Obama’s War: The Reaction

I’m actually pretty surprised to see that many liberals and progressives are not climbing on board Obama’s war wagon – notably Rachel Maddow, who made a stinging criticism of the escalation by comparing the rhetoric of the Bush administration and that of the New Obama, concluding that the latter had adopted and even extended the essence of the "Bush Doctrine," the morally indefensible idea that we have to strike at targets that might possibly pose a threat to U.S. national security some time in the indefinite future. Her subsequent interview with counterinsurgency guru John Nagl, however, was strictly softball – but, hey, whaddaya expect. This is MSNBC, after all.

Speaking of which: in reporting the president’s escalation speech, Keith Olbermann was clearly embarrassed, like a father whose child has just crapped his pants in the middle of Walmart. His dispirited voice, the staged "debate" between lefty-blogger Cenk Somebody-or-Other and some Democratic Party "strategist"-cum-hack ("We can agree to support Obama while disagreeing about specific policies," announced Olbermann, somewhat too earnestly) – it was all very telling, not to mention hilarious.

A good number of Obama’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders are to be found on the neoconservative Right: we have David "Axis of Evil" Frum, who said we shouldn’t expect Churchillian rhetoric because it is not 1940 (what an admission for a neocon to make, surely a first!). National Review‘s editors agreed: "Churchillian it was not." Yet they endorsed the president’s policy prescriptions, for the most part, while disdaining his tone (not bloodthirsty enough for their tastes). Bill Kristol, one of the intellectual architects [.pdf] of the Iraq war, opined in the pages of the Washington Post that, despite the speech’s flaws – notably the mention of a "too cute by half" deadline for the beginning of U.S. withdrawal – he is over the moon that Obama has "embraced the use of military force as a key instrument of national power." The Weekly Standard editor cited an exchange between a reporter and a senior U.S. official who was asked about Iran’s insistence that the Obama surge in Afghanistan is the same as the previous Bush surge in Iraq. The official replied that Obama’s war is being fought to protect the U.S. and its allies: "It’s easy to understand Iran’s perspective perhaps that there is some continuity here in the U.S. policy. That’s because the interest is consistent." Avers Kristol: "’The interest is consistent.’ That’s the heart of the matter. It’s encouraging that Obama seems to understand this fact."

The essential continuity of American foreign policy in the age of Obama is something the neocons have been joyfully anticipating since the Dear Leader took office: recall that joint conference between the pro-Obama Center for a New American Security, the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress, and Kristol’s Foreign Policy Initiative, which celebrated what the participants presciently perceived as Obama’s hawkishness.

This continuity is not acknowledged, however, by Obama’s liberal supporters. Take a look at Bob Cesca, the Huffington Post’s bearded-progressive-in-residence, who starts off with the most familiar of the White House talking points: don’t be surprised, you knew this was coming – that is, you would have known if you had listened during the campaign, because Obama always said Afghanistan had to be dealt with, etc., ad nauseam. He goes on to write:

"The war in Afghanistan is like a terrible form of cancer. No one wants it, but I don’t know how we can avoid dealing with it without facing serious consequences. I don’t want an escalation. I don’t want more casualties. I don’t want more spending when Congress is being miserly on domestic programs. I want the thing to end. I didn’t even want it to start in the first place.

"Regardless, it seems as though the president’s announcement is a prescription for radical chemotherapy, complete with a start date and an end date. Vomiting, pain, and ugliness ensue, but with light – and perhaps a cure – on the horizon. I think."

To begin with, there is no "end date" – only a vague promise that a "drawdown" will begin by July 2012, and then only if "conditions on the ground" permit. Kristol, of course, wasn’t dumb enough to be taken in by that non-promise, but Cesca is, or, at least, he’d like us to think so.

So what are these horrifically "serious consequences" we’ll experience if we don’t all rush off to the Kandahar front? Well, for one thing, Pakistan has nukes that Cesca believes will fall into the hands of "the Taliban and others" who "shouldn’t be allowed to attain them." The whole thing, he says, is George W. Bush’s fault – of course! – since he didn’t "crush the Taliban," he "diverted" resources away from the Good War in Afghanistan, and, well, just because he’s one of those nasty Rethuglicans. But now that one of our guys is doing exactly what Bush did – and even using exactly the same fear-mongering tactics that got us dragged into the last quagmire – well, that’s okay by him.

Let’s deal with this ridiculous argument that if we don’t send in the Marines the "terrorists" will somehow steal away Pakistan’s nukes and explode them in the middle of Manhattan. To begin with, there are joint U.S.-Pakistani security measures in place that probably make Islamabad’s nukes more secure than many of our own domestic nuclear power plants. Secondly, we’ll have more than enough time to secure those nukes if the likelihood of an Islamist takeover in Pakistan looms large. Thirdly, if such a takeover ever becomes a distinct possibility, it will likely be because of deepening U.S. intervention, including military strikes on Pakistani territory, which will drive the population (or a substantial minority of it) into the Islamist camp. So the nightmare of bin Laden going nuclear could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Huffington Post has become the trumpet of the Obama cult in the blogosphere, and on this occasion it doesn’t disappoint. Aside from Cesca, we have Professor Jerome Slater of SUNY Buffalo with what has got to be the most morally bankrupt rationale for war I have ever seen in print:

"Since the international, strategic, moral, and even the ultimate economic consequences of whatever we do are unknowable, we might just as well make the relatively more knowable domestic political consequences in the United States the decisive consideration. And that leads – at least for me – to one conclusion: the best thing for Obama, and for the Democratic Party, and indeed for the cause of liberalism in this country, would be to give the military what it wants (within reason), if the new troop commitments prove to be insufficient to turn the tide in Afghanistan.

"If the military gets what it wants and the tide turns in Afghanistan, Obama will get some of the credit; if it doesn’t, at least Obama and the Democrats can say they gave the armed forces what they said it needed. But if the military is denied and then we lose, Obama and the Democrats will get the blame, with electoral consequences likely to reverberate for many years. In the worse case, a Taliban-al-Qaeda victory followed by a massive attack on the United States, for years to come we can kiss good-bye to liberalism in this country, and maybe even to minimally rational foreign and domestic policies."

The "decisive consideration" in this argument, which Slater doesn’t explicitly acknowledge but which is glaringly obvious, is pure politics: matters of principle, morality, and the national interest don’t enter into his calculations at all (presumably because they are "unknowable"). In Slater’s view, it doesn’t matter how many Afghans we kill in the process, or how many Americans are sacrificed on the Obama cult’s bloody altar – all he cares about is ensuring Obama’s reelection prospects and the fortunes of the Democrats. And this profoundly immoral statement is made in the name of "saving liberalism"!

If this is liberalism, then it is a degenerate variety that has little or no relation to the original – and it deserves a speedy (albeit painful) death.

Traveling leftward, things don’t get much better. Over at the Nation, the usually clear-sighted Robert Dreyfuss claims:

"Contrary to some analysts on the left who see Obama’s plan as a Vietnam-style escalation, I see it as an unfortunate escalation feint while looking to the exit. Unfortunate, because a lot of Afghans (and quite a few Americans) will die in the process."

Yes, folks, escalation is withdrawal, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance, my friends, is bliss. What can one say in the face of such willful blindness, except: Arrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhh!!!!!

The Obama cult, which was yesterday a joke has become a serious affliction, affecting "progressives" who seem to forget all their touted principles, especially when it comes to the foreign policy realm, the moment they conflict with the Dear Leader’s political agenda. Yes, it’s too bad "a lot of Afghans (and quite a few Americans) will die in the process" – but exactly how bad does it have to get before readers of
the Nation turn against their Dear Leader?

"No matter what the cable news people suggest," Cesca babbles, "this will never be ‘Obama’s War.'” Really? Then whose war is it? Cesca would say it’s still Bush’s war – talk about being in denial! The worst thing that ever happened to Cesca and his fellow progressives-without-a-clue was the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency. Because that means they’ll be spinning, rationalizing, and whitewashing his every atrocious decision, no matter what it is, no matter how many war crimes are committed under his command.

In the days to come, there will doubtless be more examples of the new illiberal liberalism. I didn’t have space to deal with them all in this column, but we’ve got plenty of time. After all, we’re stuck with Obama for a few more years yet, and his cultists will no doubt come up with plenty of morally bankrupt rationales for his murderous policies abroad. That’s what you and I have to look forward to: years of wading through the "arguments" of contemptible hacks like Cesca, Slater, et al. So you’ll forgive me if I go lie down for a bit – I feel a headache coming on…


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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].