Republicans Go Wobbly on the War

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Now that it is Obama's War, how tempting must it be for Republicans to channel Edwin Starr and ask, "Huh, what is it good for?" Now that favorable impressions of the campaign in Afghanistan have reached an astounding new low, what a perfect moment it must be for one-time hawks to grow white feathers and claw for the nearest olive branch. After two years of Democrats blaming President Bush for everything but the laughter of newborn babies and puppies, sticking it to President Obama on foreign policy must seem irresistible.

David Frum put it best. If, he said, he were an incoming House member, swept into office on a program of fiscal discipline, he could balance the budget through unpopular cuts to entitlement programs, "or I could ask myself why I was voting $740 billion a year -- very nearly as much as Medicare and Medicaid combined! -- to fund the war-fighting policy of a president I despised and mistrusted." (Note that he does not recommend this course of action.)

Last month, Danielle Pletka and Thomas Donnelly penned a provocative opinion piece in the Washington Post asking, "Is freedom's price too high for the right?" and warned that fiscal conservatives in the next congress will be eager to sacrifice the war for the budget, despite the fact that the "burden to the nation from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- 1.9 percent of GDP -- is less than the burdens of the Korean or Vietnam wars (3 and 2 percent, respectively)."

Proof that the GOP is wobbling on the war in Afghanistan now, at its most critical juncture, presents itself in a phrase seldom heard since the 1990s, and now reaching a crescendo in public discourse: the dreaded "nation building."

In a speech that would cause a sharp intake of breath even from George Orwell, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele recently called Afghanistan a "war of Obama's choosing," adding, "This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."

Three months ago, Ann Coulter compared Afghanistan to Vietnam. In 2001, she advocated converting the entire country to Christianity. If she thinks our present policy of building and defending girls' schools is too lofty a challenge, how well did she expect building churches to go? Though the overwhelming majority of Afghans reject the Taliban and loathe the white-hot tip of Sharia law, it's a stretch to see them raising Bibles and shaking tambourines on Sunday morning.

Republican congressman-turned-talk-show-host Joe Scarborough rushed to her defense, saying, "For too long you've had John McCain, and you've had Bill Kristol, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman define what it meant to be a Republican when it came to foreign policy, when in fact historically the Republican Party has usually been for restraint. They've been accused of being isolationist in the past. Now it seems like a small group of people want to fight every war in every corner of the planet, and it's just not good for the party." He fails to note that he was part of that "small group of people," voting in favor of military campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. If he had serious misgivings about Afghanistan, he failed to mention them at the time, or even in his June 2009 book.

George Will wrote in 2001 that "Purely cathartic uses of military force today would be worse than inaction." In a column shortly thereafter, he lamented inevitable but familiar calls "to confine the war to minor objectives. But those objectives would mock the president's calculated and correct use of the word 'war.' When advocates of merely minor objectives are praised as 'cooler heads,' the pertinent attribute may be cold feet."

Last year, though, after eight years of following through with Will's prescription of major objectives and fevered audacity, he decided that "forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."

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David W. Brown is the coauthor of The Command: Deep Inside the President's Secret Army and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Generally published under the pseudonym D.B. Grady, Brown is a graduate of Louisiana State University, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, and a veteran of Afghanistan. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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