There’s no way getting around it: We’re all acting like children.
First, let’s begin with the idea that there is a magical time in each president’s tenure when the mistakes of the previous administration are officially owned in present tense.
The pundits have decided that, in regard to the war in Afghanistan, President Obama’s time is exactly 8 pm Eastern tonight. At that time, Obama is expected to announce his plans to both end the war and send 30,000 more troops to the region from a podium at West Point Military Academy. If you plan on watching, expect the address to be framed as Obama taking ownership of what began as the war on terror some eight years ago.
This is despite the evidence to the contrary that has surfaced of late. A report released Sunday compiled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asserts that the Bush Administration’s failure to capture Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora in 2001 paved the way for the chaotic conditions we find in Afghanistan and Pakistan today.
“The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan,” the report said. “This failure and its enormous consequences were not inevitable… But the Al Qaeda leader would live to fight another day. Fewer than 100 American commandos were on the scene with their Afghan allies, and calls for reinforcements to launch an assault were rejected. Requests were also turned down for U.S. troops to block the mountain paths leading to sanctuary a few miles away in Pakistan. The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines.”
The report is being used by Democrats to blame the Bush Administration for the quagmire we find ourselves in now. Senate Armed Forces Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-MI) said on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday that we wouldn’t be having this conversation about another troop surge in Afghanistan if the Bush Administration had just finished the job in the first place.
Even more shocking are the accusations leveled by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who told MSNBC that the failure to capture bin Laden was not a failure at all, but an orchestrated part of the march to war in Iraq:
“Oh, there’s no question about that, because the leader of the military operation in the United States called back our military, called them back from going after the head of al Qaeda because there was a sense that they didn’t want to capture him,” Hinchey said. “When our military went in there, we could have captured them… But we didn’t, and we didn’t because of the need felt by the previous administration and the previous head of the military. That need to attack Iraq, which is completely unjustified. There was no connection between Iraq and the attack on Sept. 11.”
“It’s not faaaair!” they seem to be saying. Why should the Democrats have to accept failure when the neocons were the ones who brought it upon this country?
It’s a fair question, one that can be answered this way: Because we’re the grown-ups, and we sometimes have to clean up after the children.
But it’s not just liberals in Congress who are being babies. Afghanistan Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal irresponsibly began the debate by asking the press for more troops than the country even has. And Republicans (both in office and not) rallied around him, knowing that any time there are unreasonable expectations of a Democratic president, they will always win (even if it means more loss of life and treasure on the battlefield).
It appears that the immature calculation they’re making is that while our country’s soldiers and ideals may die, the party is forever. Such short-sighted, childish trade-offs are truly reprehensible. And the fact that the president is heeding such a mindless threat by putting more American lives at risk is just as irresponsible.
Yet those who share my opinions about ending the war are expressing themselves in the angsty manner of the adolescent who feels they aren’t being sufficiently heard. When Michael Moore’s letter to the president published today tells Obama that Americans “love our kids in the armed services, but we f*#&in’ hate these generals” and asks the president if he has indeed “drunk Bush’s Kool-Aid,” it becomes just as hard to take the anti-war left seriously as the pro-war right.
When everyone is sitting around trying to lay the blame on each other for one huge mess, I suppose it’s heartening to some in the White House to have their boss be the grown-up in the situation, taking responsibility for the war.
But really, that’s not the adult thing to do either. Latest indications are Obama will tell us tonight that, at the same time that he’s going to significantly boost troop levels, he’s somehow going to end the war in Afghanistan in three years.
Obama will be telling a bedtime fairy tale to the American people tonight, and his advisers are praying it’ll work. But nothing can erase the history in Afghanistan — from the failed attempts by handfuls of better-equipped militaries that have fallen there, to the fallout from the stinging neglect inflicted by the Bush Administration more recently.
In his New York Times column today, Bob Herbert defines our problem with growing up as a lack of courage in wartime:
It would have taken real courage for the commander in chief to stop feeding our young troops into the relentless meat grinder of Afghanistan, to face up to the terrible toll the war is taking — on the troops themselves and in very insidious ways on the nation as a whole…
[The war in Afghanistan] was botched and lost by the Bush crowd, and Barack Obama does not have a magic wand now to make it all better…
The tougher choice for the president would have been to tell the public that the U.S. is a nation faced with terrible troubles here at home and that it is time to begin winding down a war that veered wildly off track years ago. But that would have taken great political courage.
Obama does not wield that “magic wand” because there is no such thing as magic, no matter how much America wants there to be. Another writer working for the Times this weekend identified the only politician in this debate who does not seem to buy the magical world being presented: our own Vice President Joe Biden. In an engrossing profile, contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine James Traub begins his conclusion with a look into the recent negotiations over the Afghanistan surge:
Biden does not project even slightly in the realm of myth. But for this very reason, he is allergic to magical, wish-fulfillment thinking. “Guys,” he’ll say — this is how he describes addressing the Joint Chiefs of Staff — “what if it doesn’t work?”
Now is the time to put away the magical spells of “Mission accomplished” and “nation-building.” It’s time to put the children to bed and ask if those magic beans McChrystal wants are going to do what he’s promising.
Unfortunately, at least half of the nation is not ready to grow up and start paying the bills left behind by the previous tenants. But according to the conventional wisdom of the media, those bills will be transferred to the name “Barack Obama” tonight, and the longer he tarries in paying off the inevitable disappointments, the more his — and our — credit will suffer.
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