Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Road Tripping: Obama in Afghanistan (or, Why Obama Would Fail POLI 150)

. Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This morning I give President Obama an F in POLI 150 ("Intro to International Politics" at UNC) for the flawed analysis in his administration's Afghanistan policy.

The core policy is: deploy 30,000 troops now and bring them home in 18 months. Obama defends the approach against reasonable criticism in the following way:

"When I asked Obama if the Taliban wouldn't simply wait us out, he was dismissive: "This is an argument that I don't give a lot of credence to, because if you follow the logic of this argument, then you would never leave. Right? Essentially you'd be signing on to have Afghanistan as a protectorate of the United States indefinitely."
I fail Obama for this response. As I would explain to the President were he to turn up in my office to ask why he failed, two really large and quite different flaws are at fault.

First, Obama commits an error of reasoning. One cannot discount an argument because one dislikes its implication. One can challenge an argument's logical coherence. One can assert that a logically coherent argument has little empirical support. One cannot do what Obama does here which is to give this argument little credence because he doesn't want to face the possibility that success in Afghanistan requires an indefinite commitment. Disliking the implications of heliocentrism doesn't make the theory any less true.

Second, Obama commits an error of historical analysis. American foreign policy since 1919 is (arguably) defined by precisely the implication Obama gives "little credence." The failure to recognize the need for a permanent American presence in Europe after WWI created the conditions that made WWII possible. Need I point out that the US still has a military presence in Germany? The Truman administration's failure to define its permanent interest in South Korea may have encouraged North Korea to believe it could invade with impunity. Need I point out that the US still has troops in South Korea? More generally, the lesson of 20th century US foreign policy is that we use indefinite commitments to defend important interests.

In short, Obama fails because his analysis rests on wishful thinking rather than logic and history. I wish the impact of Obama's flawed analysis was limited to a bad grade. Unfortunately, his flawed analysis produces an incoherent policy. If Afghanistan is important enough to American security to merit 30,000 additional troops today, then the U.S. ought to be committed to its defense indefinitely. If Afghanistan is not important enough to merit an indefinite commitment, there is no reason to deploy additional troops now. I see no logical basis for Obama's policy. Why send 30,000 additional people to defend a country today that he admits he is unwilling to defend in the same way two years from now?


Kindred Winecoff said...

Who are you kidding... everyone knows us grunts do all the grading in 150.

Thomas Oatley said...

Yes, but I hope you grunts would have failed him for the same reason.

Road Tripping: Obama in Afghanistan (or, Why Obama Would Fail POLI 150)




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