‘But Obama always said he would send more troops to Afghanistan’

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Yes he did.

In July of 2008 during the presidential campaign Obama wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times.

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan.

While this disappointed many of his supporters, it was widely regarded among progressives as a hat tip to the conservadems, and not really in character with his true anti-war persona.

Be that as it may, many are now defending Obama’s latest troop escalation declaring that he always promised us that he would increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

Let’s put an end to that assertion.

Obama sent about 40,000 troops to Afghanistan in April. They are still getting there. He is now sending 30,000 more. When he took office there were 27,000 troops in Afghanistan. This brings us to 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

In April 2008, shortly before Obama wrote his op-ed, there were 32,000.

When Obama wrote his op-ed piece there was not anyone in the country that believed that he was proposing that he would more than triple the force size in Afghanistan to over 100,000 troops.  A couple brigades was what he said.

Two brigades is 5,000 to 8,000 troops (a brigade is 2,500 to 4,000 troops). He is sending 70,000 more troops to Afghanistan, that’s around TWENTY brigades, many times anything he said he would do and completely in conflict with the spirit of his campaign rhetoric.

Right now he is giving the impression that he means that the troops will really start coming home in 2011. But what if we still have 100,000 plus in 2011 as the next campaign rolls out? Will he declare some sort of “victory” or “improvement” that permits us to bring a few home.

(By the way there are still 115,000 troops in Iraq. How many do you think will all be home by next summer when he has committed to removing all combat troops? We shall see…)

What Obama does time and time again is declare objectives that seem like they mean one thing but leave himself the wiggle room to do actually something very different while claiming that he lived up to letter of the commitment.

If in 2011 there are 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and he declares that he’s been so successful that he can “start to bring 10,000 home, will his campaign be saying he lived up to his promise to start to bring the troops home? We shall see…

But for right now, can we retire the assertion that Obama told us he planned to ratchet up the war in Afghanistan to this level, because he certainly did not.

Others now defend Obama’s Afghanistan troop escalation on the basis that he has a malleable nature of consideration and is willing upon receipt of new information or even simply through the process of decision making to modify his opinions and arrive at conclusions that may be quite different from where he started out.

I suspect that he is aware of this characteristic and that is why he so carefully circumscribes his position statements with waffle room.

He is not like Bush in that he does not harbor dogmatic fixed inflexible positions while brazenly lying to public. Even if Obama actually believes what he says when he is out campaigning and inspiring people with his visions of hope and change, he recognizes the need to hedge his bets. There is a craftiness about Obama that wants to have his cake and eat it to, in terms of achieving the maximum political effect of his stated positions while giving himself the most leeway to change those positions when the time comes. So there is a sort of self consistency with Obama that is different from the craven manipulations of Bush, but there is still something disingenuous about occupying both sides of an issue, even if you actually believe that you do.

Today in The Afghanistan Parenthesis David Bromwich writes:

Barack Obama is the most convincing person he knows. He can convince himself of a proposition, “A,” and a second proposition, “Not A,” and come to believe that the two may be combined. At West Point, he seemed to want to declare a policy and take it back in a single breath. But there are circles that can’t be squared; and it is with war as with other fatal commitments: the way in is not the way out.

Simply because there is some ethical justification for these about-faces in light of this thought process and reconsideration of matters, it does not change the fact that he repeatedly gives the impression that he will take a certain course and then later, upon reflection, changes course. It also does not change the fact that given his understanding of the possibility that in the fullness of time he may come to different conclusions, that he consistently frames issues in a manner that gives a certain impression but is left open to interpretation upon examination of the letter of his statements.

Obama seems capable of believing that he can not only appeal to two conflicting ideologies, but actually occupy two contradictory positions at the same time. The effectiveness of his campaign is that people took away from his speeches exactly what they wanted to hear, and concluded that he was with them. This works well for getting elected, but is now grinding up against the reality of his actions, and it is getting more difficult to square the circle.

UPDATE:  Here’s a related observation from Glen Greenwald today:

…like most Obama decisions, last night he incorporated enough of every side and paid homage to conflicting principles such that it’s impossible to identify what he really believes (“civilian trials are a fundamental American value and now we’ll deny them to many detainees” is quite similar to: “Afghanistan is in our absolute vital interest and we’ll start leaving in 18 months”).  He’s convinced his admirers that this is a form of noble “pragmatism” but, far more often, it appears to be a mishmash of political calculations bereft of principle and plagued by numerous internal contradictions that make it impossible to understand, let alone defend.  Everyone gets to read into it whatever they want to see.



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  1. The construction of this troop escalation announcement which contains a simultaneous statement to start withdrawing troops in 2011 seems almost too clever by a half. My suspicions are that no matter what happens in Afghanistan we are being set up for some sort of success to be announced just in time for the reelection campaign.

  2. That in 18 months, we can leave Karzai in power without him worrying about losing that power.

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