It has been my goal in writing this blog to try to keep the tone always civil, respectful and positive. Feeling that there are already plenty of critics out there, I decided back when I set up this site just before last year's election, to offer only support for the new administration. I also try to echo President Obama's post-partisan, inclusive tone. Sometimes, however, a bit of rudeness may be called for. At least that is my reaction to the comments of former vice-president Cheney as reported in this morning's paper. Where does Dick Cheney get off complaining that President Obama is "dithering" in Afghanistan, and insinuating that he is putting troops in danger by undertaking a careful study of our aims and strategy in that country? There are so many ways in which this statement is inappropriate I don't have time to list them all.
First, wasn't it the Bush administration, while supporting the initial invasion of Afghanistan and overthrow of the Taliban in a very expeditious manner, that then became distracted by Iraq, and dithered itself in Afghanistan for more than six years? Isn't it the Obama administration that has already committed substantially more resources to Afghanistan than did Bush and Cheney? So who was dithering? Who was putting an inadequate number of troops in harm's way? Who was not trying to "win"? Who took their eyes off the ball, allowing Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts to escape to the mountains, probably in Pakistan, while they launched a poorly-planned invasion of Iraq?
Second, let's remember Dick Cheney's response when critics of the Bush administration's war policies questioned his strategy. He either told people outright to shut up because they did not have access to the information he had, or he questioned their patriotism or resolve. So perhaps Dick Cheney ought to take his own advice and allow the new administration to have a chance to implement a new strategy.
Third, what is wrong with taking the time to get this problem right? Not only are there domestic political considerations that must be taken into account in deciding whether to risk substantial American resources and lives in a protracted struggle in Afghanistan, there are also real military and political considerations in Afghanistan itself that must also be addressed. For one thing, we want to make sure we are supporting a legitimate government in Afghanistan, not one that appears to have rigged an election and engaged in other forms of corruption. We have seen what happens when an outside power tries to prop up a government that lacks popular support. Such efforts are doomed to failure regardless of the resources committed. We have also seen what happens, as Bush and Cheney so beautifully demonstrated in the poorly-implemented occupation of Iraq, when we try to meddle in the affairs of another country in too heavy-handed a manner. We end up fomenting an insurgency, instead of creating a stable government, and creating more problems for ourselves than the ones we tried to solve.
Fourth, it is downright unpatriotic and subversive to suggest that undertaking a careful study of our objectives in Afghanistan could be dangerous to the troops. What purpose can someone have in making such reckless comments other than to encourage those who lose relatives or friends to this struggle to blame the new administration's policies for such deaths? Dick Cheney should know better than that. He knows that the foremost objective of our military has for years been what they call force protection. Whether we have 1000 or 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, Dick Cheney knows that our commanders' first goal is to try to keep casualties to a minimum. Dick Cheney also knows that increasing the commitment of troops is not likely to reduce the number of casualties.
I am not one of those who advocates simply pulling the troops out of Afghanistan. I think it could be disastrous if the Taliban were to return to power, and I think we are right to try to prevent that from happening. But I also think the Obama administration is absolutely right to take the time necessary to re-assess our strategy carefully, and make sure we are not engaging in an unproductive mission. For critics like Dick Cheney to argue that what we need to do is to commit blindly to massive increases in war-fighting capability in Afghanistan without taking the time to explore alternatives, and find out whether such an effort would be feasible or effective, just reveals his own failure to learn from his own mistakes, as well as his own insecurities about being questioned about those mistakes. Dick Cheney kept himself insulated from most questioning during the years he exercised a great deal of power running the government. He has no business trying to create the kind of dissension and trouble for the new administration that he would never have tolerated when he was in power.