San Francisco Chronicle – November 25, 2008

Among the potential threats to his presidency that Barack Obama is about to inherit, America’s failed war policy may well be the most telling. Foreign quagmires have a long history of derailing the best of presidential intentions, and six years of military interventions in the heart of Islam have already compromised our national defense and put a choke hold on our democracy. Rectifying this strategic failure requires extrication, not revision. And the longer he takes to retrieve our armies, the greater the chance their impossible mission will sabotage Obama’s administration as well.

Three arguments for rapid withdrawal stand out:

1. This entire imperial enterprise has been a financial disaster, exponentially multiplying the nation’s current and future economic liabilities. We have already spent nearly $1 trillion on these wars, with at least that much more red ink already in the¬†pipeline. To pay these bills, we have been selling government bonds to the Chinese – thereby multiplying our vulnerability to a commercial and geopolitical rival while drilling more holes in the bottom of the dollar. And now we simply do not have the money to go forward with such profligacy. Every day this pointless spending continues is another anchor tied to the hind legs of economic recovery.

2. Recovery also requires international action. The goodwill and cooperation of the world’s financial players are essential to heal an economy that transcends any single nation’s control. Thanks to Obama’s election, America is in a better position to elicit the world’s cooperation than we have been since the day after 9/11 – as a result of the international goodwill his candidacy has generated – but our new president’s advent was cheered because it seemed to mean that the world’s one superpower was about to change its threatening and often domineering ways. Disappointing that worldwide expectation will deplete our new stature, but quickly meeting it will multiply our potential influence on the recovery process. And that process may well mean the difference between newfound economic well-being and ongoing economic distress.

3. Healing the nation’s political divisions is a necessary precondition to successful change, and Obama cannot do that while continuing the war policy that has generated the nation’s harshest intramural antagonisms. Obama’s mandate to exit Iraq has now been certified in four years of polling and two straight national elections. Indeed, the original core of Obama’s successful campaign was his early opposition to the invasion of lraq and his pledge to reverse that policy forthwith. Keeping and expanding upon this campaign promise is the best possible proof that this one-of-a-kind president will indeed be different. The nation needs a clean slate as soon as possible. And the less Obama does to craft a brand new American strategy north of the Persian Gulf, the more political disabling his dawdling will be.

Such rapid extrication is clearly doable. Iraq has paved the way for our departure and the logistics of leaving there – though often used as an excuse to linger – are in fact manageable¬†at whatever speed he chooses. Next door, Iran is ready to negotiate. Nearby Pakistan is troublesome, but there is no workable military strategy there anyway. The hardest for Obama will be Afghanistan – having already pledged himself to escalate our presence there – but that is a campaign promise he should not keep. There is no more winning for us in Afghanistan than there was in Iraq, and no advantage to extending our occupation there. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British Raj, and the Soviet Union weren’t able to subdue the Afghans, and neither are we. Instead, an immediate transformation of our Islamic strategy will make us safer and may very well save the rest of Obama’s presidency before it’s too late.

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