By DeWayne Wickham
Afghanistan isn’t Barack Obama’s war, but it might well be his Waterloo.
While campaigning for the presidency as a candidate of change, then-Sen. Obama’s position on the Afghan war was closer to that of the neocons than the progressive Democrats who hoisted him into the White House.
But that war was launched by George W. Bush, and there was always a belief among Obama’s supporters that he wouldn’t succumb to the jingoism that made his predecessor see war as the first, instead of the last, resort in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since taking office, Obama has dramatically increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and spent billions of dollars rebuilding that war-ravaged country and Iraq, while this nation's economy teeters on the brink of a double-dip recession.
If you think that’s left-wing heresy on my part, consider this: A few days ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa backed a call from a group of mayors for Congress to redirect the billions of dollars being spent every week on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to domestic priorities. “That we would build bridges in Baghdad and Kandahar and not Baltimore and Kansas City absolutely boggles the mind,” Villaraigosa, the new head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said at a news conference during that organization’s annual meeting.
In 2008, Villaraigosa rallied Hispanics in support of Obama’s presidential campaign. Now, he is asking Congress to cut off the flow of dollars to wars Obama has made a higher priority than helping the nation’s ailing cities.
GOP sets election trap
It is among congressional Republicans that Obama’s war policies have the most support. But in what appears to be a political pincer move, several GOP presidential candidates expressed doubt about those wars and Obama’s leadership of them during the first Republican Party presidential debate last week.
Obama shouldn’t let Republicans use this political trap to defeat his re-election bid. Instead, the president ought to withdraw to a more defensible position.
On Iraq, Obama should say we went there to uncover weapons of mass destruction and didn’t find any. Mistakenly, we stayed around and got drawn into a bloody civil war. It’s now time for the U.S. to withdraw completely from that still-simmering conflict.
On Afghanistan, he should remind Americans that we went there to get the people who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks and have pretty much done that. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of that awful crime, is in a U.S. military jail cell awaiting trial; and Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader, was killed during a raid of his Pakistani hideout by Navy SEALs. With fewer than 100 al-Qaida members remaining in Afghanistan, according to the CIA, Obama should declare victory there and bring home all U.S. servicemen and women. American drones and the threat of international isolation should be used to deal with any residual force of enemies that surface there.
This won’t make the neocons and other members of the GOP pincer happy, but it will give Obama and this nation’s mayors a chance to reap a “peace dividend” from the end of our central role in two wars. It will also put Obama on the right side of history, and in a good position to win re-election.