Meacham: The theme here is what you've learned. What's the hardest thing you've had to do?
The President: "Order 17,000 additional troops into Afghanistan. There is a sobriety that comes with a decision like that because you have to expect that some of those young men and women are going to be harmed in the theater of war. And making sure that you have thought through every angle and have put together the best possible strategy, but still understanding that in a situation like Afghanistan the task is extraordinarily difficult and there are no guarantees, that makes it a very complicated and difficult decision."
It was an interesting answer because, as many presidents have described that task as their hardest one, most notably (improbably), George Bush made the same observation about his escalated deployments. "Committing troops “is the last option for me . . . It's the hardest thing a President does,” Bush had said.
Indeed, the burden on a president to be correct in his judgment and expertise in the exercise of our military forces as commander-in-chief is made even more critical because of the autocratic manner in which the Executive has chosen in the past (and also in this new administration) to make those decisions about the increased deployments mostly independent from the body of opinion of our elected representatives in Congress.
That autocratic exercise of power and authority by the president in those 'extraordinary decisions is accommodated and encouraged by the collective neglect and indifference of recent Congresses in assuming their constitutional role in managing or influencing the actions of the Executive through the power of the money they reflexively relinquish to the White House and Pentagon to fuel their military adventures.
This present, Democratic Congress is just slightly better than others in the past who have regularly provided the White House with a slush fund of cash without any significant restrictions or timelines on the continued occupations, or any demand for a clear strategy of purpose or end to the military operations. The Obama White House has been only slightly better than the last administration in providing Congress (and the American people) reasons for remaining engaged in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president has plans for the occupations which are inherently political in their nature and application.That political consideration (both domestic and for the governments our military are protecting) makes up the bulk of the 'pragmatism' that's been attributed to the president's military policies. The rest looks to be a belief by Mr. Obama (or the influence on him by the military advisers and leadership he's chosen to surround himself with) in the nebulous theory of the prospect of success through the application of more military force - the Vietnam syndrome where 60-somethings are convinced that if we had just pressed harder and persisted with even more killing and even more destruction, that whatever goal or objective will succeed or prevail.
In the present dual-occupations, the goals and objectives have been defined in nation-building terms with political goals meshed with the grudging, vengeful, paranoid military offensive against remnants and ghosts of the original 9-11 fugitive terror suspects. Fealty given by this administration to the Bushian theory of 'fighting them there' is the hook which keeps us bogged down in the ridiculous defense against anyone who stands in the way of our advance across their sovereign homeland and identifies their cause with our al-Qaeda nemesis.
The fact is, we are still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan because there is an institutional insecurity in disengaging from battles where our military and government is well aware of the blowback effects from our years of reckless, flailing militarism. It's a weakness which began with Bush's simpering saber-rattling and swaggering threats which our collective asses had no real prospect of cashing. In the perpetuation of these occupations, you can see the limits in the exercise of our stunning military force in effecting the things that sustain societies and make them grow and prosper.
Yet, our present government and military leadership is still trying to convince us (through the acquiescence to more flailing militarism) that they can overtake the counter-productive effects and consequences which have graced our nation's military offensives in the region so far. Congress wants to 'give the new administration a year'. Obey said he gave Nixon a year, and that Obama deserved the same. That's as good an illustration as any of how little distance we've come in our thinking since that era.
What are the goals that the president wants to accomplish behind that deployment in Afghanistan? In his announcement of the decision to escalate the military force there, Mr. Obama described what is essentially an intention to defend Kabul against a retaking of the government there by the forces we ousted seven years ago - along with an escalated offensive against whatever remains of the original threat from 'al-Qaeda' can be found (along with whoever dares identify their resistance to the U.S. and NATO occupiers with the nemesis organization):
"Let me be clear." he said. " Al Qaeda and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban -- or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."
In making such a sweeping and presumptive determination about the value and need to defend the Afghan government against the 'Taliban', the president told Meecham that he had relied on his band of advisers in the military and other agencies to set his course and determine the best way to travel it:
Mr. Obama: "We__ embarked on a strategic review that involved every aspect of our government's involvement—Defense, State Department, intelligence operations, aid operations. Once that strategic review had been completed, then I sat in a room with the principals and argued about it, and listened to various perspectives, saw a range of options in terms of how we could move forward; asked them to go back and rework their numbers and reconsider certain positions based on the fact that some of the questions I asked could not be answered. And when I finally felt that every approach—every possible approach—had been aired, that all the questions had either been answered or were unanswerable, at that point I had to make a decision and I did."
In that explanation, there is not one word from the president about seeking or heeding any recommendations from representatives in Congress - not even from members of his own party. It may be that he's convinced he has Congress in the bag over the almost $100 billion emergency' supplemental-to-end-all supplemental they're lining up to load up with their own obligatory goodies and pass on to his signature. It may have something to do with the easy hundreds-of-billions more cash contained in the general budget for his continuing and escalating military operations which promises to follow the same expedient route to his desk to help him on his decidedly autocratic way.
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