Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 6:17 AM

Obama, Nobel Peace Laureate, Seals Legacy as Wartime President

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

The U.S. will slow the pace of its troop drawdown in Afghanistan, leaving 8,400 troops there when President Barack Obama completes his term, Obama announced Wednesday in a blunt acknowledgment that America will remain entangled there despite his aspirations to end the war.

In a statement at the White House, Obama said the security situation in Afghanistan remains ‘precarious’ and the Taliban a threat roughly 15 years after the U.S. invaded in the aftermath of 9/11.

(ABC News, July 6, 2016)

I readily admit that I endorsed Barack Obama (in “It’s Time: Run Obama Run,” October 24, 2006) because I wanted him to become the first black president of the United States. But I was also motivated by the fact that he premised his campaign on pledges – not only to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, but also to avoid getting the country entangled in other stupid wars.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 10.10.05 PMSadly, within the first year of his presidency, I had cause for disappointment and disillusionment. And since then, I have written far too many commentaries chronicling Obama’s serial betrayal of his solemn pledges.

They include:

  • “Without [or even With] More Forces, Failure in Afghanistan Is Likely,” September 23, 2009
  • “Obama Escalates War in Afghanistan; the Die Is Cast on His Presidency,” December 2, 2009
  • “Obama’s Misguided War in Libya,” April 4, 2011
  • “U.S. Apologies Add Insult to Folly of Afghan War,” February 23, 2012
  • “Another Sign of America’s Lost Cause in Afghanistan,” March 29, 2012
  • “Perhaps Only Authoritarian Regimes Can Govern Arab Countries,” June 11, 2014
  • “Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America!” June 19, 2014
  • “Demystifying ISIS: Case against Bush-Lite War on Terrorism,” September 10, 2014
  • “Obama’s Mission Creep in Iraq Channeling JFK’s Mission Creep in Vietnam,” November 12, 2014
  • “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015

This list is not nearly complete; and it won’t be when I add to it below. For now, with respect to this latest instance of betrayal, it might be helpful to recall the show Obama made in June 2011 of announcing his intent to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan. Here, in part, is how I commented back then in “Obama’s Withdrawal Plan … a Tragic Joke,” June 22, 2011.


This is only making a joke out of the farce the war in Afghanistan has become. It has been a misguided, costly and unwinnable mess for years.

p21202afgjam-459x315Just as it was in Vietnam, the presence of U.S. troops is only delaying the day of reckoning when local factions will fight it out among themselves for control of their own country. So the sooner the U.S. gets out of the way the better. Not to mention the lives and money an immediate withdrawal would save.

In any case, the war in Afghanistan today is more about Obama’s Faustian ambition (i.e., he does not want to be the president who loses this unwinnable war) than about U.S. national security…

The blood of every troop who has died (and will die) because he decided to escalate this war instead of ending it in 2009 is on his hands.


Actually, it has been patently obvious for more than a decade now that the United States will never build Afghanistan into a country that can govern and defend itself. Therefore, the following development, which was widely reported as “shocking,” was in fact hardly surprising:

The Taliban have a significant footprint in Afghanistan… They probably either control or heavily influence about a half of the country.

(New York Times, April 19, 2016)

Meanwhile, ISIS has established an equally significant footprint in Iraq. More to the point, it speaks volumes about the futility of America’s nation-building efforts there that, thirteen years later, it is still doing this:

The United States is stepping up its military campaign against Islamic State by sending hundreds more troops to assist Iraqi forces in an expected push on the city of Mosul, the militants’ largest stronghold, later this year.

(Reuters, July 11, 2016)

IRAQ US TROOPS MEMORIALBut nothing throws this futility into fatalistic relief quite like the cost of these wars.

With respect to wasted blood (as documented by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University)

  • 2,357 U.S. troops and 26,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan March 2003 – April 2015;
  • 4,489 U.S. troops and up to 165,000 civilians were killed in Iraq March 2003 – April 2015.

(I am acutely mindful that other “body counts” have civilian totals that are considerably higher – with some estimating the human cost of America’s invasion of Iraq alone at over one million civilian deaths.)

With respect to wasted treasure (as reported by Reuters on October 1, 2015):

According to calculations at the end of last year by the Financial Times and others, the war had already cost almost $1 trillion (less than the $1.7 trillion spent on Iraq, but still staggering).

The official responsible for scrutinizing spending, U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, says that, adjusted for inflation, efforts at development in Afghanistan have now cost more than the Marshall Plan to reconstruct post-World War Two Europe.

Yet what does the United States have to show for all of this blood and treasure? An Afghanistan no more able to defend itself today (as indicated above) than it was when nation-building efforts began 15 years ago; and an Iraq where suicide bombers are doing to Iraqi marketplaces what IEDs used to do to U.S. Humvees.

The death toll from Sunday’s suicide bombing in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, has risen to 250, the Iraqi government says, making it the deadliest such attack since the 2003 US-led invasion.

A lorry packed with explosives was detonated in the Karrada district while families were shopping for the holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

So-called Islamic State (IS) has said it carried out the suicide attack.

(BBC, July 6, 2016)

Which raises the question: Why should the United States be any more willing to keep troops stationed in Afghanistan to defend it from the Taliban than it was to keep them stationed in Vietnam to defend it from the Viet Cong? Especially given that the spread of communism posed a far greater existential threat to the United States back then than the spread of jihadism poses today. Hell, we have more to fear from the mercenary ideology of the NRA than the religious ideology of Islamic Jihad.

Mind you, it would be one thing if U.S. troops were serving as a bona fide stabilization force to help locals rebuild their country – as was the case in Germany and Japan after World War II. But there are almost as many hostile forces (in both Afghanistan and Iraq) lying in wait to attack them today, as there were when U.S. troops first invaded – all those years ago.

More troops only mean more sitting ducks.

(“Without [or even with] more troops, failure in Afghanistan is likely”, The iPINIONS Journal, September 23, 2009)

From day one of his presidency, I have been entreating Obama to learn from the mistakes JFK and LBJ made by refusing to completely withdraw U.S. troops from the plainly unwinnable war in Vietnam.

His failure to do so warrants every American asking Obama the prophetic question John Kerry (then a 27-year-old Navy veteran) famously asked about that war. He did so during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?


Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.55.50 PMOf course, neither George W. Bush nor Barack H. Obama will ever admit that he sent troops to their deaths for a mistake. Never mind that Rick Reyes (a former U.S. Marine Corporal) echoed Kerry’s disillusionment, albeit less famously, on behalf of thousands of soldiers. He did so during testimony before this same committee on April 23, 2009 – with no less a person than Senator John Kerry (D-MA) serving as Committee Chairman:

We weren’t fulfilling our objective of capturing terrorists, but instead creating enemies out of civilians…

How can you tell the difference between the Taliban and Afghan civilians? The answer is that you can’t; it all stopped making sense.


3259But no leader is more in denial in this respect, and probably has more to answer for, than former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (456 UK troops died in Afghanistan, 173 in Iraq). This was thrown into pitiable relief a week ago today when he met the press to respond to the long-awaited Chilcot report on the war in Iraq.

The report found that Blair willfully ignored the risks of invading to help Bush fulfill his neo-con crusade to rebuild the Middle East in America’s image.

Blair rejected the Chilcot inquiry’s criticisms of his decision to lead Britain to war in Iraq in 2003, but expressed ‘sorrow, regret and apology’ for some mistakes he made in planning the conflict.

(London Guardian, July 6, 2016)

Frankly, no matter the political spin or crocodile tears, there’s no denying that every coalition troop who died in Afghanistan (particularly after the overthrow of the Taliban in November 2001) and in Iraq (particularly after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003) died in vain.

In addition to the commentaries bulleted above, I sounded alarms in many others about America’s military adventurism in the Middle East.

The include:

  • “Meanwhile, Over in Afghanistan: Snatching Defeat from the Hands of Victory,” September 18, 2006
  • “Support the Draft to Prevent Stupid Wars,” March 14, 2007
  • “Secretary Gates: Invading Afghanistan and Iraq was Insane,” March 1, 2011
  • “U.S. Military Finally Calling for Political Solution in Iraq,” August 14, 2015
  • “Obama Continues Vietnam-Style Mission Creep in Iraq (Afghanistan and Syria),” April 20, 2016

And, with all due respect to Blair’s contention about the benefits of hindsight, none of my alarms required that perspective.

Alas, Obama’s decision to keep America mired in never-ending sectarian conflicts in the Middle East makes plain that my alarms have all been in vain.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 10.15.59 PMNever mind that Obama saying the security situation in Afghanistan “remains precarious” (and in Iraq even more so) is rather like saying the climate condition in Antarctica remains hazardous. And his boasting about having fewer troops in war zones today than there were when he took office makes even less sense than a teenager boasting about being only a little bit pregnant.

But his decision to ape Bush by propping up congenitally corrupt and inept governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly at the expense of so much American blood and treasure, shall constitute an eternal blot on his legacy.

Granted, no president can be expected to fulfill all of his campaign pledges. But no supporter could have expected Obama to become the first president to keep U.S. troops deployed in war zones over two full terms. The fateful irony cannot be lost … even on him.

In so many ways, the peace prize the Nobel Committee awarded him in 2009 is coming home to roost. As it happened, I scoffed at it back then, rather presciently it turns out, in “Obama Awarded (Affirmative Action) Nobel Peace Prize,” October 10, 2009.

Finally, I cited, quoted, or referenced so many previous commentaries above because this will be my last on America’s Sisyphean efforts to variously fight and manage never-ending sectarian conflicts in the Middle East.

Related commentaries:
It’s Time
Failure in Afghanistan is likely
Obama escalates war in Afghanistan
Obama’s war in Libya
U.S. apologies
America’s lost cause
Authoritarian regimes
Demystifying ISIS
Bombing ISIS
Obama’s mission creep
Snatching defeat
Obama mission creep
Military solution in Iraq
Invading Afghanistan and Iraq…
Obama Nobel

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