Andrew Bacevich is a sober critic of American militarism, and I respect his writing, but this brief essay betrays a troubling--and typical--analytical failure:
The Afghanistan war forms part of that complicated inheritance where good choices are hard to come by. Much as Iraq was Bush’s war, Afghanistan has become Obama’s war. Yet the president clearly wants nothing more than to rid himself of his war. Obama has prolonged and escalated a conflict in which he himself manifestly does not believe. When after months of deliberation (or delay) he unveiled his Afghan “surge” in December 2009, the presidential trumpet blew charge and recall simultaneously. Even as Obama ordered more troops into combat, he announced their planned withdrawal “because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own.”Why don't we subject this all to a little bit of the old what did he say?/what did he do? analysis. What did Obama say? That he wanted to bring the boys home and end the war and work on building America. Yeah, but what did he do?
It's hard to understand how Bacevich makes such an elementary error, especially in an article where he describes Obama as calculating. There is no evidence that Obama "wants nothing more than to rid himself of his war." There's no evidence that he wants to rid himself of his war at all. And, by the way, we should properly refer to his wars in the plural. His "drawdown" in Iraq leaves several tens of thousands of troops at least to "pursue terrorists" in "non-combat" operations. He is fighting a clandestine war in Pakistan. He has engaged military operations in Yemen. US forces operate directly or through proxies throughout Muslim Africa. And so on.
I think it's curious that Bacevich can conceive of America acting as an aggressively militant, imperial global hegemon and at the same time believe that the principal administrator of that empire must be telling the truth when he regrets the unfortunate necessity of its wars. The only thing that's manifest is that when Obama talks about his desire to conclude the Afghan conflict, he's lying. Near the end of the essay, Bacevich doubles down on his bad hand:
Obama doesn’t want to be in Afghanistan any more than Benjamin Netanyahu wants to be in the West Bank. Yet like the Israeli prime minister, the president lacks the guts to get out. It’s all so complicated. There are risks involved. Things might go wrong. There’s an election to think about.Bibi doesn't want to be in the West Bank? You could have fucking fooled me. But, if by Obama doesn't want to be in Afghanistan any more than Bibi wants to be in the West Bank, Bacevich means that Obama is committed to a perpetual American presence in Afghanistan just as fully as Bibi is committed to a perpetual Israeli presence in the West Bank, then sure, yeah, I agree.