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Obama's folly

Rather than trying to salvage Bush's policy in Afghanistan, the president should show real courage and just pull the plug.

December 03, 2009|By Andrew J. Bacevich

The "surge" engineered by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq enables proponents of that war to change the subject and to argue that the counterinsurgency techniques employed in Iraq can produce similar results in Afghanistan -- disregarding the fact that the two places bear about as much resemblance to one another as North Dakota does to Southern California.

So the war launched as a prequel to Iraq now becomes its sequel, with little of substance learned in the interim. To double down in Afghanistan is to ignore the unmistakable lesson of Bush's thoroughly discredited "global war on terror": Sending U.S. troops to fight interminable wars in distant countries does more to inflame than to extinguish the resentments giving rise to violent anti-Western jihadism.

There's always a temptation when heading in the wrong direction on the wrong highway to press on a bit further. Perhaps down the road a piece some shortcut will appear: Grandma's house this way.

Yet as any navigationally challenged father who has ever taken his family on a road trip will tell you, to give in to that temptation is to err. When lost, take the first offramp that presents itself and turn around. That Obama -- by all accounts a thoughtful and conscientious father -- seems unable to grasp this basic rule is disturbing.

Under the guise of cleaning up Bush's mess, Obama has chosen to continue Bush's policies. No doubt pulling the plug on an ill-advised enterprise involves risk and uncertainty. It also entails acknowledging mistakes. It requires courage. Yet without these things, talk of change will remain so much hot air.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

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