Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 28, 2008
POLITICS/WAR: How Do You Ask A Frenchman To Be The Last Man To Die For Tax Cuts In Pennsylvania?

The "peace dividend" comes to Afghanistan

Barack Obama is trying to sell his request for more European troops in Afghanistan as a budget-savings move:

Barack Obama said Friday that persuading NATO allies to contribute more troops to Afghanistan could lead to U.S. troops cuts and help improve the U.S. economy, with reduced military expenditure being diverted into tax cuts to help middle class families.
Asked what message his traveling abroad three months before the election sent to Americans, Obama said getting commitments from the United States' partners would help address some of the domestic issues Americans are facing.
"If we have more NATO troops in Afghanistan, then that's potentially fewer American troops over the long term, which means we're spending fewer billions of dollars, which means we can invest those billions of dollars in making sure we're providing tax cuts to middle class families who are struggling with higher gas prices that will have an impact on our economy."

This is basically a replay of the early-90s Democratic theme that the declining Cold War defense budget should yield a "peace dividend" of expanded domestic spending; as it turns out, while defense cuts were needed, we still needed a military, and even in wartime the Bush Administration probably hasn't done enough to rebuild the size of the active armed forces. The last thing we need is a president who thinks that national security in an active theater of war is a prime target for penny-pinching. It's also a rehash of John Kerry's effort to turn Iraq into a domestic-spending issue. (Ironically, the same people making this argument screamed bloody murder when Paul Wolfowitz briefly floated the idea that the Iraqis themselves might be able to defray some of the costs of post-war reconstruction of their own country with their oil revenues).

Leave aside for now the fiction that Obama is going to pass a "middle class tax cut" (we all remember what happened to Bill Clinton's promise to do the same - it didn't last two weeks after the election). Obama thinks Americans will be happy to see somebody else spend blood and treasure in Afghanistan...but it doesn't seem to occur to him that Europeans are quite happy with the status quo precisely because they don't want to bear those burdens themselves.

A plea for more troops in Afghanistan was, as it happens, virtually the only concrete thing (and certainly the only one asking anything of his audience) in the warm drizzle of platitudes Obama delivered in Berlin. But he's shown no understanding of two basic facts. One, nations send their young men and women to war principally because of their own perceived interests and their own internal political dynamics. Obama, with the blithe confidence of a man accustomed to talking his way out of anything, seems to think that his silver tongue will be all it takes to shake more soldiers loose; this is a mirror image of the idea that somehow the U.S. would have some grander coalition of friendly nations if only we didn't have that meanie George W. Bush around, and it too is a rehash of the Kerry campaign. But Britain, Poland and Australia went to war in Iraq, and France, Germany and Turkey didn't, principally for reasons of their own leadership's perceptions of their national interests.

Even the New York Times recognizes that Obama can't just paper over these issues with 'just words':

Europeans are wary about Mr. Obama's call for more European money for defense and more soldiers for the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan....


Mr. Obama also called for a more muscular Europe to act with the United States in the common defense, a politically delicate matter here that is likely to prove an irritant no matter who wins the presidency.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has sent more troops to Afghanistan, but he has faced fierce political criticism for doing so. The Germans continue to be unwilling to send their troops from the safer northern provinces of Afghanistan to the south, where the Taliban is resurgent.

H/T (Note here too the irony: if Obama has any chance of succeeding in getting a more aggressive European response, it is only because parties of the Right now control France and Germany and, perhaps, will soon control Britain as well).

Second, while he gave a nod in his big national security speech to "greater contributions -- with fewer restrictions -- from NATO allies," Obama misses the fact that more European troops, especially from the Western European continental states, invariably means more restrictions on effective prosecution of war. A cumbersome joint multinational command was a serious handicap to U.S. efforts in Somalia and Kosovo, and even under Bush the Afghan operation has not been free of such difficulties with European troops who fight, if at all, under a patchwork of restrictive rules of engagement. John McCain, who unlike Obama isn't just making up his thinking about national security on the fly, has placed this obstacle at the center of his thinking about what more U.S. troops in Afghanistan should mean:

One of the reasons there is no comprehensive campaign plan for Afghanistan is because we have violated one of the cardinal rules of any military operation: unity of command. Today there are no less than three different American military combatant commands operating in Afghanistan, as well as NATO, some of whose members have national restrictions on where their troops can go and what they can do. This is no way to run a war. The top commander in Afghanistan needs to be just that: the supreme commander of all coalition forces. As commander-in-chief, I will work with our allies to ensure unity of command.

McCain is also focused on the one ally we really do need in Afghanistan: the Afghans. Just as the 'surge' in Iraq was only possible and successful in the context of a much larger increase in the number of willing and able Iraqi Security Forces, a similar contribution will be needed in Afghanistan:

Everyone knows the United States increased the number of its soldiers in Iraq last year. What's less well known is that the Iraqis surged with us, adding over 100,000 security forces to their ranks. It's time for the Afghans to do the same. The Afghan army is already a great success story: a multiethnic, battle-tested fighting force. The problem is, it's too small, with a projected strength of only 80,000 troops. For years, the Afghans have been telling us they need a bigger army, and they are right. We need to at least double the size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops.

Of course, McCain's not selling this as a budget-cutting measure but as a battle-tested strategy for a people winning back control of their own land.

(As I have noted repeatedly, Obama's other big misconception about Afghanistan is his failure to see that the resurgence of foreign-jihadist activity there is connected to Iraq in the sense that the insurgencies in both countries draw on the same basic pool of recruits).

Unlike in Iraq, Obama's instincts in Afghanistan haven't been totally misguided. Unlike the LBJ-era Democrats in Vietnam and their modern counterparts in Iraq, he's recognized the critical role in Afghanistan of safe havens and supplies from across the border, in this case Pakistan:

Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said on Sunday, while visiting Afghanistan, that if the United States had "actionable intelligence against high-value Al Qaeda targets, and the Pakistani government was unwilling to go after those targets," the United States should strike. Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has been viewed warily in Pakistan because of similar previous comments.

I'll leave aside for now the delicate game we have been playing for years of trying to quietly interdict such Al Qaeda outposts without undermining a Musharraf government that would likely be replaced with something worse, and whether Obama really understands that dynamic. Either way, the recurring problem has been Obama's inexperience. His gaffes on Afghanistan have been embarrassingly amateurish:

Mr. Obama claimed that the U.S. simply "[doesn't] have enough capacity right now to deal with" the initial front in America's seven-year-and-counting Global War on Terror.
Part of the reason for this, said Obama, is that "Arabic translators deployed in Iraq are needed in Afghanistan."
"We only have a certain number of them and if they are all in Iraq, then its harder for us to use them in Afghanistan," he said.
This statement was a head-scratched for a pair reasons. The first is the fact that Afghans are neither ethnically nor linguistically Arabic; the second, that interpreters are almost 100% drawn from local populations, rather than deployed by the U.S. military.
Obama continued, saying that "we need agricultural specialists in Afghanistan," as well -- "people who can help them develop other crops than heroin poppies, because the drug trade in Afghanistan is what is driving and financing these terrorist networks. So we need agricultural specialists.
"But if we are sending them to Baghdad, they're not in Afghanistan."

When Obama was pressed by Hillary Clinton on his failure to hold any hearings on the Afghan war - he chairs a subcommittee with jurisdiction over NATO operations - he responded:

I became Chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan.

Now, I understand that Senators running for President sometimes miss votes and the like; that's inevitable. But committee chairs are supposed to have a role in oversight of foreign policy, if only for the purpose of ensuring that their committees have adequate information; if Obama never intended to do anything about that, he should have declined that commitee post (recent evidence suggests that he doesn't even know what commitees he is on). Dan Spencer has explained how Obama's refusal to do his actual job as a Senator is part of a wider pattern of paying attention to national security and the men and women who protect it when the cameras are rolling. But what is especially damning is this: Obama's entire purported experience to be Commander-in-Chief is his 3 1/2 year tenure in the U.S. Senate, and he admits that for nearly half of that brief span he's been too busy running for President to do the foreign policy parts of the job. Which is how you end up talking about sending Arabic translators to speak Pashtun, poppy-farm experts to Basra, and expecting European governments to send more troops without more strings attached.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)

Did anyone ever read Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's really clever retelling of Dante's Inferno (also named Inferno). In the end, when they get to the Ice Plain of Traitors, the main character, a science fiction writer, comes across two politicians. A Republican who was for against a missile defense system, but voted for it because his party did. The Democrat wanted it, but voted against it because his party did. They were traitors to their own mind, so they were condemned to hell.

McCain spoke against the Iraq invasion, but voted for it. So did Hillary Clinton, because, as we know, she didn't want to be labeled as soft. Obama did speak against it from the beginning. So if you claim that you should revisit the history of 2006, then don't stop there, and at least go to 2002. Or does that make the Republicans look so toadyish to Cheynism that you don't want to?

BTW, in the same book, an environmentalist who was against nuclear power plants was there since he knew they were safe,but didn't want to lose his power. And in another great book by them, Lucifer's Hammer, the real hero of the story (a comet hitting Earth) was the nuclear power plant nobody wanted. Also read it (great book) just to see the take on what race relations then were perceived to be.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at July 28, 2008 12:38 PM


You're thinking appears to be quite scattered.

By the way, Obama was not a Senator when the vote on Iraq was taken. So he did not have to put his money where his mouth was. Based on everything we knew at the time and have learned since, he was wrong (and still is!).

Posted by: lee at July 28, 2008 1:07 PM

Daryl - I think I may have read that book at one point long ago....

Do you have evidence that McCain "spoke against the Iraq invasion"? I vividly recall McCain, like Tony Blair, being if anything a more articulate and aggressive supporter of the war than Bush. It's true that McCain had complaints from the beginning about the war plan but he was always behind the mission.

Posted by: The Crank at July 28, 2008 1:27 PM

A few points:

"One, nations send their young men and women to war principally because of their own perceived interests and their own internal political dynamics."

This is an obvious fact, and it's a little ridiculous to assume that Obama is ignorant of it. In order to bring them around, European states will need to be cajoled, using carrot and stick, to get them to participate, much like Bush II did in the Gulf War. But why would Obama even hint at this in his first speech to the Europeans?

If I had my preference, I'd be more interested in money rather than troops from the Europeans, but I'm not necessarily against NATO being involved, as long as the objectives of the campaign were clear.

The question I want Obama to answer, though, is this one: if the Europeans steadfastly refuse to go along with your plan, are you willing to go it alone? His answer better be yes. It's one thing to try to get your allies to participate, but it's another to let them dictate your country's foreign policy.

Your second point:
"Obama misses the fact that more European troops, especially from the Western European continental states, invariably means more restrictions on effective prosecution of war." This is of some concern, which is why I'd rather have money as opposed to troops from Europe, but it's hardly a fatal problem. And again, he is obviously aware of these restrictions because he is calling for fewer restrictions from the Europeans.

Regardless of whether Obama is successful in persuading the Europeans to help, I have no problems with him trying, as I'm tired of the Europeans free riding on our security policies. But in the end, he has to be willing to go it alone if need be.

Posted by: MVH at July 28, 2008 1:29 PM

Well, yes - the other question is what he is willing to offer to get them to do that.

Posted by: The Crank at July 28, 2008 1:32 PM


I like your challenge to Obama. What evidence do we have they he can make a decision of the magnitude? Heck, he hasn't even been a Senator a full term yet!

Your comment "This is an obvious fact, and it's a little ridiculous to assume that Obama is ignorant of it." is just the point. He appears to be ignorant of alot of things.

Posted by: Lee at July 28, 2008 1:34 PM

"Well, yes - the other question is what he is willing to offer to get them to do that."

It might well depend on the size and nature of the conflict. For example, if invovled the entire restructuring of a country, he could offer the Europeans a role in its economic development, meaning contracts for European businesses. Bush correctly denied them this opportunity in Iraq on the principle that they didn't participate in the war and therefore shouldn't reap any of the benefits.

A minor/military and financial role may also give the Europeans something on which to agree in foreign affairs. The war on terror in the Middle East isn't quite as divisive as the Balkan conflict, and Afghanistan (for example), unlike Iraq, doesn't affect the oil issue as much (remember the position of France and Russia vis a vis Iraq, whose objection to the war had more to do with oil contracts than the principles behind the conflict). Europeans, even for the sake of appearances, have an interest in "cooperating" to some degree in foreign affairs. It's well-known that foreign policy cooperation is one of the bigger Achillies heels of the EU, so there may be some traction there. Also, those Europeans who oppose greater integration in the military/foreign policy fields in the EU may be willing to find a role for NATO in order to avoid any further efforts to establish a truly European military/foreign policy structure.

Bottom line: I don't think it would be realistic or prudent for any politician to discuss what he would or wouldn't offer the Europeans outside of a specific context.

Lee -

What evidence do we have they he can make a decision of the magnitude? Heck, he hasn't even been a Senator a full term yet!

He is inexperienced, yes, but not stupid. Again, I think the question "will you go it alone?" is one that should be put before him, and it will require a politically uncomfortable answer because many liberal dems are unhappy with "going it alone".

Posted by: MVH at July 28, 2008 2:02 PM



Ignorance is the condition of being uninformed or uneducated, lacking knowledge or information.

IMHO he consistently demonstrates that he is ignorant and inexperienced.

Posted by: lee at July 28, 2008 2:16 PM


My attempt to indicate that ignorance is not equal to stupid did not display correctly. My point is the ignorance is not equal to stupid. You can be ignorant, but not stupid.

Posted by: lee at July 28, 2008 2:19 PM

I cannot imagine how Afghanistan could afford to field an army that size for any length of time.

Posted by: spongeworthy at July 28, 2008 2:28 PM


This is what I mean - the principle that Crank accused of him of not knowing is one that any politician would be aware of, even if they knew nothing else about foreign affairs. Why? Because they know what it takes to get elected to office, and Obama will know that European politicians are accountable to their voters in the same way he is. Particularly since he is leading a party that generally opposed to the war in Iraq, Obama surely understands the same pressures ARE at work in Europe.

And keep in mind, Obama is not the idealistic politician that some make him out to be. From what I've read, Obama is as bare-knuckled and as calculating as the Clinton's ever were. I don't think he is ignorant in the way that Crank is suggesting.

Posted by: MVH at July 28, 2008 2:34 PM

I just don't see how Democrats cannot be embarassed by this guy. He does have a somewhat remarkable story and Americans should be proud to have a minority running for President. But, and I may get lambasted for saying this, but Geraldine Ferraro was right: if Obama was white, he never ever would have been nominated. He wold be a laughingstock. I mean, he made up his own presidential seal!!

At almost every turn, he just looks more and more inexperienced and more and more ignorant. No, he's not stupid. And yes, he knows how to run a campaign. But some of the stuff he's been saying lately--highlighted by Crank in this post--are just laughable. (And sad.)

Here's a challenge: READ his recent Berlin speech. Don't listen to it, read it. Show me where he says anything that has any substance. (And he didn't even have many of his basic facts straight. The West won the Cold War not because it was united. The West won it mainly because the USA simply decided it would.)

Look, I know McCain has plently of problems. But he is also not being lauded as a world-changing messianic figure.

Posted by: perose14 at July 28, 2008 3:03 PM

Crank -- Thank you for articulating the choice Americans face this November on foreign policy.

Everyone to the right of George Herbert Walker Bush should vote for McCain. Everyone comfortable with the 41st president's willingness to foster alliances; to place our soldiers in harms way only as a last resort; and when such situation may arise, to ensure the civilian leadership does its part by properly assessing the risks and preparing for the aftermath - both diplomatically and logistically, should vote for Barak Obama. Those to the left of GWHB also would fall into the Obama camp (obviously).

A few days ago you referred to GHWB's secretary of state as a surrender monkey. Now you are scoffing at his approach to liberating Kuwait in 1992: pulling together a grand alliance and welcoming each country's to contribution. Those to the right of GHWB believe such alliances are a distraction and restrain the United States acting as it sees fit.

Now the choice is clear. And let me add: I like Obama’s chances.

Posted by: Patrick at July 28, 2008 8:24 PM

"Here's a challenge: READ his recent Berlin speech. Don't listen to it, read it. Show me where he says anything that has any substance. (And he didn't even have many of his basic facts straight. The West won the Cold War not because it was united. The West won it mainly because the USA simply decided it would.)"

The speech wasn't designed to have any substance. It was a campaign speech, pure and simple, designed to associate Obama with "foreign affairs" in the minds of US voters and to demonstrate that he was willing to work with allies, without being to specific. If it had been a movie, it would have been entitled "Barak Obama's European Vacation." The only thing Obama was required to do in that speech was not to say anything stupid or offensive. Given those limited goals, it was a success.

As for getting his facts straight, you are missing the point. Don't you agree that it would have been monumental stupidity for Obama to say, in a speech to the Europeans, that the US was primarily responsible for ending the Cold War, even if he believed it??

Posted by: MVH at July 29, 2008 9:15 AM

"As for getting his facts straight, you are missing the point. Don't you agree that it would have been monumental stupidity for Obama to say, in a speech to the Europeans, that the US was primarily responsible for ending the Cold War, even if he believed it?? "

No, I think that you are actually the one "missing the point." He didn't HAVE to say either one. That he chose to say something false rather than just say something else entirely says loads about his character and fitness for office.

Posted by: Terry at July 30, 2008 3:48 PM


That argument is a real stretch, and it assumes (among other things) that it's obvious that US won the cold war all by itself, which is certainly not obvious. It's really beyond me that anyone would go that far to criticize Obama's speech, but hey, it's an election year, and I'm sure that's not the last bad argument I'll see from either party.

If you want to call Obama's speech a fluff piece and campaign fodder, fine, because that's really what it was, and it is much more credible argument.

Posted by: MVH at July 31, 2008 9:36 AM

You can call it a "bad argument" all you like, but that doesn't make it so. Sans a massive commitment of US treasure, all the supposed "unity" that was occurring wouldn't have won the Cold War. ICBMs, tank battalions, military research, and the containment strategy ended the Cold War. To attribute it to "unity" is specious at best.

And you are still missing the point. The "unity" shown by Europe with the US in the Cold War, especially during the critical period of the 70s and 80s, was exactly the type of token "unity" that we are getting from the Germans in Afghanistan. That Obama doesn't understand that says worlds. During the Cold War the Europeans faced a direct existential threat, yet were still content to build their social welfare states while letting the US do all of the heavy lifting on the military end. How can he expect them to get off their asses now, when that threat is less concrete?

You can excuse that as "campaign fluff." We used to expect better from our would-be leaders.

Posted by: Terry at July 31, 2008 6:44 PM
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