The NY Times' Roger Cohen has an admiring review of the forthcoming (and scathing) The Dispensable Nation, by Vali Nasr, now dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former adviser to the late Richard Holbrooke, who served as the Obama administration's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nasr's thesis, in his own words: "It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations." Cohen's synopsis: "[The book] nails the drift away from the art of diplomacy--with its painful give-and-take--toward a U.S. foreign policy driven by the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and short-term political calculus."
Recently it became known (through Defense Secretary Panetta's congressional testimony) that President Obama single-handedly rejected the Pentagon and intelligence agencies' more aggressive desires in Syria, which would seem to undermine Nasr's thesis--at least in part--as summarized by Cohen. And (perhaps not coincidentally) the NYT today reports the administration is reconsidering the intelligence agencies' views on arming Syrian rebels, which, one could argue, actually reflects the consistency of a pragmatic doctrine--versus Nasr's criticism of the Obama administration's "inconsistency."
All such considerations are up for reasonable debate among reasonable people, of course, but what is indisputable is that professional foreign policy advisers have always criticized ex post facto the White House(s) they worked for as being "subservient to tactical domestic political considerations." The human paradigm of this truism, which shall probably never shift, was the Cold War's architect of containment, George Kennan, who, in his brilliant Memoirs bemoans for pages on end his employing politicians' considerations of ... politics.
Cohen, echoing Nasr, writes one passage that is indisputable as well, however. And it is chilling:
Obama doubled-down [in Afghanistan] by committing tens of thousands more troops to show he was no wimp, only to set a date for a drawdown to show he was no warmonger. Marines died; few cared.
Afghanistan will be the grimmest, bleakest mark on Obama's presidential record. Period. Honestly, when he campaigned in 2008 on upping the ante there, I thought it was mere political bluff--a little pro-war street cred to counterbalance his anti-war position on Iraq. Dems can't be wimps, you know. President Obama's escalation came, then, as a genuine shock to me, although the nearly instant drawdown did not. Since no one has ever understood our Afghanistan policy, no one has even been able to coherently explain it. And that includes Obama. At best it's a vast incomprehensibility; at worst it is, as Cohen plays with the epithet's wording, a Bush-like abomination: "Marines died; few cared."
In 10 years or 50, Afghanistan will be the same Afghanistan it was pre-surge, just as it'll be the same Afghanistan it was 30 or 300 years ago--just as Iraq promptly devolved into the bloody sectarian chaos that everyone knew would come, once we left. And we'll have nothing but body counts to show for all this sacrifice--these incomprehensible abominations.