Last night, President Obama announced a plan to commit substantial additional forces to Afghanistan (full text). The reaction has been almost uniformly negative from the left, but re-hashed and uninspired from the right (although he didn’t use the word “victory,” nor did he use the word “defeat” — except in the context of defeating Al Qaeda, which sounds an awful lot like “victory” to me). The former is an error; the latter is a good sign.
The overwhelming character of the liberal reaction (Michael Moore: “you will be the new war president”) conflates Iraq and Afghanistan — essentially Bush’s error, but in reverse. As Democrats, we can’t be against war as a concept. Although it’s not ideal, there is such a thing as a “just war,” and a necessary war. Afghanistan is both. And because Obama campaigned on just that sentiment, yesterday’s decision shouldn’t come as a surprise. Obama has argued for years now that Iraq caused Afghanistan to be forgotten, which the facts have borne out; and just a few months ago he called Afghanistan a “war of necessity.” This move was telegraphed from the start: any disappointment felt now can only rest on a misunderstanding of what President Obama has always stood for, and a naive desire for war, as a concept, to end. We can dream, yes, but si vis pacem, para bellum. Affirmatively winning Afghanistan is the right thing to do, for our security and for our posterity, and accordingly, critiques about whether Obama made the right move should be confined to the strategic. Remember, should we succeed, it’s another chapter in the history books for the American military (“Hey, Alexander! Guess what we did!”).
And the right knows it. Fundamentally they know Afghanistan has to be won — they’ve been blasting Obama for delaying the decision for months — and they know this was the right move. It is, unfortunately, right out of McCain’s playbook for Iraq. But they’re afraid. Success in Afghanistan could not only (partially) secure America against terrorism; it could seal the fate of the Republican Party as the “national security” party. If, in future generations, we look to this moment as the very instant where the war in Afghanistan turned in our favor, it’ll also be the moment the Republican Party lost its last shred of respectability.
We’ve been waiting for real military leadership for about eight years now. Favor the bold.