My thoughts on Obama's decision
by Steve M, Thu Dec 03, 2009 at 05:55:31 AM EST
I wrote a long comment on a front-page diary by Jerome criticizing Obama's decision to escalate in Afghanistan. My comment was so long that by the time I finished it, Jerome had apparently pulled the diary. Whether he's going to repost it or what have you, I figured in my narcissistic way that I ought to preserve those thoughts of mine rather than have them float off into the ether.
The spirit of my comments is not so much a defense of the escalation as concern about where some of the critics are coming from. I've read many thoughtful critiques of the Afghanistan agenda from a policy perspective and I don't know enough to tell any of those critics that they're wrong. But there are some people who knew the right answer 5 seconds after they heard the problem, who don't seem to be able to credit opposing arguments or address them on the merits, and assume that anyone who supports the escalation (Obama included) must be acting out of some knee-jerk hawkish ideology or maybe some cynical political ploy to please some constituency or another. Anyway, here's what I had to say to Jerome earlier.
-- I wonder if there's any room in this analysis for a component of simply trying to make the right policy decision. I mean, by all accounts a truly amazing deliberative process was employed here. As a candidate, Obama told us he felt we had national interests in Afghanistan that were worth pursuing further, but once you're in the White House that's where the rubber meets the road. You finally get access to all the people and all the information you need to make a decision about what's best for the country, and hopefully you make a good decision.
So you start off with an understanding of the national interests we hope to further in Afghanistan. You bring in the generals and the military planners and they tell you, here's what we think we can get done on the ground. You bring in the foreign policy experts and the diplomats from the State Department and they tell you, here are the angles, here are the alternatives, here are the risks and the downsides of your various options. Maybe I'm idealizing this process, but by all accounts people who experienced the dysfunctional decision-making process in the last administration ("What does Dick want to do?") are in awe of the way this White House listened to all options, gave all the voices a chance to be heard, in what they view as a 100% good-faith effort to reach the right decision. Look at Mike Mullen's comments the other day for an example.
Now maybe Michael Moore wasn't invited to the strategy sessions. But Karl Eikenberry, our ambassador to Afghanistan, is a hardcore skeptic and he most certainly was a central part of the process. So this is not another case of an administration that chooses to listen only to the data which supports its preconceived intention. All the evidence points to the idea that they sincerely tried to get it right.
Now of course, you can try your darndest to get something right and still get it wrong. I am not a cheerleader for this escalation, in fact I remain quite skeptical. It's just that because of the complexity of the decision (with all due respect to those who feel the most obvious thing ever is OUT NOW) and the depth of the process that was followed, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to this administration for now since I'm pretty sure I don't have all the answers myself.
But why is there this unwillingness to accept that maybe, just maybe, there was a good-faith effort to make a good policy decision in support of genuine American interests? Why does anyone insist on trying to write this off as the product of some knee-jerk hawkish ideology or a blatantly political effort to split the difference between various factions? I find the world is a cold, cold place when you go through life assuming that everyone who disagrees with you is acting in bad faith.