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."
Ironically, it is the supposedly left-wing Time Magazine that offered the most significant defense of the war, picturing on its cover an Afghan woman whose nose and ears had been recently severed by the Taliban. As the Obama administration pushes for negotiations with these extremist Islamic barbarians, the plight of women is quietly being pushed aside (to say nothing of homosexuals, academics, artists, and secular Afghans). In the piece, Aryn Baker writes:
In negotiations, the Taliban will be advocating a version of an Afghan state in line with their own conservative views, particularly on the issue of women's rights, which they deem a Western concept that contravenes Islamic teaching. Already there is a growing acceptance that some concessions to the Taliban are inevitable if there is to be genuine reconciliation. "You have to be realistic," says a senior Western diplomat in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made." Which sounds understandable. But who, precisely, will be asked to make the sacrifice?
"You have to be realistic." Dot. dot. dot. Some women and some gays are just going to have to be gutted and hanged by their entrails. That's just smart diplomacy.
For his part, President Obama deserves a lion's share of the blame, as both commander in chief and head of state. When President Bush ordered the surge in Iraq, he owned it unapologetically. President Obama, meanwhile, drowning in bad ink, is desperate to keep the war and his surge strategy from the front pages. His now-famous six page, hand-written policy of sending as many soldiers as possible to the region while simultaneously planning their withdrawal on an arbitrarily set date, regardless of progress, is schizophrenic at best. It's no small wonder that American support for U.S. Afghanistan policy is at 37%. If the man who wrote the plan doesn't believe in it, and if we're leaving regardless of success or failure, why bother in the first place?