Non-Turnarounds on Afghanistan

Starting in 2002–2003, many Americans were opposed to the war in Iraq. And over time, that group grew to include more people. Since opposition to the war was pretty broad-based, war opponents including people with a great diversity of views on foreign policy and national security questions, including some people on both the right and the left who are very strongly opposed to foreign military operations writ large. All of which is fine. What’s not fine, I think, is the way that a lot of my colleagues here at the Center for American Progress are now finding themselves accused of hypocrisy or some sort of opportunistic turnaround for not thinking the same things about Afghanistan as some of their fellow opponents of the war in Iraq. This item from Justin Raimondo at The American Conservative caught my attention in particular since it mentions me by name:

The Center for American Progress, a liberal-Left think tank that sheltered many foreign-policy analysts who opposed the Iraq War and was beginning to develop a comprehensive critique of global interventionism, has recently issued a report on Afghanistan that includes a number of short-term, medium-term, and long-term (ten-year) goals, including among the latter:

* Assist in creating an Afghan state that is able to defend itself internally and externally, and that can provide for the basic needs of its own people.

* Prepare for the full military withdrawal from Afghanistan alongside continued diplomatic and economic measures to promote the sustainable security of Afghanistan.

Simply substitute Iraq for Afghanistan, and what we get is the war policy of the Bush era. That the center is run by John Podesta, who served as Obama’s transition chief, is perhaps explanation enough for the complete turnaround. One wonders, however, if the center’s more anti-interventionist scholars, such as Matthew Yglesias, whose popular blog has attracted a substantial audience, will be forced to toe the new line — or be forced out.

As I’ve said before there’s no need to find an “explanation” for the “turnaround.” The authors of CAP’s recent report on Afghanistan have long held the view that we should send more troops to Afghanistan. This is what they wanted in 2005, it’s what they wanted in 2006, it’s what they wanted in 2007 (and again). This became Barack Obama’s position during the 2008 campaign, and became his policy as President in 2009, but this is a case of Obama coming around to something similar to the CAP view and not the reverse.


Will I be toeing the line? Well, I think Raimondo and I won’t be in complete agreement about this issue, just as we’ve never been in complete agreement about the engagement of American military force abroad. But people are invited to read my posts on Afghanistan and draw their own conclusions. I would say that I’m cautiously supportive of what the administration’s outlined but I’m worried about the logic of escalation and think it’s necessary to put some meaningful benchmarks in place lest we get stuck in a hopeless quagmire.

But on the general subject of “intervention” I think it’s helpful to draw distinctions. This week I wrote one column arguing against folks who want to invade Somalia and another about how the defense budget should be cut. I’ve inveighed many times against the advocates of preventive military strikes against North Korea and Iran. And in general, I’m dubious that the United States should be using force outside of the cases of self-defense, defense of an ally, or a mission authorized through the United Nations Security Council. That makes me a lot less of an interventionist than most of the powers that be in Washington, though still more of an interventionist than many other people. But it’s not a form of hypocrisy; it’s a different opinion. Both the legal status and the situation on the ground in Afghanistan are different from the situation in Iraq.