" />

Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

The Truly Rapid Withdrawal: Neocon Support for Obama


With President Obama’s announcement that he would withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011 and an additional 23,000 the following year, the president effectively ruptured the uneasy alliance his administration had maintained with prominent foreign policy hawks and neoconservatives ever since his progressive base began to question his escalation of the war. However much Obama’s conservative critics accused him of “dithering” in advance of his earlier decision to “surge” U.S. forces in the country, they were nonetheless among his more reliable backers when it came to the war in Afghanistan.


This alliance, however, is no more.


Only months after praising the president’s “sound policies” and christening him a “born-again neocon,” William Kristol declared last week that Obama’s Afghanistan policy was being “determined by [political advisor] David Axelrod, not by [Gen.] David Petraeus.” The main critique—which has been echoed by Max Boot, Peter Wehner, and many others—is that Obama “overruled” his generals’ preferences for a more limited or nominal pullout in order to score points with war-weary voters in advance of the 2012 election. Wehner accused the president of allowing “politics of the Obama kind to infect his decisions,” while Boot said that Obama had crippled the “well-thought-out campaign plan designed by Gen. David Petraeus” because “he wants the surge troops out before he must face the voters in 2012.”


Withdrawal, according to such neoconservatives, “ups the odds of defeat,” imperils “fragile gains” in the south end east of the country, and generally represents “a recipe for failure.” Worse still, they sometimes add, Obama refuses even to use the word “victory”!


Of course, while the wisdom of extended counterinsurgency is treated as self-evident within the neoconservative universe, it is less so on the outside. If war is ultimately a political undertaking, then it’s fair to allege that the political objectives of the Afghanistan surge are not being met. While NATO soldiers have had some successes dislocating insurgents from the south and east of the country, it is often only a matter of pushing them into Pakistan, where they wait until conditions change—as inevitably they must.


Meanwhile, the north of the country has seen a parallel increase in violence as militants trickle in from Uzbekistan and upward from the Pashtun provinces. The Afghan security and police forces have grown impressively over the years, but they remain largely non-Pashtun, indicating an ongoing failure to bring the country’s largest ethnic group into the political fold.


Violence against civilians—which has increased dramatically with the U.S. surge, even though most casualties are caused by the Taliban—continues to rise, and in fact set a monthly record in May of this year. Max Boot first used this fact to suggest that the Taliban was growing “desperate,” indicating the surge was working. Days later, after the attack on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, Boot confessed that he was as “shocked as anyone” that militants had been able to execute the attack. Even as he insisted that security in the region remained “better than in Baghdad” (a dubious standard), he declared that the violence should preclude any more talk about withdrawing. Violence against civilians is thus set up both as evidence of the surge’s success and a stumbling block to its conclusion.


It’s true that military leaders have acknowledged their initial misgivings about the president’s plan. But unlike the neoconservatives, military leaders have also acknowledged that their role in a democratic system is to implement strategy, not to set it. By ascribing political motivations to Obama’s gradual withdrawal—indeed, even if they are correct—these hawks acknowledge, and dismiss, a popular desire to wind down the conflict. More subtly, the calls by Robert Kagan and William Kristol for Obama simply to “clarify” that withdrawal timetables remain anchored to “facts on the ground”—a seemingly low bar to meet for the heaps of criticism they’ve leveled at him—indicate their growing awareness of their own marginalization, which is also reflected in their obvious anxiety about the war-readiness of the Republican presidential field.


Moreover, by glazing over the fact that troop levels will remain double what they were when Obama took office even after the initial withdrawal, they overlook the argument that Obama’s remarks are as much about justifying continued investment in a conflict that he acknowledges must end. Indeed, the pace of the outlined withdrawal is gradual enough to cast doubt on any political gain the president may gain from, and Phyllis Bennis has lambasted the plan as embodying the same old “war-on-terror” mindset.


—Peter Certo

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is one the Senate’s more ardent supporters of militaristic U.S. foreign policies.

The Tikvah Fund has worked closely with neoconservative think tanks and media outlets as well as many universities to promote conservative ideologies.

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, has been a vocal advocate for staunchly militaristic foreign policies.

Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul and 2016 GOP presidential candidate, is known for racist and reactionary rhetoric, in addition to his ignorance about nuclear weapons strategy, Middle East conflicts, and the value of allies.

Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is a prominent congressional hawk on both foreign and domestic policy.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has been a stalwart advocate of the Bush record on torture and warrantless wiretapping.

Kelly Ayotte is a Republican senator from New Hampshire who is close to right-wing and neoconservative factions.

For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Whoever moves into the White House next January should be willing to “take more risk to find some common ground with Iran,” according to a new report released by the non-partisan Atlantic Council.

As the GOP establishment scrambles for the lifeboats in the wake of Donald Trump’s disastrous campaign, Trump’s biggest donor, Sheldon Adelson, is moving full-steam ahead, writing big checks and mobilizing newspapers owned by his family to support Trump, even as the candidate careens toward a massive defeat.

Osama bin Laden surely died happy. He devoted the last third of his life to creating animosity between the West and Islam and to driving a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Today, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey are all estranged from the United States. And, as an unexpected bonus, so is Israel.

Saudi Arabia has launched a charm offensive following the historic vote by the European Parliament demanding an arms embargo on Riyadh.

The world according to Trump: The American economy has tanked. Mexico has sent a horde of criminals over the border to steal jobs and rape women. The Islamic State, cofounded by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, is taking over the globe. “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world,” he has declared.

During five decades of Israeli occupation, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown with every generation, saturating basic services in the 19 camps that are home to about 200,000 people in the West Bank run by the United Nations.

Among the lingering effects of this awful election campaign season will be widespread misunderstanding of serious issues of foreign policy, beyond even the habitually low baseline public understanding of many such issues.