At my Daybook today I link to a remarkable Garry Wills blog item at The New York Review of Books site, in which he reveals that he is breaking a kind of embargo a year after he and other historians had dinner with President Obama. It seems that most of them warned him about the "folly" of continuing/escalating in Afghanistan—and Wills is sad and angry that the President didn’t listen one bit.
But warnings to Obama from reputable people had come long before that. The New York Times, for example, assembled a group of them who raised serious questions in November 2008, just three weeks after Obama won election.
In his race for the White House, Barack Obama called long and often for sending many more troops to Afghanistan (even before we withdrew quite a few from Iraq). It was a required thing to say on the campaign trail to show toughness and also to make the politically winning point that President Bush had fought the wrong war, in Iraq, when we had not yet cleaned out Afghanistan.
Did he really mean it, many wondered? If so, was it really the right thing to do, especially with our chief national security threat now coming from within—in the form of our economic crisis?
The New York Times in late November 2008 presented a host of op-eds on Iraq and Afghanistan, including one from a guy named Rumsfeld and another from someone called Chalabi. The ones related to the Afghan conflict should have raised questions for readers, and I hope, the Obama team. Just as the new pieces appeared, the Karzai government revealed that Obama had called the nation’s leader and pledged to increase US support. And the NATO commander said he wanted to nearly double troop strength there.
The prevous August, I devoted a column to this subject after a brief flurry of front-page articles on Afghanistan arrived to mark US deaths there finally hitting the 500 mark. The war in Afghanistan, long overlooked, was now getting more notice, I observed, before asking: "But does that mean the US, finally starting (perhaps) to dig out of Iraq, should now commit to another open-ended war, even for a good cause, not so far away?"
Nearly everyone in the media, and on the political stage, still called this the "good war." Few voices in the mainstream media—and even in the liberal blogosphere—had tackled this subject, partly because of long arguing for the need to take on Afghanistan as opposed to the "bad war" in Iraq. But now some commentators were starting to sound off on the dangers.
Thomas Friedman, more prescient here that he’d been on Iraq, had just warned, "The main reason we are losing in Afghanistan is not because there are too few American soldiers, but because there are not enough Afghans ready to fight and die for the kind of government we want….Obama needs to ask himself honestly: "Am I for sending more troops to Afghanistan because I really think we can win there, because I really think that that will bring an end to terrorism, or am I just doing it because to get elected in America, post-9/11, I have to be for winning some war?’"
Then, in that post-election op-ed group—none of them lefty peaceniks—the New York Times offered hard-boiled Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who warned: "Leaks of a new National Intelligence Estimate have shown that we are now losing the war for several reasons: a lack of Afghan competence; a half-hearted Pakistani commitment to the fight; a shortage of American, NATO and International Security Assistance Force troops; too few aid workers; and nation-building programs that were designed for peacetime and are rife with inefficiency and fraud."