I haven't had time to absorb the president's decision to double-down on Afghanistan this morning. I am, however, skeptical for two reasons. The first is that pacifying that entire region - the region that defeated the British and the Soviets - is a gargantuan task whose costs do not seem to me outweighed by the obvious security benefits. As long as we can prevent terrorist bases forming that could target the US mainland, I do not see a reason for this kind of human and institutional enmeshment. My fear is that it multiplies our enemies, drags us further into the Pakistan nightmare, and will never Westernize a place like Afghanistan without decades-long imperial engagement. Secondly, I do not believe that Iraq is as stable as some optimists do, and fear that we will not be able to get out as cleanly as the president currently envisages. To be trapped more deeply in both places in a year's time seems Bush-like folly to me.
To be fair, I'm going to study it some more and look at the specifics. But I do want to address David Brooks' column today, where I am sure he is offering his good-faith judgment. This is what I disagree with:
After the trauma in Iraq, it would have been easy for the U.S. to withdraw into exhaustion and realism. Instead, President Obama is doubling down on the very principles that some dismiss as neocon fantasy: the idea that this nation has the capacity to use military and civilian power to promote democracy, nurture civil society and rebuild failed states. Foreign policy experts can promote one doctrine or another, but this energetic and ambitious response amid economic crisis and war weariness says something profound about America’s DNA.
It is part of America's DNA to be occupying and remaking an entire foreign semi-country thousands and thousands of miles away, with an utterly alien culture, institutions, religion and polity? And it's part of American DNA to do that while grappling with almost unprecedented levels of government debt, vast unfunded future liabilities, a homeland with crumbling infrastructure, a climate crisis, 140,000 troops still in another country, and a global economy that's in the worst protracted downturn since the Second World War? Remember that David was only just warning of Obama taking on too many projects at once. But another expanded war in another distant country against another close-to-undefeatable foe? Bring it on! Everything is too much except empire. That's the American DNA.
Can you imagine what Jefferson or Washington would say of such insanity and hubris? This is why empires never die willingly. But die they always do.
(Photo: A man is questioned by the U.S. Army in a remote valley while searching for Taliban militants who fired rockets at an Army base earlier in the evening February 18, 2009 in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images.Spencer Platt/Getty.)