Good old Dave. Always the overachiever is he. Completely dependable, too. In the slick, Washingtonian-instrumental-let’s-use-each-other sort of way. A shame he’s no strategic genius.
When political science attempted to mean something other than a plug on Morning Joe, a number of scholars (notice how we don’t use that word anymore? Instead, we get Michael Beschloss) tried to unravel the linkage – if any – between going ashore in Da Nang 1965 and the progressive Johnson domestic agenda. This was before Reagan made the bear step back on American-made color TVs (yes, preposterous we know, but true, we did make them). Academics like Joanne Gowa delved into presidential records and interviews to ask “Do progressive American presidents have to wage war abroad (Cold or Hot) to appease opponents of their domestic agenda.” In structural terms, is there a terrible quid pro quo for the Voting Rights Act, the Warren Court, the Civil Rights Act, etc., etc.
We know now that Johnson, the Ur political president, certainly took the thought seriously. Democrats and Republicans alike embraced general containment. We fought a hot war in Korea. Ike threatened nukes. The Soviets were a real global threat. After the 1962 Cuban humiliation they embarked upon the largest military escalation in human history.
What’s Obama’s excuse? He’s doubled down on COIN with Petraeus’ appointment (oblique elevation) today. We dump
$100 billion $16 billion a month into Afghanistan. With no credible scenario for success (however defined) by July 2011. By the way, that’s another $1.1 trillion almost $200 billion more from the date of this writing alone. Who thinks Obama politically survives a pullout right before the 2012 funny season? Even a wholly cynical ‘decent interval’ deal with the Taliban wouldn’t work in this day and age.
Obama’s smart enough to know his domestic opponents are in the nihilist militant masses. His Afghan policy won’t buy him a single vote on financial reform. Or jobless benefits extensions. He doesn’t face Johnson’s glacial constraints. Nor is he in the same league as the Nixon/Kissinger pairing (for good and ill). Obama chose to make the Afghanistan war his folly. Twice.
One must take him at his word. McChrystal’s faux pas gave him an opportunity to recalibrate. To face unpleasant truths. He chose to download the Petraeus COIN app again. Which makes Obama the biggest American strategic problem of all.
* We blew it. The initial numbers are patently absurd. Should have known it without typing. Rudimentary checking would have caught it anyway. We relied on a presentation by a well known foreign affairs/D.C. blogger and simply ran with it. Not a valid excuse. Not just because we didn’t source it. We were caught up making the cute iPetraeus App thing fall into place; we were lazy and regurgitated what we were told. Which is what we ridicule others, especially in the media, for doing. As Les Grossman might say, ‘The Universe is talking’. We’re listening.