If the president approves the McChrystal plan he will implicitly:I think this puts into words my sense of why I am for deescalation and withdrawal from Afghanistan, as quickly as possible. I don't want the U.S. to be an empire. I want to see us move away from our globe-spanning network of military bases, our quick reliance on the threat of war (and, all too often, on war) as our "number one instrument of diplomacy". I want us not to spend huge sums of money on making weapons. I don't want us engaged in any number of military actions not in response to a direct threat. I want us, in other words, to stand down -- militarily -- unless it's really necessary.
• Anoint counterinsurgency - protracted campaigns of armed nation-building - as the new American way of war.
• Embrace George W. Bush’s concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label “global war on terror’’).
• Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.
Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose - despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq - is to preserve the status quo....
If the president assents to McChrystal’s request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned.... As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That “keeping Americans safe’’ obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial.
And since no one has articulated why Afghanistan is really necessary -- certainly not from the point of view of American interests, and certainly not in a way consonant with the resources it is taking (and will take) -- we should get out.
Of course, this is a focus on what Afghanistan will mean to us, and to the planet more broadly, and not to the people most directly affected, i.e. those of Afghanistan. This is because I know a fair bit about the U.S., and some about the globe, but very little about Afghanistan. I also think that Americans should make their decisions on these matter on the joint bases of what is best for us, i.e. Americans, and for the planet as a whole, rather than in the interests of any other country -- about which, in any event, we are generally quite ill-equipped to judge. -- Still, I admit that there may be an argument for staying that is made genuinely and convincingly on their behalf -- although given recent politics any such arguments should be, in my view, guilty until proven innocent of being mere pretense for neoconservative (or neoliberal) war mongering and empire building. Imperialists always claim (at least in the modern age) to be acting in the interests of their imperial subjects, but those subjects, oddly enough, rarely see it that way.
So, in the meantime, I'm for trying to wrest America back from its status as an empire and back towards its status as a democratic republic.
Alas, there isn't really a political party that supports this position (the closest you can come is Ron Paul -- and he's odious on lots of other grounds). Our current political debate is more or less divided between insane imperialism (Republicans who want to go to war at the drop of a hat) and sane but still quite imperial imperialism ("centrist" Democrats) -- and Obama is definitely the latter. During the campaign he had mixed messages on this point -- he was able to win because of the space for an anti-Iraq candidate that Hillary Clinton's support of the war had opened up, and the foreign policy people supporting him tended to be Iraq skeptics and otherwise on the somewhat less militaristic side of the spectrum -- but then he brought the hawks on board, appointed Hillary Clinton his Sec of State, and pushed ahead with all the wars and executive power that comes with them. Hoping for much else was fairly far-fetched -- but I hoped for better than we've gotten, and not, I think, for no reason.
Do read the entirety of Bacevich's op-ed. It's a strong articulation of a crucial point -- maybe the crucial point -- in the Afghanistan debate.
Although I must admit I can't bring myself to be as hopeful as Bacevich about there being any possibility other than a decision for more war and the national security state, government of, by and for the military-industrial-political complex. (For more on the "political" angle here, see Greenwald.) I find it almost impossible to imagine the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate choosing anything other than more war -- at the very least, than a continuance of the American empire in all its fetid splendor.