Entry from May 31, 2011

According to today’s Washington Post “Cost of war in Afghanistan will be major factor in troop-reduction talks.” Says Rajiv Chandrasekaran

The U.S. military is on track to spend $113 billion on its operations in Afghanistan this fiscal year, and it is seeking $107 billion for the next. To many of the president’s civilian advisers, that price is too high, given a wide federal budget gap that will require further cuts to domestic programs and increased deficit spending. Growing doubts about the need for such a broad nation-building mission there in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death have only sharpened that view. “Where we’re at right now is simply not sustainable,” said one senior administration official, who, like several others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations.

That President Obama went golfing on Memorial Day seems to me a less serious failure of leadership than his appointment of a “senior administration official” who would say a thing like this to the press — and particularly to Mr Chandrasekaran whose book Imperial Life in the Emerald City did so much to give credence to the Bush-era journalistic conceit, perhaps suggested by the Powellite renegade Richard Haass, of Iraq as a “war of choice.”

In reality, though battlefields may be chosen, wars may not. The only war of choice is a war of aggression. The anti-Iraq War forces, which once included President Obama and (presumably) most of those around him, couldn’t sell the public on the view that the invasion of Iraq was a war of aggression, but there was a freshness as well as a weaseliness about the absurd concept of “war of choice” that appealed to the journalistic sensibility. It amounted to a savage critique of President Bush and his administration without quite sounding like one. Best of all, it introduced a new concept — or rather, something that looked like a concept — into the rhetorical battle between the Bush war-makers and their critics which could be adapted as necessary to changing circumstances.

Thus, although the whole idea was developed to distinguish Iraq (the “war of choice”) from Afghanistan (“the war of necessity”) and created a distinction President Obama himself made during the campaign of 2008, the thing could be turned around in no time. Now the President finds that his allies in the media and elsewhere on the left are starting to characterize the Afghan campaign as a “war of choice” as well. How can he answer them? Does he even want to answer them? The fact that the people around him are now grumbling about the cost and suggesting that the war cannot be spared from the general cutbacks suggests we may expect a sudden discovery by President Obama himself that we have all along been fighting yet another war of choice — like the Libyan one.

Such rhetorical legerdemain is exactly parallel to that which the anti-Bushites have long been using in what is laughably referred to as the debate over “torture.” Once you successfully characterize harsh interrogation methods as “torture” you make them illegitimate — and their perpetrators tantamount to war criminals — by definition. So, too, once you establish that America is fighting a “war of choice” you immediately make the case for getting out of it a compelling one. Articles like sly Mr Chandrasekaran’s do their bit to help accomplish this goal of the anti-war left — as he and his anonymous interlocutor within the administration must know they do.

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