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Obama, Tell Me How this Ends

December 23, 2009

by Andrew J. Bacevich

On the march to Baghdad, back when America's war on terror was young, a rising star in the United States military lobbed this enigmatic bon mot to an accommodating reporter: "Tell me how this ends." Thus did then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus in 2003 neatly frame the issue that still today haunts the U.S.-led effort to defeat violent anti-Western jihadism.

To know how something ends implies knowing where it's going. Yet eight years after it began, the war on terror is headed back to where it started. The prequel is the sequel, Afghanistan replacing Iraq as the once and now once again central front.

So are we making progress? Even as President Obama escalates the war in Afghanistan, that question hangs in the air, ignored by all. Rather than explaining how the struggle will end, the President merely affirms that it must continue, his eye fixed on pacifying a country of which his own secretary of state recently remarked "We have no long-term stake there."

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This article appeared in the New York Daily News, December 23, 2009, and is available in its entirety online.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

Obama's Folly

December 03, 2009

Which is the greater folly: To fancy that war offers an easy solution to vexing problems, or, knowing otherwise, to opt for war anyway?

In the wake of 9/11, American statecraft emphasized the first approach: President George W. Bush embarked on a "global war" to eliminate violent jihadism. President Obama now seems intent on pursuing the second approach: Through military escalation in Afghanistan, he seeks to "finish the job" that Bush began there, then all but abandoned.

Through war, Bush set out to transform the greater Middle East. Despite immense expenditures of blood and treasure, that effort failed. In choosing Obama rather than John McCain to succeed Bush, the American people acknowledged that failure as definitive. Obama's election was to mark a new beginning, an opportunity to "reset" America's approach to the world.

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The article was published on December 3, 2009, in the Los Angeles Times, and is available online here.


Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University and a signatory to the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy's letter to President Obama on Afghanistan.

Posted by coalition at 09:10 PM | Comments (0)

Time to Leave

by Christopher A. Preble

With his latest escalation, President Obama will more than double the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan compared with when he took office. The president is saying, in effect, that a large-scale counterinsurgency campaign there is necessary to keep Americans safe from terrorism.

This is a dubious proposition at best. As Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, noted in October, "The al-Qaeda presence (in Afghanistan) is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies." We don't need 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan chasing down 100 al-Qaeda fighters.

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This article was published in the USA Today, December 2, 2009, and is available online here.

Christopher A. Preble is the director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. His most recent book is The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous and Less Free.

Posted by coalition at 09:09 AM | Comments (0)