Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Long War vs. Domestic Reform

Andrew Bacevich, professor of International Relations at Boston University and author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, believes that President Obama must choose either a global war on terrorism or the sweeping domestic reform that he seems intent on. H/T Ben Katcher on The Washington Note.

Lost in the shuffling of troops (from Iraq to Afghanistan) is any clear understanding of that endeavor's strategic rationale. Iraq alone has cost the United States a trillion dollars or more. The putative success of the "surge" notwithstanding, we have achieved exceedingly modest and tenuous gains. To imagine that simply trying harder in Afghanistan and Pakistan will produce a happier outcome is surely a fantasy.

Bush hoped to transform the Middle East. Obama's instincts point in a different direction. To preserve the American way of life, he appears intent on changing it, a project with vast economic, social and even cultural implications. The Long War is incompatible with that project. Protracted war or domestic reform: We may be able to afford one. We cannot afford both. So Obama must choose. If, instead of choosing, he tries to finesse the Long War -- and shifting the weight of U.S. military efforts from Iraq to Afghanistan amounts to little more than temporizing -- his reform agenda is likely to be stillborn.

Fareed Zakaria has written that the Bush administration's response to 9/11 with a militaristic global war was "a massive over-reaction." Katcher hopes Obama will scale back The Long War to a cooperative international police action and devote our resources to what Tom Friedman calls "nation-building at home."

As President Obama comes to grips with the multitude of challenges America faces, I hope he will end the "long war" as it was conceived by the Bush administration and offer an alternative strategy to manage international terrorism that is proportional to the threat and leaves room for other priorities.

--Ballard Burgher

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