Across the left and among progressives, there is angst about President Obama’s decision to add 17,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan. Among neoconservatives and the right — judging from a session that I attended yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute — there is angst of another kind. They’re worried that Afghanistan is a “war that we may walk away from,” as Danielle Pletka, AEI’s vice president for foreign defense policy studies put it. And they’re very worried that the Obama administration doesn’t have the stomach to pursue “victory” there. Lets hope they’re right.
True, Obama said he’s ordering the dispatch of 17,000 troops to bolster the 36,000 US forces already in country. But there’s lots of room for a new policy to emerge, since virtually every part of the US national security apparatus is conducting a review of the war, including one led at the White House by Bruce Riedel, who served as Obama’s top adviser on Afghanistan-Pakistan during the campaign. There are few doves doing the reviews, but it isn’t at all clear that they’ll endorse the “long war” strategy pushed by General McKiernan, the US commander in Afghanistan, who’s predicting that he’ll need tens of thousands more troops who’ll have to fight a war that might last five years or more. And, at AEI at least, there is great concern that the left and anti-war Democrats will convince Obama not to fight that war.
First to speak at AEI was Tom Donnelly, the thinktank’s top defense analyst and former deputy executive director of the Project for a New American Century. (PNAS, of course, was the hawkish combine that pushed hard for the war in Iraq in the 1990s, with the backing of Dick Cheney, Doug Feith, and Paul Wolfowitz.) Donnelly complained that public opinion and “elite opinion” are rapidly shifting against the war. The notion that Afghanistan is “Obama’s Vietnam” is gaining currency, spreading from the left into the mainstream media. And he noted that polls show that only 34 percent of Americans support an escalation in Afghanistan, while an equal number supports getting out. The war will be a “critical test for Barack Obama,” he said, who will be “tested by the hard-core left in the Democratic Party.”