Blogs > There's No There There > Deja vu, Afghans: We're Ba-a-a-a-ck!

Nov 26, 2014

Deja vu, Afghans: We're Ba-a-a-a-ck!

tags: Afghanistan; Chuck Hagel; neocons; Murray Polner

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons features two men picketing while holding competing signs. One reads “No War” and the other “Some War,” sounding a lot like a description of Barack Obama’s on-again-off-again foreign policy moves. I see him patiently backing John Kerry’s attempt to work out an arrangement with Iran over the heated objections of Iranian hardliners, Israel, AIPAC and their congressional flatterers, and McCain’s incoming wrecking crew. And then there’s Ukraine and Russia and of course the rest of the Middle East.

Early in Obama’s term of office I was invited by the relentlessly anti-neocon magazine The American Conservative to write an assessment of the new man I had voted for. It was Obama, unlike Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who had damned the Iraq invasion as a “dumb war, a rash war.” I wondered if he could be a different sort of president, or so my fellow antiwar liberals and a few antiwar conservatives hoped. So, in the face of his current decision to continue undeclared war against ISIS and send 9,000 combat “trainers” to Afghanistan, along with his sudden firing of defense secretary Chuck Hagel, as well as spending billions more on out of date and unnecessary nukes, what happened?

Barack happened. More eloquence than substance happened. More political caution than audacity or hope.  Over the next six years there was an absence of dovish advisors or anyone from the realist school of national interest in his inner circle. Then too, there was a recognition by his political managers that he could best fend off Obama-haters from an ill-defined center to keep the neocons and McCains off his back while tossing an occasional bone to his disappointed left, and thus allowing our self-appointed foreign policy elite in Imperial City to carry on with their delusions and posturing about our endless wars.

Last May he deceived Americans when he declared over and again that no US combat troops would be sent back to Afghanistan. Clearly unsure of  himself, with the rise of ISIS and shifting positions and changing strategies—remember it was Putin, the British Parliament and American public opinion who saved his skin over bombing Assad’s Syria—he has sent in the troops. The secret decision was leaked to the NY Times, which reported that the return to combat was made over the objections of some of his civilian aides. Obama, who never wore a military uniform, was apparently intimidated by the military, which still believes against all evidence, that its bombs and its “combat enabler” status (“military gobbledygook for F-16 fighter planes, B-1B bombers and plenty of drones to destroy the Taliban, who by the way are Afghans, unlike the American interlopers) can “save” Afghanistan.  Other candidates for “rescue” and regime change are apparently on some neocon’s agenda in Washington. On to Damascus or Yemen or whatever may be the next battle cry of our War Party.

And then there’s poor Chuck Hagel, the newest scapegoat for Obama’s fluctuating policies. Fired or not, Obama we are told, who relies almost entirely on a very tight cluster of friends and aides, wanted him out, hypocritically praising him while shoving him out the door. Then the whispers and leaks began, probably coming from the White House staff. Hagel was no antiwar activist but after ISIS suddenly appeared, overlooked by our vaunted and overhyped intelligence agencies, his fate was decided.

Was he fired/resigned because he refused to support the renewed US combat role? Did the American involvement in the Ukraine and the start of a new cold war with Moscow trouble him? Or was he just too feeble to fight both the Pentagon bureaucracy and Obama’s trusted insiders? We’ll know more when their memoirs appear in future decades.

The more hawkish Obama becomes the less difference between him and his deservedly maligned predecessor. But of this I’m certain: In his final two years in office, but for a few crumbs here and there, his once-formidable and dedicated antiwar base will not be welcome at the White House. Plus ca change.

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