Monday, October 26, 2009

Bring It To A Vote

Five days ago, former Vice-President Dick Cheney joined the chorus of Republicans urging President Obama to accept uncritically the recommendation of General Stanley McChrystal and commit 40,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan. Or, rather, to accept uncritically the recommendation of General Stanley McChrystal, Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A). Most of the GOP would rather wrap itself in the flag of the American military than to muster the courage to call for more American servicemen to be placed in "harm's way" in central Asia.

Accepting an award from the Center for Security Policy, Cheney said "Make no mistake. Signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries.... The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger." He blustered "It's time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity."

Carefully avoiding taking a position on the possible escalation, I have a suggestion (assuming the President is amenable to increasing the numbers): submit an increase in American troop strength to Congressional approval. In his fine speech at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station today, the President stated:

I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way. I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s the promise I make to you.

In a representative democracy (aka a republic), there is no more appropriate way to demonstrate the support of the American people for military action than to garner the endorsement of the people's representatives in the lower and upper chambers of the national legislature.

There is obvious, recent, precedence to this strategy. On October 11, 2002 the House of Representatives voted 296-133, and the Senate 77-23, to authorize President Bush

to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to--
1.defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq ; and
2.enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

Although the war itself has not turned out so well, the politics of military action helped enable Mr. Bush to be elected re-elected President as his opponent was stuck with trying to explain why he was so critical of an effort he appeared, with his "aye" vote in 2002, to have supported only two years earlier.

Similarly, on Afghanistan the GOP would be squeezed into a tight position: support the President of the United States or renege on its rhetorical support for the increase in soldiers urged by McChrystal. If instead no authorization is requested, and the President decides to embark on this course in Afghanistan and our effort backfires, Repubs will in all likelihood desert him, denounce him, and pretend they had never pushed the increase at all. (This strategy would pose a challenge for Democrats also, but not as great a one: support the President of their party or be more attuned to the interests of their base. And in either case, they, too, should not be held immune from taking a stand.)

In the great health care debate, President Obama has raised the pursuit of bipartisanship to a fetish, elevating the profile, prestige, and power of a single Repub Senator, Olympia Snowe, to nearly unfathomable heights. Partisanship, once said to "stop at the water's edge," is surely more important when facing a foreign enemy, the Taliban or Al Qaeda. And the GOP already has urged the President to ramp up the war in Afghanistan. Now is the time to demand that it show its cards.

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