President Obama delivered a carefully-constructed and nuanced call Tuesday night for the extension of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Obama came to the wrong conclusion about a military adventure that should be coming to a conclusion, rather than ramping up. But Obama’s attempt to find a middle ground between anti-war forces and supporters of a Iraq-style occupation at least recognized that the debate over Afghanistan has many sides and many players.
At times, Obama seemed so tortured in his attempt to placate both those who want to send more troops (he’s dispatching an additional 30,000) and those who want a bring-the-troops-home exit strategy (he says they will start coming home in 2011) that his speech had the ring of Greek tragedy – or, perhaps, “fall of the Roman Empire” history.
Unfortunately, there has been nothing artful about the media coverage of Obama’s speech.
Most of the coverage has followed the predictable patterns of the post-September 11 “war on terror” era.
Compromise, even bad compromise that keeps the U.S. involved in a quagmire, is portrayed as rational, and probably necessary, while blunt calls for rapid withdrawal or all-out war are dismissed as outside the realm of reason.
So it is that we are left with in murky-middle moment where prominent Democrats rally, for the most part, to back the president even when he embarks on what House Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisconsin, refers to as a “fool’s errand,” while prominent Republicans such as House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, whine that the president is not doing enough.
In fact, the picture has more shades of grey than the pundits would have us believe.
There remains substantial Democratic discomfort with Obama’s plan to surge tens of thousands ofd additional troops into what – despite all that talk of an exit strategy – is sounding more and more like an endless war of whim. One hundred members of the House, the vast majority of them Democrats, have now sponsored Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern’s call for the development of a formal plan to bring the troops home. In the Senate, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders make no secret of the fact that they believe the president is making a mistake, as does House Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisconsin, the author of the “fool’s errand” characterization.