Chickenhawk in Chief

Barack Obama scored big points during the 2008 campaign by reminding voters of his opposition to the war in Iraq in 2002 (when he was an Illinois State Senator without an actual vote). He called it "Bush's war of choice" and repeatedly spoke of its folly; later, as a United States Senator in 2006 and 2007, he voted against the Bush "surge" and consistently called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces. At the same time, in an obvious effort to push his "tough on terrorism" credentials, Obama repeatedly criticized Bush for ignoring the all-important war in Afghanistan, and made it clear that as president, he would finish the job of destroying Al Qaeda there. "Afghanistan is a war of necessity, not of choice" he has said many times. Many conservatives (myself included) always suspected that Obama was using Afghanistan as a cudgel with which to beat Bush (and McCain) around the head and shoulders on the unpopular war in Iraq -- a calculated political move that was more about getting elected than it was about really winning in Afghanistan. Back in February when I was a guest on a John Andrews' talk show Backbone Radio, I talked about Obama's emerging foreign policy as one of "valuespolitik". When I was asked about Obama's plans for Afghanistan, I made the comment then that I believed Obama would never allow a growing war in Afghanistan to get in the way of his domestic agenda -- making the comparison to how LBJ tried to manage the war in Vietnam so as not to destroy his "Great Society" programs. Obama would temporize, stall, delay and find some reason to abandon the war, because it is clear that the fierce opposition to the war from Obama's left-wing political base would make having "guns and butter" not possible -- particularly for this president with his grand plans to remake American society.

I never saw making such a prediction as going out on a limb, of course, because I always saw Obama as a "chickenhawk" -- someone who talks tough about military action but never puts himself (or his interests) in the cross-hairs. I always knew that Obama's true goals were redistributionist, and that his primary objective was (and is) to remake America in a "kinder, gentler" image that removes the rough edges in favor of a safer place for union members, ACORN supporters and others needing protection from the jungle of American capitalism. Obama-the-opportunist used tough talk on Afghanistan to convince the American people into believing that he was up to the job. Like everything else in his campaign, it was pure manipulation.

But posturing never stands up to reality, and this month events on the ground in Afghanistan are going to push Obama to making a real decision on Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal was sent to Afghanistan to develop a "Patraeus-style" counterinsurgency plan, and to come back with a recommendation (and request) for the forces he needs to be successful. He has now done so. But based on comments made over the weekend by Obama on his round-robin of talk show appearances, the president is now hesitating on his commitment to finishing even the "war of necessity". My bet is that he will use the compromised Afghan national elections of the past two weeks to make a case for pulling back -- and that he will find some "middle-ground" approach that will reduce the number of troops in favor of reliance on "high-tech" weapons like pilot-less drones, cruise missiles and the like. An "offshore" war fighting strategy.

Leslie Gelb has an interesting take on Obama and Afghanistan in the Wall Street Journal this morning entitled "Obama's Befuddling Afghan Strategy". Gelb is no conservative, and supported Obama in the 2008 election. He seems to be confused by Obama's flip-flop on support for the mission in Afghanistan, though he also clearly understands that Obama's left-wing base wants an immediate withdrawal. "Americans are now confused and caught somewhere between remembering the president's insistence on Afghanistan's importance to U.S. security and rapidly rising pressure from his party to bring the troops home." For Gelb, however, "the president's failure in Afghanistan would be America's failure, and we cannot allow this to happen."

It is good that someone on the left understands that central point -- but it gives me little confidence that the president will not let our efforts in Afghanistan go down the proverbial rat hole. Temporizing on Afghanistan would be just like Obama-the-chickenhawk. And it is exactly what we should expect from a president who seeks accommodation with Iran, Russia and other states who manifestly do NOT have our interests at heart. Obama said he wanted to "reset" our relations with the rest of the world and he is certainly doing so. We are now forsaking our friends and embracing our enemies, and are now on the verge of abandoning a critical component of the war on terror.

That certainly is change -- but not the kind I can believe in.