many exporters afloat while everyone else is sinking. It also helps sop up excess labor by ramping up military recruitment efforts, including financial incentives.
This is the chief problem standing in the way of the administration, at this point: the sheer inability [.pdf] of the U.S., given its global military presence, to muster enough troops to really occupy and hold Afghanistan. Short of half a million combat soldiers – and half as many "support" troops – we are just staving off the inevitable collapse of the Karzai regime and a complete rout of our forces. How to get up to this number, or a fair approximation, without anyone making too much of a fuss – this is the problem Obama faces.
The administration is playing a deceptive numbers game, first in making a dubious dichotomy between "combat" and "support" troops, and second by failing to level with the American people about either the number of soldiers or the number of years it will take for them to accomplish their mission, whatever that may turn out to be.
Who are our enemies in Afghanistan? Are we fighting to eradicate the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, or our former ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar? Perhaps all of them, in which case our cause is unlikely to succeed, even at the level of public relations.
What is our strategy? The Petraeus-McChrystal-CNAS counterinsurgency doctrine [.pdf] suggests that anything less than a full-scale nation-building project is fated to fail. According to "COIN" doctrine, victory requires a long term political-military operation that involves living side-by-side with the people we are supposed to be "protecting," the Afghans. In the meantime, the Afghans will be searching for someone to protect them from us – all the while doing their best to convince us they’re really on our side, so as to qualify for all that generous nation-building aid. However, American policymakers are making a mistake if they think they can deal with the Taliban the way they dealt with the Sunni Arab "dead-enders" in Iraq. The Afghans can be rented, but not bought.
What do we want from the peoples of Afghanistan? The idea that they must now create a nation-state that keeps out al-Qaeda and makes it impossible for Osama bin Laden and his cohorts to seek a "safe haven" in that country is a scheme much too labor-intensive and downright expensive for a profitable return. It is like turning the forest into a concrete patio upon discovering that a few wild and possibly dangerous animals inhabit its darkest corners. In the process, how many other creatures are we turning out of their holes, to turn up later running wild in our streets, preying on small dogs and children?