Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Progressives Need Not Hide Their Disappointment

Let me quickly rebut the notion that the progressive base "knew this was coming when they voted him." It is true that Obama always said this was a war that required increased focus, and that he would send more troops. However, people quickly forget that President Obama already has escalated the war. In March, Obama gave a speech highlighting the importance of the war in Afghanistan, and deployed 34,000 additional troops. Now granted, they haven't all been there long enough to make a serious impact, but let's not pretend that's not a dramatic surge. Folks, that is doubling the size of U.S forces in Afghanistan from the last year of the Bush presidency. I think that would have sufficed as far as living up to campaign rhetoric.

But you know what? Instead of getting better, the situation in Afghanistan has been getting worse throughout 2009. This summer featured the highest casualty rates of the entire war for U.S soldiers. The Taliban march with impunity across vast swaths of the country. The country has largely turned against the corrupt Karzai government. Progressives, seeing Obama as either one of their own, or perhaps coming from a common ancestor, felt that maybe Obama would see the unraveling shit-show, and seriously rethink the implications of "doubling-down" in Afghanistan. We now know that even partial withdrawal from Afghanistan was never seriously discussed as an option.

Thus, Obama disappointed the progressive base that fought for him throughout the primary season when he said: "I don't want to just end the (Iraq) war, but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place." Calling this "The Obama Doctrine," the American Prospect wrote that Obama was "offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we've heard from a serious presidential candidate in decades." This is as strong a progressive clarion call as an anti-war activist could hope for.

Then he sent 21,000 extra troops, which was somewhat expected, based on campaign rhetoric. Then he sent 13,000 more. Then he weighed a series of options on how to continue the war, but refused to consider any option that did not involve sending at least 10,000 soldiers and increasing air raids. Then he sent 30,000 more troops, making the announcement in front hundreds of young cadets for whom dissent was not a professional option. The close advisers who helped him craft this decision were all hawkish Democrats or hawkish Republicans, the pacifist wing represented by Vice President Biden, who voted for the war in Iraq in 2002 and himself supported more troops being sent to Afghanistan.

Look at that last paragraph and tell me that progressives don't have a right to be disappointed with Obama's Afghanistan war policy. Sure, there was little drama going into last night. But let's be honest- he's let us down. He'll have plenty of opportunities to make it up, be they his handling of Iraq, healthcare, or the honesty of his 2011 withdrawal pledge for this war. This, however, was not what I campaigned for, what I voted for.

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