Only the most hopelessly naïve, star struck or a true believer could have ever thought that President Obama would not dump massive numbers of fresh troops into Afghanistan the first chance he got. He said or strongly inferred that escalation of the Afghan war was in his cards on two occasions as a presidential candidate, and once before he became a presidential candidate. He strongly inferred he'd fight in Afghanistan in his anti-Iraq war, Bush bashing speech at Chicago's Federal Plaza on October 2, 2002. The speech burnished his credentials as a war opponent and eventually established him as a political comer on the national scene.
Sporting a peace button on his right suit jacket lapel, Obama went on the attack. He blasted the war, called it a drain on American resources, and a foreign policy nightmare. He repeatedly called it a dumb war. The "dumb war" characterization implied that there were wars that were worth waging. Earlier in the speech, he made it clear that he was not a reflexive opponent of all wars. The US was simply fighting the wrong war, in the wrong place. He demanded that Bush fight an all out, no holds barred war against terrorism. Though he did not mention Afghanistan directly, in the speech it didn't take much to connect the terrorism to Afghanistan dots.
Six months after he announced his presidential candidacy, Obama was still among the pack of Democratic presidential candidates. But in a speech in August 2007 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars he left no doubt that Afghanistan would be his number one target for attack if he was elected.
He made an impassioned promise to wage what he dubbed the war that had to be won. He spelled out in minute detail his plan of attack. It was virtually identical to the plan he laid out in his West Point speech. He vowed to drastically increase troop strength, ramp up spending on an array of military related programs such as mobile special forces, pacification teams, intelligence operations, and to beef up military aid to Pakistan. He vowed to take the war to the Taliban in Northwest Pakistan. Eleven months after his Wilson Center speech, Obama was still only the "presumptive" Democratic presidential candidate. Yet, in a CBS Face the Nation interview, he promised to "finish the job" in Afghanistan. These are the exact same words that he used to sell escalation in interviews in the build-up to his West Point speech.
In his pre-presidential speeches, interviews and comments on the war he massaged his war plan. He promised to set a timetable for eventual withdrawal, get out of Iraq, corral America´s European and Middle East allies in a partnership to wipe out the terrorists and their mass destructive weapons, end corruption, hold free elections, bolster Afghan security forces, boost intelligence gathering and monitoring, beef up afghan security forces, and insure a stable government in Afghanistan. This again is virtually identical in every detail to his West Point escalation speech. Two years after he spelled out the plan, the US had shelled out more than $200 billion dollars and suffered nearly 1,000 dead. Not one of these goals has been met.
By then however, Obama had hardened on the military option, and pledged that he'd redeploy troops as fast as he could from Iraq to Afghanistan. Though he tossed out the figure of two brigades as the number of troops he planned to send, he hinted this was not fixed, and the number of troops might go much higher.
Obama has never cited Pentagon pressure as his reason for upping the military ante in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has certainly hammered hard for troop escalation. But the massive troop increase is clearly Obama's call. A call he made and firmly decided on long before he ever got to the White House.
Some hopeful Afghan war critics blame the Pentagon, GOP war hawks, defense contractors, and oil interests, for arm twisting Obama to escalate. This helps to rationalize their bitter disappointment at the president's disastrous escalation decision. The truth though is that Afghanistan is the war that Obama always wanted.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book," How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge" (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.
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