I listened to a bit of President Obama's speech. Why am I disgusted? After all, I have said from the first day of our war against Afghanistan that it was a futile operation that might kill a lot of Afghans and a few Americans but that it would would accomplish nothing. Whenever I have been asked about either Afghanistan or Iraq, I always say the same thing: Pull out now, because the longer you delay, the more people will be dead and yes, they will have all died in vain. If Obama is going to draw down the troops, I should be happy, but I am not.
First off, the so-called surge has not worked, but if they are going to make it work, they will need more not less troops. If Obama supported the surge, he should have been prepared to stay the course, but he is afraid of the polling data that show a gradual (though certainly temporary) return to sanity in the American people, a majority of whom now want to get out.
Second, he is not pulling out, only reducing the troops. We are headed for the usual bloody stalemate that characterizes most of our brush wars. Fish or cut bait.
What I found terribly disturbing was the President's unilateral redefinition of our war aims. We have been told, over the past few years, that our goal was to bring peace and stability to the region, to impose democracy on the unwilling Afghans, and, if one can believe Obama's secretary of state, to liberate women. Now, it seems our more modest objective is to make sure that there will be "no safe-haven from which al-Qaida or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies."
Let us examine this sentence. When did the government of Afghanistan ever launch an attack on the United States? The fact that Osama hid out there is almost entirely irrelevant. He could just as well have directed operations from a dozen countries in which al-Qaida operates. And who are these allies? Pakistan? Iran? These are the neighboring states most likely to suffer from an attack by the poorly armed tribesmen of this savage and primitive region. If the Taliban think they can conquer Pakistan or Iran or even Tajikistan, they are welcome to try.
In the Middle East, when we say ally, we used to mean Turkey, Egypt, and Israel, though increasingly we really only mean Israel. The CIA-supported uprisings in North Africa have eliminated Egypt as an ally--a brilliant move, by the way--and Turkey is slowly but inexorably headed into Islamism. That leaves only Israel. As critical as I have been of the Jewish state, I should not like to see this unreliable ally overrun by the armed dervishes of Afghanistan, but if there is one thing of which I am certain it is that the Israelis could wipe Afghanistan off the face of the earth. So, there are no real allies at risk.
In referring generally to "al-Qaida or its affiliates," the President pointedly omitted the Taliban, the al-Quaida affiliate that inspired our invasion. Why the omission? The answer is obvious: because we are in negotiations with the Taliban, who in one form or another will return, in whole or in some part (only "the more responsible elements" of course) to power.
Obama says the US is no longer an empire and that we have this new very limited objective for our war against the Afghan people. Since when is it up to him to make such a decision? Does anyone in his right mind really believe that Barack Obama has a right to an opinion about any aspect of foreign policy? At least with cynical gangsters like Cheney and Rumsfeld we were dealing with grown men of some experience. With Obama and Clinton and the rest, we are dealing with perpetual adolescents.
The least we can do to limit the damage of the children we elect as president is to require an administration, before launching an airstrike, conniving at black ops, or arranging some cozy little war, to draw up a simple and coherent set of war aims, which Congress will have to approve. If a new administration wants to change those aims, it would have to return to Congress for approval. This would not stop reckless men from invading foreign countries, but it would require them to state the reasons why. To this day, no one knows for sure why we are in Iraq, and, when we withdraw and abandon our allies and lackeys to their grisly fate, we shall be equally ignorant of the reason for the withdrawal.
There is not point in calling for an end to American adventurism, because that is not going to happen. Such appeals are almost as fatuous as Secretary Gates's recent whining that the Europeans are not paying their fair share of the cost of ruling the world. I did not think that a rank amateur would have to point this out to the poor fellow, but since WWII we have take it upon ourselves to rule as much of the world as we can. If you want to rule the world, you have to pay your way and not expect your subjects to pony up. If the Europeans are going to develop serious military establishments, we shall not long remain the world's only remaining superpower (if we are in fact still that.), because our allies will share power with us. If we don't want to share imperial responsibility, then there is no alternative to paying much more than our fair share.
Fish or cut bait. Either fight these wars to win and take the territory and assets of our victims or keep out. Either accept our role as imperial hegemon and pay for the privilege or share power with our NATO allies.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.