Had Hillary Clinton renounced her pro-Iraq war vote and mounted an unambiguously anti-war campaign, I believe she’d be president, having won over liberals, women, blue collar and Bush-fatigued centrists. No Republican matched Barack Obama as contender, and none would have beaten either top Democrat. Despite huge head starts in money, celebrity, experience, and party support, Hillary’s stubborn refusal to reject one “dumb war” tied her to entrenched Washington values, not just Bush-Cheney’s perverse belligerence, but her husband’s establishment presidency, too.
Despite paying dearly for an avoidable blunder, Sec’y of State Clinton is duplicating the error today, standing with hawkish, entrenched, military voices, disdainful of history and prescient anti-war polling. Though demonstrably smarter than W., Hillary likewise cannot admit error or apparently learn from failure. Siding with war secretary Gates and Joint Chief head Mullen, she’s pushing for 30K more soldiers, which many translate to double that to achieve their new, anti-insurgency objective. Relevant again is Einstein’s notion of insanity, doing the same failed action and expecting a different result. Not even the top Afghan general, McChrystal, assures us there’s a military solution.
A Woman, Not Minority, Was Due
For years, common wisdom, expert and amateur, was sure the U.S. would elect a woman before any dark-skinned, or demonstrably ethnic minority, took the White House. Aside from his vivid ’04 Convention speech, only President Obama’s obscure ’02 anti-war quip (rejecting “dumb wars”) initially put him on the map – indeed, from day one separated him, inaccurately, from Hillary – for anti-war centrists and liberals sick to death of the GOP, incumbents or family dynasties.
Obama won not because his feel-good generalities were new, or unique, or distinct from Hillary’s, but his rhetoric and image confronted the Bush status quo, dogged by dragging us into unwinnable wars. True, Obama ran a far superior, more focused, better staffed race than Hillary – and never deserted his open-ended, good news message. At times, Obama was more aggressive, as about Pakistan, than Clinton, promising to violate sovereign borders with unmanned drones (done!) and escalate troops in Afghanistan (done once, more coming).
It was the war, stupid!
For many, Hillary’s positions topped Obama on health care reform, on gay and women’s rights, on labor rights, and on the telling FISA vote (she opposed, he extended Bush mistakes); they were comparable on education, energy, government/business reforms, and tepid rejection of the misguided Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism regime.
Thus, this week I note confirmation that pits hawkish Hillary, Gates and Mullen against “moderates” V.P. Biden, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and Afghan Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. The non-hawks aren’t exactly doves, but they channel what independent experts insist: with no chance to defeat the insurgency, focus on terrorism and social order. All the surges represent stop-gaps, in any case, to gain time and dream a magical exit strategy appears, anything better than W.’s contemptuous “cutting and running.”
Bad Afghan options: pick ‘em
1) low option: 10-15K troops, focus anti-terrorism, wary of President Karsai (Biden), considered high risk.
2) medium-high option: 40K plus, probably double eventually, focus counterinsurgency (McChystal and Patraeus), also high risk alone.
3) hybrid: 30K troops, seek NATO help (Clinton, Gates, Mullen), considered high risk without another 40K surge.
4) no transparency option: White House covers up exact escalation and/or changed mission.
Odds favor Obama escalates, but of late he’s at least pausing to demand an exit plan, which is praiseworthy (though full departure is unimaginable). Top foreign policy experts, counter-terrorism pro Richard Clarke and senators Carl Levin and John Kerry, oppose McChrystal’s escalation, uncertain in size and duration. Washington was shocked when former four star general and member of the war council Eikenberry came out against new troops until Karsai deters rampant, country-wide, divisive corruption (don’t hold your breath).
A Hero Who Learns from Failure
The even more unexpected, anti-surge critic is the decorated, former combat Marine, Matthew Hoh, who resigned in protest two weeks ago as the most senior U.S. Afghan civilian in the hotbed Zabul province. His condemnation and logic are withering: he refused to assure “American families their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost [and] promised dreams unkept.”
1) The Afghanistan war “has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency.”
2) With “multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups,” the insurgency “is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies.”
3) U.S. and NATO presence in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and non-Pastun soldiers and police, “provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified.”
After eight grueling years, Bush made us hostile occupiers without clear mission statement, exit strategy, justification on national interest, significant allies, or confidence any present goal is achievable. If Hillary the enduring hawk ties her legacy to this failed arrogance, she invites a second snake bite: one Mid-east war ruined her White House bid while another promises to cement her place in the Bush-Cheney-Rice-Clinton imperialist hall of shame.
Listen to the People
Her hawkishness turns as well against steady majorities that have long since rejected both Iraq and Afghanistan. Most reject any more escalations, and 90% dismiss the unbelievably corrupt Karsai government as a dead-end, loser partnership. CNN reported 58% are today anti-war, knowing behind this alleged “war of necessity” is pointless, neocon Bushthink that has cost us thousands of deaths, many more permanent injuries, and civilian casualties no longer counted, mostly women and children too young to resist.
I predict when the Afghan ante mounts, and hundreds, or thousands, of American soldiers return in body bags, whatever good President Obama achieves will be undercut, as Vietnam did LBJ, by an endlessly drawn-out Asian land war against a divided, indigenous population. To sum up, recall the last words in David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” from the humane doctor appalled by the final slaughter, “Madness! Madness!”