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Whatever Happened to the “War of Necessity”?

October 13, 2009

Remember the halcyon days of 2008’s presidential campaign?  In case you forgot candidate Obama’s position on the Taliban and Afghanistan, here’s a short refresher:

In case your computer is negative contact on audio/video capabilities, that was candidate Obama, in the late stages of the presidential campaign, bashing Pervez Musharraf for signing a peace treaty with the Taliban.

As recently as August, the President could be heard referring to the war in Afghanistan as a “necessary war”:

‘This is not a war of choice,” Barack Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 17. “This is a war of necessity.

“Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

 This is, of course, supposed to be in contradistinction to the superfluous “just for fun” war in Iraq, I guess.  The point is: until fairly recently, President Obama had a storied history of claiming that Afghanistan was a just and righteous war that he would prosecute with due diligence and vigor.  Iraq was supposed to have drawn needed resources and troops from the “necessary war”.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that President Obama isn’t the first or only liberal Democrat to take this stance.  The practice of liberals trying to appear hawkish by claiming to want to use troops and resources withdrawn from Iraq in Afghanistan dates back at least to the presidential election of 2004.  John Kerry (who served in Vietnam) used this strategy extensively. 

At least candidate Obama was on record opposing the Iraq war from the very beginning.  But that still doesn’t excuse the sudden waffling.  The Obama administration’s sudden indecision is about far more than simple disagreements over what degree to increase engagement in Afghanistan; the enemy has itself been redefined.

In the first two of the sessions, which are taking place in the secure Situation Room in the White House basement, Obama kept returning to one question for his advisers: Who is our adversary, the official said.

The answer to Obama’s question was al-Qaida, as it was in March when Obama first announced an Afghanistan strategy.

But amid changing circumstances in Afghanistan, the implications of that renewed determination for the current war debate are many.

There now are no more than 100 al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Instead, the U.S. fight in Afghanistan is against the Taliban, now increasingly being defined by the Obama team as distinct from al-Qaida. While still dangerous, the Taliban is seen as an indigenous movement with almost entirely local and territorial aims, less of a threat to the U.S. than the terrorist network.

Obama’s team believes some elements in the Taliban are aligned with al-Qaida, with its transnational reach and aims of attacking the West, but probably not the majority and mostly for tactical rather than ideological reasons, the official said.

“They’re not the same type of group,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. “It’s certainly not backed up by any of the intelligence.”

Suddenly the man who denounced Musharraf for engaging the Taliban in diplomacy is himself uncertain about whether or not the Taliban are even really the enemy.

This, in and of itself, wouldn’t have had the potential to pique the public’s interest were it not for the continuing efforts of the Obama administration to effectively define the War on Terror and the enemy out of existence.  Starting with “overseas contingency operations” and running right through the declaration of some Taliban as tolerable partners in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, there appears to have been a concerted effort to avoid actually fighting a war or an enemy by simply changing nomenclatures to the point that neither exist in any meaningful form.

Lest conservatives be branded with the idiotic and demonstrably false “party of no” imprecation on this issue, Gallup polling indicates that if President Obama were to follow General McChrystal’s advice and send a massive influx of troops to Afghanistan, 73% of Republicans would approve. 

Also not helping the president in this matter is the ever-growing laundry list of issues he demagogued on the campaign trail but has waffled on since assuming office.  During the campaign, deficits were bad, bad, BAD!  Suddenly, once he was safely ensconced in office, deficit spending was just hunky-dorey, necessary, something to be tolerated because of Bush.  Rendition was similarly awful, until he got into office and discovered that this whole terrorism thing wasn’t entirely a machination of the evil Bushitler, after all.  The list goes on and on. 

To be sure, Republicans have on occasion been elected only to break their promises once in office.  The difference is that Democrats almost always break theirs once in office.  Could it be that it is because liberal Democrats coopt the lofty rhetoric and image of conservatives (ahem, Reagan) only to conduct an about face once they don’t face the prospect of losing their election?  Unfortunately, President Obama appears to be the most flagrant offender.  After frequently coopting the Reagan brand, the president has flip-flopped in record time.

Either Afghanistan is a “war of necessity” and the Taliban are the enemy or the president probably lied at some point in time.  Either he didn’t believe what he said on the trail and it was all a lie, or he believed it then and he’s fudging the truth some now to appease his base of craven cowards.  It would be super helpful to know which one it is.

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