Promoting his latest film earlier this year, Michael Moore ignored the achievements of the Progressive movement and the New Deal when he declared, "capitalism is evil and you can't regulate evil." Now on the eve of President Obama's address to the nation on his Afghanistan strategy, Moore is rewriting the history of the campaign that put Obama in the Oval Office.
Do you really want to be the new "war president"? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do -- destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they've always heard is true -- that all politicians are alike. I simply can't believe you're about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn't so.
But at almost every turn in the 2008 campaign (for example, starting at about the 17:30 mark in the video above), it was Barack Obama who pledged to "finish the fight in Afghanistan."
In August 2007, as you'll recall, Senator Obama received a hellstorm of criticism for his statements regarding attacking Al Qaeda bases in Pakistan. As part of a broad - and forceful - foreign policy speech on August 1, Obama rightly took the Bush administration to task for the failure of its "no safe havens" doctrine in Pakistan. Regarding the Al Qaeda sanctuary safely nestled along the Afghan border, Obama declared:
"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
And while Republican presidential candidate John McCain in February 2008 blasted Obama's advocacy of unilateral American attacks against Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, by the beginning of last year the Bush administration itself was already carrying them out.
From almost the inception of his campaign, Obama argued that the diversion of U.S. military assets from Afghanistan to Iraq meant that "the people who were responsible for murdering 3,000 Americans on 9/11 have not been brought to justice." In a June speech, Obama highlighted McCain's denial of this inescapable point:
"We had al Qaeda and the Taliban on the run back in 2002. But then we diverted military, intelligence, financial, and diplomatic resources to Iraq. And yet Senator McCain has said as recently as this April that, 'Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.' I think that just shows a dangerous misjudgment of the facts, and a stubborn determination to ignore the need to finish the fight in Afghanistan."
"The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won't. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights."
Throughout the summer and fall of 2008, the Pentagon and U.S. commanders in the field made clear they agreed with both Barack Obama's assessment of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and his call for deploying additional resources there. In July, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and American commander there (and incoming CENTCOM chief) General David Petraeus acknowledged Al Qaeda was shifting its focus back to Afghanistan and Pakistan. By August, the Pentagon was backing Obama's call to send at least two more brigades to the region, reinforcements which as he rightly noted could only come from one place.
General David McKiernan, Stanley McChrystal's predecessor on the ground in Afghanistan, agreed with Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen that the situation along the Pakistan frontier is "precarious and urgent." As McKiernan himself made clear, the only "way" was to get the troops from Iraq:
Finding those particular troops to supplement the 101st, however, depends on conditions and troop levels in Iraq, adds McKiernan, who took over the NATO command in June. "That's really a zero-sum decision."
In early July 2008, Admiral Mullen admitted as much. On the very day that 2,200 U.S Marines learned their tours in Afghanistan will be extended by 30 days, Mullen told reporters that the United States could only deploy more forces there by first drawing down from Iraq:
"I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq. Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there."
As President Obama stands poised to escalate the war in Afghanistan while purportedly offering an exit strategy from it, Americans can and should debate whether his is the right course for U.S. national security interests. The list of contingencies which must go right for the U.S. to succeed - curbing corruption in the Karzai government, securing Pakistani cooperation and commitment in battling insurgents in its frontier regions and buying off Pashtun tribal warlords, just to name a few - is a very long one. But to claim, as Michael Moore now does, that candidate Barack Obama never told his supporters he would dramatically ratchet up the American effort there is just fantasy.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)