Quick reactions to the President’s speech on the conflict in Afghanistan: I thought the first twenty minutes of the President’s speech were pretty good given that he would not have been elected without widespread anti-war sentiment throughout the country. The anti-war stance is not limited to the Left, by the way. Periodically, I argue with the pacifist sentiments my friends at the libertarian Independent Institute express all the time. (Link to the Institute’s website on the front page of this blog.)
The speech was well delivered, as usual. The choice of a backdrop of young cadets under military discipline was both prudent and a little pathetic. As for content, the speech promised to do what needs to be done to contain the Taliban and to restrict Al Qaida’s freedom of action. It did not mention victory. Like everyone else, I am disturbed by the narrowness of the means he promised the armed forces to do the job.
Thirty-thousand more troops rather than the forty-thousand General McChrystal requested sounds like me buying a carpet in Istanbul: “The s.o.b is asking for forty, he must expect thirty-five; I will give him thirty.”
Like everyone else also, I think the main part of the speech was his giving an exit date, however tentative. Yet, I am not ready to condemn this categorically. On the one hand, it’s pretty sure the terrorists will interpret the announcement to mean that if they will hunker down a bit and be patient, they will soon be able to go back to turning the country back to the 8th century. Al Qaida, for sure, can wait us out for eighteen months. Some of our current allies will also become discouraged. Worst of all, the always-fickle public opinion in Pakistan might turn against us. The current democratic government of that country has finally waken up. It’s unrealistic to expect it to act steadfastly against the wishes of its overwhelmingly anti-American public if it looks like we will be in the neighborhood for only a short time.
On the other hand, a warning to the Afghan government to get its act together makes sense. The political class of Afghanistan seems to have been acting as if the struggle against the Taliban was not much their business. They have engaged in little games for power and control, fraught with corruption, under the protection of the NATO umbrella. If they come to believe that there is a good chance the umbrella might be folded, it might cause them to get serious. The main form of this corruption is the failure to raise and train armed forces commensurate with the problems Afghanistan faces, or even appropriate to its population size. One thing must be pretty clear to the Afghan political class: If the Taliban overrun their country, they will die in large numbers. And of course, little girls will be prevented from going to school again.
For a historical precedent on the passivity our military presence induces: Am I the only conservative who suspects that the Iraqi political class begun to get serious only when it became clear our troops wouldn’t be in Iraq forever?
The last part of the President’s speech was rambling, unfocused, largely irrelevant. I don’t know why he spent so much time on the financial costs of military action, or whom he thought he was addressing. Here is what I re-learned in this connection, from his own mouth:
My household’s share of the anticipated cost of military action in Afghanistan for the next year is about $200. That’s quite a bit less than we spend on booze. We can sustain this expenditure and more forever. The President also reminded me that my wife’s and my cost jointly for Iraq and Afghanistan to-date was $6,600. That’s spread over eight years. It looks like a lot of money. Yet subjectively (there is no other way) I think it was a better investment than anything I did during that particular period.
Remains the toll in blood and in ruined lives of young military men and women. Liberals and other isolationists exploit this issue shamelessly. Conservatives don’t talk enough among themselves about this awful subject.
A guy comes out of my neighbor’s house and kills my brother. I ask him to turn over the killer. He refuses. I throw him out of his house. He tries to come back. I try to kill him. If I don’t, every hood in town is going to try to murder me and mine. It’s no more complicated than this. But Benjamin Franklin said it best:
“If we make ourselves into sheep, the wolves will eat us.”