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Obama And Afghanistan: Pragmatism Or Amoralism?

Andy Bacevich pulls no punches:

Obama’s supporters were counting on him to bring to the White House an enlightened moral sensibility: He would govern differently not only because he was smarter than his predecessor but because he responded to a differentand truerinner compass. Events have demolished such expectations. Today, when they look at Washington, Americans see a cool, dispassionate, calculating president whose administration lacks a moral core.

The case for pragmatism, especially after the ideology-drenched years of Bush and Cheney, is a powerful one. On issues like the bank bailout (wildly successful) or health insurance reform (a messy but important advance) or balancing short term demand with long term austerity, we need pragmatism. But there are some areas where that instinct can come to seem unwise.

Sending young men to risk their lives is one of them; refusing to live up to core Geneva Conventions requirements - like investigating and, if appropriate, prosecuting those guilty of war crimes is another; ditto civil rights, where pragmatic politics is never enough. I have no reason to believe that the decision to elevate the Afghanistan war into the biggest gamble in nation-building and permanent occupation wasn't made in good faith. But the case for a face-saver like the failed "surge" in Iraq is far more persuasive in terms of domestic politics than it is in terms of strategic and military sense. And now Petraeus is in control, the war has total backing from the Washington establishment.

Which means young Americans will be dying in Afghanistan well into Obama's second term, if he has one.