Democratic voters and candidates were playing a complex game. Nearly all of them hated the war in Iraq and wanted to pull Americans out of that country. But they were afraid to appear soft on national security, so they pronounced the smaller conflict in Afghanistan one they could support. Many of them didnâ€™t, really, but for political expediency they supported candidates who said they did. Thus the party base signed on to a good war-bad war strategy.
Other top Democrats adopted the get-tough approach, at least when it came time to campaign. In September 2006, as she was leading the effort that would result in Democrats taking over the House and her becoming speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi said George W. Bush â€œtook his eye off the ballâ€ in Afghanistan. â€œWe had a presence over there the past few years, but not to the extent that we needed to get the job done,â€ Pelosi said. The phrase â€œtook his eye off the ballâ€ became a Democratic mantra about the supposed neglect of Afghanistan â€” a situation that would be remedied by electing ready-to-fight Democrats.
But now, with Democrats in charge of the entire U.S. government and George Bush nowhere to be found, Pelosi and others in her party are suddenly very, very worried about U.S. escalation in Afghanistan. â€œThere is serious unrest in our caucus,â€ the speaker said recently. There is so much unrest that Democrats who show little concern about the tripling of already-large budget deficits say theyâ€™re worried about the rising cost of the war.
It is in that atmosphere that Obama makes his West Point speech. He had to make certain promises to get elected. Unlike some of his supporters, he has to remember those promises now that he is in office. So he is sending more troops. But he still canâ€™t tell the truth about so many Democratic pledges to support the war in Afghanistan: They didnâ€™t mean it.
I have friends who support our efforts in Afghanistan who thought they could vote Democrat and do no damage to our efforts there.
President Obama unveils his new Afghanistan strategy today, and in the nick of time Senator John Kerry has arrived with a report claiming that none of this would be necessary if former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had only deployed more troops eight years ago. Yes, he really said more troops.
In a 43-page report issued yesterday by his Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Kerry says bin Laden and deputy Ayman Zawahiri were poised for capture at the Tora Bora cave complex in late 2001. But because of the “unwillingness” of Mr. Rumsfeld and his generals “to deploy the troops required to take advantage of solid intelligence and unique circumstances to kill or capture bin Laden,” the al Qaeda leaders escaped.
This in turn “paved the way for exactly what we had hoped to avoidâ€”a protracted insurgency that has cost more lives than anyone estimates would have been lost in a full-blown assault on Tora Bora.”
The timing of the report’s release suggests that Mr. Kerry intends this as political cover for Mr. Obama and Democrats, and some in the press corps have even taken it seriously. But coming from Mr. Kerry, of all people, this criticism is nothing short of astonishing.
In 2001, readers may recall, the Washington establishment that included Mr. Kerry was fretting about the danger in Afghanistan from committing too many troops. The New York Times made the “quagmire” point explicitly in a famous page-one analysis, and Seymour Hersh fed the cliche at The New Yorker.
On CNN with Larry King on Dec. 15, 2001, a viewer called in to say the U.S. should “smoke [bin Laden] out” of the Tora Bora caves. Mr. Kerry responded: “For the moment what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.” The Rumsfeld-General Tommy Franks troop strategy may have missed bin Laden, but it reflected domestic political doubts about an extended Afghan campaign.
Remarkably, Mr. Kerry is now repeating those same doubts about Mr. Obama’s troop decision, saying that the “Afghans must do the heavy lifting” and that he supports additional troops only for “limited purposes” and wants the U.S. out within “four to five years.” Adapting his legendary 2004 campaign locution, Mr. Kerry is now in favor of more troops after he was against them, but in any case not for very long.
Since Senator Lieberman left in 2006, there are few responsible adults left in the Democrat party.
If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at email@example.com.