New Republic - December 20, 2019

"The Democrats’ fecklessness, in other words, did not flourish in a partisan vacuum. It has been, at every juncture, inspired and influenced by the complete failure of the right to self-police. The American right, like the housing market and the banks and the hedge funds and the health insurers and providers, simply could not be induced to check its basest instincts in the face of an opponent that staked its entire political credibility on the promise that it could make Republicans fall in line with realigned incentives or One Weird Trick. If liberals want to get the next decade right, after the previous one in which we repeatedly failed to save the world while telling ourselves we were doing so, we will need to stop nudging and begin fighting."

As 2009 ended, the editors of this magazine at the time took their measure of the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency and declared it, with some reservations, a modest success. “All of this might not exactly place him in the pantheon next to Franklin Roosevelt,” they said of his major domestic achievements (the stimulus package, primarily, as the Affordable Care Act had not yet been signed). “But it’s not a bad start, given all the constraints of the political system (and global order) in which he works.”

That was the broad consensus of American liberals at the time, ranging from nearly the most progressive to nearly the most neoliberal. Over the ensuing years, that consensus would crack and eventually shatter under the weight of one disappointment after another. The story of American politics over the past decade is that of a political party on the cusp of enduring power and world-historical social reform, and how these once imaginable outcomes were methodically squandered.

The bulk of that unsigned New Republic editorial in 2009 was dedicated to Obama’s foreign policy, specifically the question of whether he was waging enough war. The conclusion: He was. The editors praised “the escalation of the war in Afghanistan” as “the most consequential action of the first year of his presidency,” even though it

offended the base of his party and possibly injured his future political prospects. On strategic grounds, we believe he made the right choice. But the thoroughness and logic of the process by which he arrived at this decision double our confidence in that choice. The is exactly the type of pragmatism and non-ideological policymaking that sentient humans have craved after the Bush years.

(Sure, escalate the endless wars—but for God’s sake, please do it non-ideologically.)

In December of this year, The Washington Postobtained thousands of pages of documents from a government oversight project called “Lessons Learned,” which included interviews with more than 600 people involved in the war in Afghanistan at some point over its 18-year history. An interview with a National Security Council official described, according to the Post, “constant pressure from the Obama White House and Pentagon to produce figures to show the troop surge of 2009 to 2011 was working, despite hard evidence to the contrary.” Nearly every piece of data used over the last decade to try to convince Americans that the war was going well, or even going according to any sort of coherent logic or reason, was phony or meaningless.

“I don’t want to be going to Walter Reed for another eight years,” Obama reportedly said in 2009, as he struggled with the decision to escalate the war. The president and his closest advisers were determined to avoid the mistakes of Vietnam. Since then, overwhelmed by billions in U.S. “aid,” the country has sunk into kleptocracy. Last year, according to the United Nations, was the single deadliest year of the war for Afghan civilians. Today, around 13,000 American service members remain in Afghanistan. The Trump administration is attempting to negotiate a peace with the Taliban that would leave it in charge of the country, just as it was prior to America’s invasion. The war in Afghanistan may finally end, but not before the close of this decade that began with that oh-so-carefully considered decision to escalate it. ...
Read full commentary at The New Republic