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A Right-winger Looks at US Policy in the Mideast

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Frank Gaffney, writing in the Washington Times, made a statement that caught my eye after it was reprinted in Media Matters.

If Mr. Obama persists in the latter, his already checkered record as commander in chief (sic) may make him... [emphasis added]

This statement puzzled me as I wasn't aware of Obama failing in his duties as Commander-in-Chief in any significant way. Turns out that Gaffney was complaining about things like the scheduled US withdrawal of troops from Iraq. This was a withdrawal that President G.W. Bush agreed to after both the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and presidential candidate Barack Obama agreed that US troops simply had to leave. The other presidential candidate, John McCain, grumbled a bit, but agreed with the other three that the US simply had to leave Iraq. Gaffney comes up with arguments as to why Obama should turn around and break the agreement made back in 2008, such as: Iraqis may have changed their minds and might want US troops to remain, the neighboring country of Iran essentially ends up as the victor of the Iraq War and "the immense investment we have made in lives and treasure" will have been wasted.

Problem is, all of these drawbacks were obvious in 2008 when the agreement to pull out was made. The only possible exception is that Gaffney suggests that Iraqis may have changed their minds on US troops leaving Iraq, but that seems highly unlikely and Gaffney doesn't provide any kind of proof by linking to anything that might constitute evidence. Remember, Muntadhar al-Zeidi "gained cult status" by hurling his shoes at G.W. Bush, a sign of great disrespect in Arab culture. If it was a popular idea for US troops to remain there, why would al-Zeidi's shoe-tossing have been such a big deal?

So Gaffney is calling Obama weak on national defense because he is refusing to break an agreement that was agreed to by the four principal players in the situation several years ago.

Gaffney celebrates

the valor of our troops and others trying to build a 21st-century nation (Afghanistan) out of a backward sixth-century tribal/Islamist entity which sounds really wonderful, but what's the likelihood of success when the US has less than one percent of its population that's actively engaged in that project? There is absolutely nothing in our popular culture about this struggle. There is no modern-day equivalent of the Rudyard Kipling novel Kim, that was written in 1900 about the Great Game in Afghanistan and was widely popular in Britain. What popular movies, TV series, magazines or even websites are concerned with the wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan? It's not that no one is aware of the fighting over there, but when the information on those two wars are presented only to a small and select audience and when soldiers who are taking part in it are on their third or fourth or even fifth or sixth tours of duty, which even in 2008, were getting pretty exhausting, I just don't see that Americans in general are engaged.

Looking at the polls, it's far from clear that Americans citizens even approve of our troops being over there to start with. PollingReport.com quotes the AP-GfK Poll of May 5-9 of 2011 to say that 59% of the public opposes the war in Afghanistan, 80% approve of the official plan to leave there and 57% think the pace of the withdrawal is about right. 
With the Republican Party making all sorts of noise about the US overspending and insisting that Congress can't even deliver on disaster relief unless Democrats agree to still further cuts in the budget, I just can't see US citizens agreeing that the project of building Afghanistan into a modern nation is something that they feel any real or serious commitment to.

Sorry, but the question is not "How ignominious will be our defeat," but "who cares?"

"Then there is Mr. Obama's first 'elective war,'" i.e., Libya. I generally agree with Gaffney's lack of enthusiasm and have lots of reservations on that war myself, but one item I don't have the slightest concern over is that Mr. Obama has tried to limit the costs and offload responsibility for this fiasco onto the French, British and other NATO allies.

That's precisely as it should be. If we're going to be involved over there to begin with, why on Earth would it be a problem for the US to have allies in the effort? The US has far more buy-in and approval from not only NATO countries, but from neighboring Arab and Muslim countries than G.W. Bush did not have before the invasion of Iraq.

For some odd reason, Gaffney identifies the following as a problem:

In his speech last week to what he calls "the Muslim world," the president made it U.S. policy to support whoever manages to get elected in the various nations of North Africa and the Middle East currently undergoing political upheavals.

Uh, more idealistic Americans might refer to that as "supporting democracy," which, as far as I'm aware, is something that Americans generally endorse. If the US is going to ignore existing political groups, then the only option for carrying out various political projects is to implement them via military occupation. As I pointed out above with Afghanistan, that's really not an option at all. If the US doesn't work with local groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, then the US is free to pack up its things and go home. Regardless of how many problems US policymakers might have with the Muslim Brotherhood, the option of working without them or around them simply doesn't exist.

Gaffney appears to believe that the US is an energetic and ascendant empire that has unlimited resources that it can commit to the various projects it has going on in the Mideast. Sorry, but that's what G.W. Bush believed as well and his invasion of Iraq rapidly turned into a quagmire.

No, I don't agree that President Obama has a "checkered record as commander-in-chief (sic)," I think President Obama has played a so-so poker hand about as well as it can be played given the realities on the ground over there and with US public opinion.
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PN3(Ret), USN, 1991-2001. Done a number of clerical-type jobs. Computer "power user," my desktop is a Windows machine, but my laptop is an Ubuntu Linux. Articles usually cross-posted at http://www.prawnblog.blogspot.com Personal details at (more...)
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