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Obama’s Tortured Rationale

In an extremely interesting column in CounterPunch Gareth Porter documents the evolution of administration rationalizing of the Afghan War escalation.

I have compared Obama to Hamlet, wrestling with the generals’ demands and the sentiments of his liberal base, delaying a decision on troop strength, “dithering” as Cheney puts it. Porter gives a fairly precise chronology of the regime’s internal dialectic from September to November:

Sept. 21: Washington Post publishes article by Bob Woodward with excerpts from Gen. McChrystal’s “Initial Assessment” with its warning of “mission failure” if his troop deployment request is rejected. Anonymous White House official responds that the military is trying to pressure Obama on the issue. One official criticizes chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen for suggesting the war in Afghanistan would “probably need more forces.”

Obama tells press conference that Afghan government’s legitimacy may have been so undermined that a counterinsurgency strategy will not succeed and states we should not “think that by sending more troops, we’re automatically going to make Americans safe.”

Sept. 27: Washington Post publishes Woodward interview with national security advisor Gen. James Jones in which Jones questions McChrystal’s argument that al-Qaeda would be moving back into Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan from havens in Pakistan.

Oct. 1: McChrystal gives a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London in which he argues, “[W]hen the Taliban has success, that provides sanctuary from which al-Qaeda can operate transnationally.” This implies that the Taliban needn’t reacquire state power to provide sanctuary for al-Qaeda and provides a broader justification for continued “counterinsurgency.” (Porter doesn’t mention it in his piece, but McChrystaL was rebuked the next day in a face-to-face meeting with Obama in Copenhagen for his comments, and criticized implicitly by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and national security advisor James Jones for stepping outside the chain of command in making them. There were calls for his ouster.)

Oct. 4:  New York Times reports “senior administration officials” stating that Obama’s national security team was “arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States.” One of the officials interviewed says explicitly that the administration was now defining the Taliban as a group that “does not express ambitions of attacking the United States,” that the Taliban were aligned with al-Qaeda “mainly on the tactical front,” and could not be defeated militarily because they were too deeply entrenched in Afghan society.

But in the next few weeks Gates works feverishly with chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, McChrystal and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (against Vice President Joe Biden) to promote a plan to “protect” about 10 population centers with increased troop strength, leaving Special Forces and drones to cope with “insurgents” elsewhere.

This will be sold as a “compromise” plan (out of four) and the announcement of the details left to the oratory of the president whom, Gates knews well, wants to be seen as a uniting, judicious figure on the right side of his national security team.

Nov. 11: the national security apparatus led by Gates, Mullen and Clinton, coalesce around the plan for 30,000 more troops.

Porter points out that Obama previously rejected his own surge rationale, as expressed in his speech Tuesday night—that is the national security rationale. The escalation is for a “vital national interest,” he told his audience of cadets, warning them that more attacks on the U.S. from Afghanistan “are now being planned as I speak.”

Does he really believe his own rhetoric? I think he has “coalesced” around an argument crafted by his national security apparatus, which isn’t really concerned with national security or interest (in the sense of your security or interest or mine), but the expansion and projection of a kind of malevolent power and control that just shouldn’t be.

What is for sure being planned as we speak is the ongoing attack on Afghanistan by the U.S. eight years after Arabs, not Afghans, crashed planes into New York City and Washington DC and after the Arabs have all been driven out of Afghanistan.

It doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.

Senior White House officials know that the Taliban doesn’t threaten the U.S. But somehow the military won in this struggle, and the McChrystal line of argument (fear mongering) won out too. Obama is part of a system he cannot change had he ever wanted to, the imperialist president of an imperialist country deeply entrenched in an imperialist war. Such wars can never be justified to the people frankly, for what they’re worth, but have to be based on lies and supported by fear.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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