Being president of the United States has some perquisites.
You get a house. You never have to stop at red lights. And you're pretty much guaranteed a multimillion dollar payday for your excruciatingly dull post-presidential memoir. Yes, I'm talking to you, Bill My Life Clinton.
The job also has downsides. You never really have a day off. Crazy people are trying to murder you. And no matter how much you want to punch him on his whiny mouth, you actually have to be polite to Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Perhaps the biggest downside is that, regardless of your policy ambitions, job one for every new president is mopping up the poop left behind by the last guy.
No modern president has walked into a more poop-drenched Oval Office than Barack Obama. F.D.R. handed World War II to Truman, but the U.S. was just four months shy of total, unambiguous victory at the time of Roosevelt's death.
Obama was handed two big, unwinnable wars and a national economy in its steepest decline since the Great Depression.
The Iraq war has been the easier of the two wars for Obama to manage. War-weary Americans want out because they never wanted in. And war-hungry Americans think it's OK to withdraw because they think Bush won the war. With the public on his side, Obama has been able to ratchet down troop levels with few objections. When's the last time you heard a U.S. politician demand that Obama pour more resources into Iraq?
Obama's plan for Afghanistan is conceptually straightforward: Apply the political and military lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan. Escalate the war. Tell everyone how successful escalating the war has been. Declare victory. Get out.
Will it work? It depends on what you mean by "work."
If by "work" you mean Afghanistan will be so peaceful, prosperous and democratic that U.S. and NATO troops can declare victory and go home, then the answer is, hell no. Afghanistan is a stinky poo-pile of poverty, corruption and violence. It will be for a long time.
But if by "work" you mean the Obama troop surge can create the political conditions that might make a U.S. withdrawal politically feasible, then yes, the plan can work. The odds aren't great, though.
The Iraq lesson Obama seems to be applying to Afghanistan is the so-called surge. The U.S. military in Iraq, led by Surgin' Gen. David Petraeus, did a much better job at counterinsurgency in 2007 and 2008 than it did from 2003 through 2006.
But did the surge "win" the Iraq war? Hardly. A much bigger factor was the successful ethnic cleansing of Iraq. The U.S. invasion kicked off a sectarian civil war pitting Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim Arabs and Sunni Muslim Arabs. Prior to the U.S. invasion, Baghdad was a mixed city, probably even majority Sunni. Today, Baghdad is believed to be roughly 85 percent Shi'ite.
Where'd the Sunnis go? Tens of thousands died. Millions more ran away. Earlier this year, the United Nations estimated 2 million Iraqis now live as refugees outside Iraq, while another 2.6 million are displaced within Iraq. Violence in Iraq ebbed in large part because the killers ran out of people to kill. Americans act as if the surge extinguished a fire in Iraq. In fact, the fire just ran out of fuel.
Can the U.S. re-create the same conditions in Afghanistan? I don't believe so. Iraq was an organized, coherent nation-state with a history of centralized rule before we got there. Afghanistan was none of those things. Building a new government in Iraq to replace Saddam wasn't easy, but it wasn't nearly as hard as it's been in Afghanistan.
Another big difference between Iraq and Afghanistan is the ethnic mix. In Iraq, the U.S. backed an ascendant majority, Shi'ites Arabs. In Afghanistan, we're backing security forces dominated by ethnic minority Tajiks and Uzbeks. With or without our help, they're never going to crush the ethnic Pashtun-dominated Taliban movement.
Our goal, it appears to me, is to hammer the Taliban movement really hard over the next year, then try to reach a face-saving truce: "We'll stop killing you if you vow not to harbor al-Qaida again." It's not really victory, but it's the best we can hope for.
@Mike I haven't done a formal survey or anything but I'm guessing most of my…
Then read the rest, "shall not be infringed." Free people have the right, by virtue…
We have cars that can go 250 miles on an electric charge, rovers on mars,…
that's true. i love capital letters. i figured you needed all the help you can…
Caps, ad hominems, AND a link? You win, guy.