Most people expect Barack Obama to lay off some of the blame for the directionless policy on Afghanistan this year on George Bush in his speech tonight at West Point. Lee Siegel at the Daily Beast expects Obama to come across as closer to his predecessor than Obama might imagine. When it comes to pursuing the war in Afghanistan, Siegel — a war opponent — sees Obama as Bush Lite, and the speech as a manipulation of high order:
Once again, Obama is using Bush’s counter-example as a lever to sway the public. Yet to an even greater extent than his predecessor, Obama is proving himself an expert manipulator of public opinion, capitalizing on the McChrystal and then the Eikenberry leaks to give the impression of anguished, many-sided deliberations over whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. The good cop/bad cop routine with Joe Biden, who dutifully argued against more troops, was breathtakingly cynical.
Like Bush, Obama wants to wage an escalating war without worrying about how to pay for it—though no doubt, on Tuesday, we will be subjected to the same ludicrous vows not to increase the deficit. And it is almost uncanny to hear, this time from the liberal Obama, the same bloodcurdling rhetoric about nation-building and creating democratic institutions, and so on, that led us into implacably undemocratic Iraq. Warlord-run Afghanistan is nothing like Iraq. It is more like Somalia. Remember Somalia? …
No, Obama is not Bush. More and more, he seems like a continuation of Bush by other means. If anything, he is even more convinced than his divinely guided predecessor that he holds the truth in his hands. Unlike Bush, however, Obama seems to withdraw into a passive funk when he cannot convince his fellow Americans that his truth is also theirs.
Actually, I do remember Somalia. The original mission for Somalia had nothing to do with “nation building” or “creating democratic institutions”; it was an attempt to deliver food and secure its distribution. Somalia was a botch-up created by mission creep from a humanitarian, non-combat mission to provide food transport to starving people into a police action against warlords. We didn’t resource the military properly for the latter mission, refusing to send armored assets to avoid the look of escalation. And running from Somalia after getting a bloody nose in Mogadishu contributed to the willingness of Osama bin Laden to attack American assets around the world.
Siegel seems to channel David Obey in his conclusion by arguing that the war will crush the progressive agenda Obama was elected to enact by ruining the American economy. However, the polling on that data shows that Obama and his supporters fundamentally misread that mandate. While people wanted to see reform in health-care costs, they didn’t want a government takeover of the industry. And even without the war in Afghanistan, the money for massive new government entitlements simply doesn’t exist. Even before 9/11, Medicare and Social Security were going broke, and getting to the meltdown point faster than anyone in the Beltway would admit. The war spending may make that more acute, but even if we withdrew today, it wouldn’t mean that money exists for the statist policies Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are pushing through Congress.
Obama is a manipulator, but not so much on the war. He campaigned for two years on fighting more robustly against the real enemies of America in Afghanistan. If Siegel feels manipulated by Obama’s apparent readiness to fulfill that pledge, then Siegel manipulated himself into that position. Any expectation that Obama would decide differently demonstrates a disingenuousness on someone’s part — but not Obama, in this case.