A Tragic Mistake

Sending additional troops to Afghanistan was a decision that never was much in doubt. It was also the easier option.

Comments: 125

  1. Afghanistan might not be Vietnam ; but, Obama, like Johnson, will be a one term President. I have no idea who Obama is or what he stands for. I know that the NYC banking establishment loves him, and I guess now, so will the Generals. He will never again receive support or a vote from me.

  2. So why are we in Afghanistan?

  3. Tragically, it is a certain inevitability to the decline of all empires.

  4. Such sad days these are to be an American -- pathetically sad.

    America models to the world hubris, stupidity, arrogance, and a refusal to learn. America models violence -- as if armed force solves all problems that corporate marketing and advertising may not.

    Imagine an America where students learned foreign languages and cultures as part of the U.S.'s now-obvious interdependence with the world. I say "obvious," except few Americans see the world with any knowledge of or respect for its many differences -- Americans see the world through their own consumerist and entitlement "narrative." That -- "narrative" -- is what your war shill colleague Tom Friedman believes only one amorphously-held Islamic world holds -- not Good Guys with helicopter gunships, cruise missles, and 1,000s of nukes to force the consumerism agenda of Corporate America.

    So sad that that this Corporate America has taught all its elites to have no community interest, no public concerns -- and taught them also to be oblivious of the sheer greed and stupidity narrative that unites them, the indifference to other cultures, and the reliance on violence that now, too, Prez O-Bush III ruts in.

    So sad, so sad, so ever-lastingly repetively sad.

    P.B., Proprietor, www.EssayingDifferences.com

  5. ..."The tougher choice for the president would have been to tell the public that the U.S. is a nation faced with terrible troubles here at home and that it is time to begin winding down a war that veered wildly off track years ago. But that would have taken great political courage. It would have left Mr. Obama vulnerable to the charge of being weak, of cutting and running, of betraying the troops who have already served. The Republicans would have a field day with that scenario."

    For those of us progressives who campaigned for and supported the election of President Obama, this feels like a tragic moment! It is definitely NOT change we can believe in! I see Obama's decision as political--for all of the reasons you have mentioned! How much more honest and ethical for him to admit that this is an unwinnable war in a brutal country that has through history sunk every nation who has sought to conquer it! Further, he could speak about the horrendous internal problems we face and say how we need our resources to address them. Finally, he could tell us that the Republicans may say this is "weakness," but they misunderstand the lessons of history--as we have seen in the past decade!

    I am saddened that Obama seems willing to be known as a "WAR President," when we voted for him as a "PEACE President." This is really the final nail in the coffin of two-party politics. I must admit, having watched Obama appoint and stick with his Wall Street gang, and make deals with BIG PHARMA, that he has been co-opted both by corporate interests and the military-industrial complex!

    What is happening is exactly what President Eisenhower feared most--but nevertheless predicted would happen in America! Poor us!

  6. MR Herbert, Tragic Mistake it is beyound a Tragic Mistake. It is complete insanity. When will our so called leaders ever learn. History is a guide. Bring our troops home, they are worn out and no more should die for a failed policy. U.S ARMY 66-68

  7. A tragic mistake for sure but maybe O is trying to make up for the Noble peace prize deficiency, besides showing toughness, in a cowardly manner. God or whatever, please save America from continuing to ruin itself so.

  8. Obama's War is an alliance between bankers and our police state to "punch a fist" in the heart of liberals and the anti-war movement. The battleground is Afghanistan, but it will quickly draw violent opposition around the world. Afghanistan is the symbol of Muslim defiance of colonialism. It can't be won, because there is nothing there but dust and anger. It can't lose, because people everywhere will be willing to lay down their lives to fight the imperialist monstrosity that America has become. This is the beginning of World War III.

  9. A serious, viable, realistic, politically expedient scenario follows:

    President Obama presents his case for additional troops for Afghanistan, along with the rationale for this action, and fulfills the requests of military commanders and Secretary of Defense Gates. Whether or not his reasoning is compelling remains to be seen.

    He will then call upon the Congress to establish a Draft to supply the necessary manpower for these additional troops. He will also ask the Congress for an increase in taxes - via the tax code or by a special war tax - to provide the revenues to cover the costs of expanded operations in Afghanistan. Failure to take these steps represents a lack of responsible leadership and a neglect of the fiscally prudent measures necessary to support a continued costly war effort. (Note www.costofwar.com)

    The ball will thus be firmly placed in the Congressional "court", which is exactly where it belongs, given the requirements of the US Constitution. As a Constitutional scholar and professor of this subject matter, the President is well aware of these necessary steps in the process of shared governance with the Congress. Wars and the purse strings are the provenance of the Congress and rightly so, as the Congress represents the people - or at least they have a moral obligation to do so.

    This approach, if Obama has the fortitude for it, will be a master stroke - politically speaking - and totally compatible with his nature. (Remember that the ball is in their court.) There will be no more avoidance of war-making decisions by the Congress who prefer to spare themselves and to leave it up to any President. (Great skirts to hide behind.) Why put their political lives on the line, after all. But then there is that pesky Constitution.

    The usual resulting chaos in the Congress will place the Republicans war seekers on the horns of a dilemma (with friction in their ranks) because they prefer not to ask for a Draft (politically dangerous as the electorate on the whole does not favor war escalation) and they prefer to avoid taxes of any kind as they believe only in a "borrow and spend" mode of fiscal activity. All their concerns regarding deficit spending (remember Health Care reform) will disappear immediately, strangely enough.

    Sensible Congressional Democrats will weigh the political consequences and support neither the Draft, the taxes, or the war in Afghanistan in its entirety. (Sorry, Mr. President, but our constituents do not support these efforts.) Or they will do what they do best - forego a unified front, and that for once will be to our advantage. Obama will retire to the Oval Office, look over the Rose Garden, and await Congressional decisions. (I await also - all the Op-Eds.)

    The monkey wrench, of course, is if Obama throws in with the Republicans, which means he isn't as thoughtful or politically astute as one might hope. But then is being a one-term President worth a problematic "finish the job" proclamation and its possible failure? (And we do need him as a Democrat, in the last analysis.) Who's to say, but a viable third party candidate may have my vote this next time around, since I prefer careful thinkers in any political driver's seat. (And the above scenario does get him off the Afghanistan hook, after all. Not a bad result.)

    So lessons are learned and we may have to finally accept the fact that possibly charismatic oratory does have its limitations. Fool me once......

  10. I will not vote for Obama again. Yes, he talked about Afghanistan during the campaign, so we might admit we should have been warned, but this decision is the final betrayal in a string of betrayals of the expectations his supporters have had--he has supported the Patriot Act, he has failed to support effective health care reform, he has continued various violations of civil liberties, he has continued secrecy and surveillance. In other words, he is continuing the Bush policies that we voted against, and so he has lost trust, lost support, lost respect. Every appearance is that he is calculating at every turn, trying for the fool's goal of wheedling support from Republicans and rightwing nutcases. Shame on him, but shame on us for having believed in him.

  11. If Bush couldn't win that war in 2002 when he had Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, why on earth are we still there? Also, changing focus from Osama to the Taliban is another sleight of hand.

    We can't afford it for one thing. Our soldiers are overused. What is to be gained to have our eye on the ball over in that godforsaken place when the real action is with China, who is laughing all the way to the bank at our silly exploits.

    There is absolutely no sense in continuing this war. Obama should have talked to the Russians, not McChrystal. If we can't spare a dime for jobs or healthcare, we sure as heck can't spare a dime for this travesty.

  12. In Afghanistan the President will now order a phased buildup to over 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan. In early 2012 the President will bring 20,000 of these American troops home with assurances that by 2014 it will be possible to bring home almost all of the American troops from Afghanistan.

    Even the supporters of the President must now understand, that the macabre photo opportunity at Dover Air Force base in the middle of the night at the end of October, was the indication of a President who intended to use the war card.

    The announcement of the Attorney General of the show trial in New York City of the 9/11 mastermind was simply a campaign tactic to prepare for the final announcement of more troops to Afghanistan.

    The last ten months have simply been part of the campaign for reelection of the President. This is the only agenda of the President and the administration.

    On Tuesday the President will announce the sending of 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. On Thursday there will be the one day job summit at the White House.

    If the direct exporting of American jobs is the nth degree of globalization for profit, then a President and administration exploiting all events as a part of the continuous campaign for reelection is the nth degree of our political system.

  13. Bob Herbert should win a Pulitzer for his persistent and relentless exposing of the hipocrisy of our state of perpetual war. Why are viewpoints like his not heard at all on our TV newscasts? There is no debate, it was decided, like the Iraq War, months before the decision was announced. Why are the collective decisions of our government leaders and America as a whole so at odds with what we value individually? (Peace, Economic Well-being, opportunity and justice for all). We need to oppose Obama's War with all of our might and show him that we will no longer accept perpetual war, its time to put an end to this state of constant war and show Obama that this is not what we voted for.

  14. Is Bob Herbert a serious columnists? I mean really... "Bush Cheney Regime". I'd expect that out of a blogger or some obscure internet forum, not the New York Times Editorial Page.

    Here's a wake up call to Bob... in 2004 Americans resoundingly reelected the "regime". Is their will only legitimate when it elects Democrats? Because I voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and Obama in 2008. You can be sure, if Obama did not send reinforcements to Afghanistan, he would not be getting my vote in 2012.

    So again, Bob, when you speak of "regimes", keep in mind, the "permanent state of war" that sees the US military fighting our enemies in every corner of the planet is exactly what some of us in the American electorate want.

  15. "...as he made plans for the first big expansion of U.S. forces in Vietnam, that there was no upside to the war."

    Of course there was an upside then as there is now. Just ask Bush/Cheney/Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater, the Carslyle Group, and all the other defense and private military contractors.

    Are you that naive, Mr. Herbert? Probably since you thought Obama would walk the walk after talking the talk.

  16. SHOCK AND AWE in 2009. This evening I submitted this message on the White House "contact us" site:

    "Please change your mind, Mr President. Please do not send any more troops to Afghanistan. Please shock the world and inspire awe in its people by changing your mind - NOTHING could do more good than that. Please change your mind."

    Please do something similar.

  17. With this escalation of troops, there is no longer any reason to support, or have hope in, President Obama.

  18. 100% agree. The President showed his weakness with this decision. But it is characteristic of his presidency that he picked a solution that makes sure we have a downside with no opportunity for an upside.

  19. "recommend" doesn't do justice to this well-reasoned, passionate argument. Not a bad antidote to your colleague to the right, either.

  20. Well said, Mr. Herbert. It would have taken some courage to wind this useless, silly, tragic exercise down; just the courage needed to tell the people you know are lying, "this is the truth." Instead, Obama has found it easier to go along to get along, and many will die because of it. America will end up poorer and weaker because of it.

  21. What can we as voters do? If we vote Republican, we get war. If we vote Democrat, we get war. If we vote other, we don't count.

  22. Mr. Herbert: You are correct. Sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is a tragic mistake. Who is advising Obama? Dick Cheney? And what's our unemployment rate?

  23. I can't watch his speech tomorrow. I feel betrayed. I voted for this man because I thought he would fight for single-payer health care. He didn't. I thought he would bring in new people and reform the financial system. He hasn't. I thought he would end these horrible, futile wars. He hasn't. This isn't change. This is heart-breaking. Is there a third-party candidate with the guts to save this country?

  24. Save your breath, Bob. No one in the WH is listening. The agenda was written long before Obama was elected, and before GWB was too. Many of us are guilty of believing that presidents have the power to decide. But the empreror lost his clothes.

  25. I agree with Mr. Herbert, except where he says, "There was every reason for American forces to invade Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001." The people of Afghanistan were not responsible for 9/11 -- a small group of Saudis and Egyptians were. In fact, there was only one reason to invade, Mullah Omar's refusal to turn Osama bin Laden over to U.S. forces. We might have solved that problem through patience, negotiation, or even bribery. Instead we slaughtered thousands of innocents and devastated an already war-torn country.

  26. It is one thing to say, "Bring the troops back home." It is quite another to surrender, thereby rendering meaningless all the sacrifices made up to that point. I don't think there is a single intelligent person who does not firmly believe that a pullout of American troops now would result in the Taliban regaining full control of Afghanistan within one year, two at most. And yet the primary reason Americans supported the invasion and eight years of occupation was to remove the Taliban from power and keep them from regaining control. I don't like the idea of sending more troops into that morass, but I much prefer it to handing the country back to the Taliban.

  27. In the immediate aftermath of the election, Obama could have much more easily honored his campaign promise to extract us from the twin quagmires. The right would have screamed bloody murder, but by now it would be fait accompli. By dithering, he has painted himself into a corner, where the political cost of withdrawal would be much higher. Nonetheless, that is still the correct, courageous, and ultimately humane course, and I am bitterly disappointed that he is willing to sacrifice so many lives and so much treasure for political gain. More and more I feel like we've reverted back to the woebegone days of Jimmy Carter, and if the President doesn't show some backbone one of the days on something that matters, he will suffer a similar fate when he runs for reelection.

  28. I haven't felt this bad since March 19, 2003. What a tragedy.

  29. Sending 30,000 or so troops into the jaws of the maelstrom of disaster that is Afghanistan will become the stake not only in the heart of the Obama presidency but the heart of the American military ground forces as well. General Stanley McChrystal patently lied about the death of Pat Tillman and he's lying to President Obama now just as Lyndon Johnson's generals lied to him. If General McChrystal had provided honest counsel to his president, he would have admitted to the Commander-in-Chief that it would actually take 300,000+ more troops to civilize and rebuild Afghanistan.

    Bob Herbert has eloquently described the "better than no war at all" mentality of the Army and Marine Corps general officers. It's amazing that they can sleep at night.

    General McChrystal needn't have been as eloquent in laying out his recommendations to President Obama as Bob Herbert has been in voicing his objection to that plan to his readers but he damn sure should have been as honest.

    As Edith Ann was wont to say, "That's the truth."

  30. Let me state it simply: Obama has decided to send more Americans to die for no reason. It is a demonstration of pure cowardice and moral failing. For shame.

  31. In the spring of 2004, a soldier on leave from Afghanistan told me that when we left to invade Iraq, we left only enough soldiers in Afghanistan to control the populations centers. All appeared well, but he reported that the Taliban were already moving back into the caves, only this time wiser and armed to the teeth. They were beginning to test their strength with little skirmishes, and gradually expanding their sphere of influence. If something was not changed, they would eventually threaten population centers, where, he reported "its all going to come down around our ears there, and it will look like it happened suddenly." Prophetic? No, just observant.

    Funny how there's always plenty of money for war and wall street.

  32. I want to hear what the President has to say before passing judgment on the outcome. I think he is going to follow a route similar to what Mr. Brooks laid out in his column, and we all know there is no solution all will agree to regarding this matter.

    More importantly, we do need to take lessons about what we can and cannot achieve without great costs in blood, treasure and reputation. Fighting two wars, one provoked by the hosts of evil against us, and one for the oil and mysterious WMD's that are not ours nor never will be was stupid. GWB, Cheney and company must think they were exempt from the lessons of WW1, WW2, Napoleon and others.

    For us to fight one war on two or more fronts in a united, all sacrifice method with key allies was the answer to our success, even then with gterrible costs, to win WW2. That this was forgotten in the spin of arms merchants and political potentates on the Potomac.

    I pray we can find a way to wind down Iraq to help reduce our exposure, and that a united strategy with our key allies in Afghanistan is part of the answers we will hear tomorrow. It is easy to forget at times that we are not alone in the battlefield, though we had (and still have) many more "coalition of the willing" partners with us on the mission from 2001 than 2003...

  33. Excellent commentary, Mr. Herbert, on such an important and depressing decision by President Obama. I really believed that change was coming, but it is evident that it is not coming this way soon.
    Pete Seger perhaps said it best in "Where Have All the Floweres Gone?", his anti tribute to war. Where have all the young girls gone? Gone to young men, every one. Where have the young men gone? Gone to soldiers, every one. Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards, every one. Where have all the graveyards gone? Gone to flowers, every one. When will we ever learn? Never, apparently.
    I graduated in 1970, and was lucky enough to have two very high draft numbers, but entered law enforcement 2 years later perhaps in some way to do my part. I would have been 4F for the service, but I was able to pass the law enforcement physical.
    So many of my generation and others died in Viet Nam. And here we go again, with a decision by what I thought was a thoughtful, pragmatic thinker sure to make the right decisions for our country, at least in my opinion, and look what we get. More soldiers off to fight a war long lost, now unwinnable, and for what? Yes, it is sad that the Taliban denies education to young girls, and restricts many other facets of Islamic life, etc ... yet we are not stopping that from happening in Yemen, Somalia, and other hotbeds of al Queda and Taliban. We can only do what we can do, and we can do this no longer. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn. Never, apparently.

  34. At 17 in 1969, the horror of Vietnam came full front to me. Though I loved my country, and wanted to fly a jet, I could not in conscience participate in what it seemed what a futile endeavor with a lack of reason propelling it. I felt deeply the absolute loss each day and knew that on a political level there were better choices to be made. I watched the war unfold in agony, and not until twenty years later did I weep on the tarmac of Travis Air Force Base with a pilot who did fight. He cried because he could not do enough to win, and I, because I could not do enough to stop it, and we held one another our tears different yet absolutely the same; that in that tragedy of loss of reason and an audacity of hubris, we lost so very many good young men and women our friends and loved ones.

    I do so pray that you are wrong Bob so deeply again. But I know inside me that you may be right.

    I think that our President is a very true and good man now and his reason, would compel him not to stray into another futile war.

    Perhaps that will be enough........this time.

  35. This is a great column. Sometimes the most courageous acts are those that avoid violence. As President Bush so clearly demonstrated, when you've got the most powerful military on the planet, going to war seems like an easy answer to many problems, and often popular to boot. Obama is in a particularly difficult situation, because in addition to the obvious political heat he would take from the right wing, he also campaigned on the idea that Afghanistan was the "good war", so for him to begin to withdraw from Afghanistan would also require that he explain why he had changed his mind about the importance and the winnability of the war. I hope that a short-term troop surge with a defined exit strategy will enable Obama to extract us from this mess. I fear that like LBJ, Obama's promising domestic agenda will be derailed by him feeling compelled not to lose a war he didn't start.

  36. I forgot the person's name, but he said of the Vietnam War that a good option was to "Declare victory and get out." I think the addition of these troops is President Obama's prelude to using that option.

    He apparently believes that a sudden, total pull-out (such as many people favor) would cause a vacuum, which would lead to a sudden shift in favor of the Taliban--along with that reliable GOP shrieking of "Weakness!", which, of course, does as much as anything to make us look weak.

    However, it may be that President Obama is interested in seeing what difference 30 or 40 thousand more troops would make. It may be that the brass will keep those troops concentrated in order to secure some area of strategic importance and create the appearance of a major victory.

    But I believe that Obama DEFINITELY has a time-table (a short one), and that he'll "Declare victory and get out".

  37. The U.S.A. is just about totally destroyed now for all but the few who still have a seat in the lifeboats or are partying on deck while the holes in our ship's hull are still plugged with silly putty.

    Henry Ford's theory, which ultimately created the largest and most prosperous middle class the world has ever known, was to pay his employees enough to buy the products they made. Then came the free market fundamentalists, who paid poor people overseas 50 cents a day to build products for unemployed American workers.

    We're playing a game of musical chairs. The music for the moment has stopped, and 15 million Americans are left without a chair. The "economy" has been downsized and will recover without them. Their jobs are never coming back.

    American presidents are always fighting wars. "Democratic free market capitalism" is God's gift to humanity, and American presidents are God's vehicle to bring this miracle to all.

  38. As a former active duty Marine I say get out. Winning in the normal sense of winners and losers is not something that is achievable. Did our President say, "It's time for a change." Let's start with Afghanistan.

  39. Mr.Herbert, you are absolutely right.

  40. The previous administration was determined to be tough on terrorism and i had hoped the current administration would be smart about terrorism and the use of the military option. My hopes are dashed.

  41. I have been betrayed by this man I came to love. The man I lectured all of my Republican "friends" would be the greatest president of modern times...a brilliant scholar, a chess player in the world of international political football. They laughed at me, derided me, told me he wasn't up to the job. Now I actually avoid these people, it's too humiliating to admit they were right. I'm just sick over it. I read today it costs $400 to send a gallon of gasoline to Afghanistan, $1M to keep a soldier there for a year. Mr. Obama, you have turned your back on the country you vowed to save. Now I'm remembering why I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004: he's the one who really cares about this country. Mr. Obama you are just another politician, and between your health care disaster and these utterly insane wars, you'll have a lot to answer for come Judgment Day.

  42. Mr. Herbert,

    You're the last rational man on the planet.

    For so many years I've read your column, and wondered why you still bothered. You're our collective conscience, and for the most part, we've ignored you.

    I finally went to an anti-war rally last year. I'll be at one again on Wednesday. I don't like the group that is organizing the protest, but I finally realized that it wasn't right not to show up and protest more young people being sent into harm's way with no gain.

    This isn't the equivalent of WWII. It's just a mess.

    Please keep writing, and don't give up. You're reaching people slowly.

  43. Sending 30,000 American troops into war is in no way an easier decision than allowing our forces to pack up and return to their families and their country. You can make the claim that Obama's move is a bad decision, but it is in no way an easy one.

  44. Had Obama told the American people BEFORE he was elected that he would withdraw troops from Afghanistan, that would be an example of "great political courage". He would have lost the race, but we and the world would have known exactly where he stood. Instead, he played it safe, calling Afghanistan a good war and a war of necessity, thereby giving the impression that it was a cause worth fighting. He has nobody to blame but himself for the quandry he finds himself in.

  45. Bob, which part of this do you not understand?

    "His [McCain's] plan comes up short. There's not enough troops, not enough resources, not enough urgency. What President Bush and Senator McCain don't understand is that the central front in the War on Terror in not in Iraq and never was. The central front is in Afghanistan and Pakistan where the terrorist that hit us on 9-11 are still plotting attacks seven years later."

    Senator Barack Obama
    Campaign Speech
    September 9, 2008

  46. The problems that caused us to invade Afghanistan in the first place are still there. If we just leave the region Al Qaeda and the Taliban will be able to pursue their goals unimpeded, retaking Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan. We helped cause the problem by backing Pakistan's play with the Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgency in the Eighties against the Russians. The CIA helped inflame Muslim anger in the Soviet Asian republics, helping cause the problems in Chechnya.

    I don't like any of the options, but bailing out and crossing our fingers is what we did after the Russians left Afghanistan, and Bush basically bailed out to invade Iraq. It would be mistake to do so a third time.

    We've trashed Afghanistan twice with our hubris; we need to get out of there without abandoning the Afghans yet again. Somehow we need to give the average Afghan a normal life, while preventing the Taliban and Al Qaeda from tearing that normal life to shreds. We can't do it for them -- we have to give them enough help to let them do it for themselves.

  47. Obama's campaign held out a slogan which expressed a great national desire after 8 years of illegitimate administration by George W Bush and Richard Cheney. It offered hope. In a short 11 months Obama has shown himself to be a property of Wall Street and the Pentagon, and their combined interests. In turn he has squandered the trust placed in him, and doubtless will have turned the hopes he seemed to offer into a terminal cynicism for the American political system. The consequences will be felt by all, including those who live on Wall Street and those who profit from the Pentagon. America will disintegrate, slowly perhaps, but surely.

    No amount of Harvard-learned loquaciousness will mask Obama's obeisance to his masters; he might as well do a minstrel show and play Stepn'fetchit.

    jon jost

  48. President Obama is stuck on continuation of the war because he refused to take the bold step of addressing its earlier mismanagement, and the subsequent aggression in Iraq. The recent Senate report reveals behavior which looks very much like a deliberate decision to let bin Laden escape in late 2001, the "dead or alive" bravado notwithstanding. Had President Obama moved vigorously to deal with the errors and abuses of the past on taking office his way forward would have been had more moral certainty. Now he moves the country ever-deeper into the mire, claiming that if we only struggle forward just a few more steps we will begin to find firmer footing.

    What a mess to send 30,000 more recruiters for the Taliban.

  49. Thanks, Bob, for saying this so clearly and eloquently. I just don't understand how a president with such a seemingly clear, intelligent mind would endorse this. When he was campaigning, he seemed like he had America's people's best interest's at heart. Now I wonder...

  50. our great poet
    marvin gaye
    "father, father"
    "we don't need to escalate"
    "war is not the answer"
    "only love can conquer hate"

    the poet's plea
    fell on deaf ears
    he was murdered
    by his father

    what's going on
    mr. president?

  51. I would like to be wrong, but I think Mr. Herbert's words will prove to be prophetic. I tend to sympathize with the President as the pressures to go along with the permanent war mentality must be overwhelming, and no doubt there are real dangers involved in withdrawing. But, the dangers involved in continuing the war will almost certainly turn out to be even greater.

  52. Yes we should withdraw from Afghanistan. However, since we're not, I'd be happy if somebody, somewhere could explain why we are wasting lives and money there. I don't get it. We shouldn't have invaded in the first place, and once we invaded, we should have left after we got vengeance (there is no such thing as justice in war).

  53. President Obama talked about "real change" when he ran for office. He lied.

  54. i'm afraid you got it right. very unfortunate

  55. "But the military is now able to meet its recruitment goals because the young men and women who are signing up can’t find jobs in civilian life." That is precisely why this administration is beginning to look two-faced. Keep Wall Street appeased by keeping the war economy -- highly profitable for the super rich -- going and at the same time offer the unemployed young the only jobs they can find. How perfidious can politics get?

  56. Garry Wills had a short essay in a recent issue of The New York Review of Books entitled something like "One-Term President?", in which he said that if Obama did the courageous and right thing and got us out of Afghanistan (and, of course, Iraq), he would pay for it by losing his second term in the presidency. But he would gain immeasurably in the course of time because of his moral courage. Wills thought Obama should sacrifice his second term as president and do the courageous and right thing.

    According to the reports in advance of Obama's speech later today announcing his decision about Afghanistan, Obama will not do as Garry Wills implicitly advised: He will not do the courageous and right thing.

    But I'll bet anybody who cares to bet (within the limit of my modest means) that Obama will be a one-term president anyway.

    In a letter to the editor of the 19 November 2009 issue of the London Review of Books in re David Bromwich's essay, "Obama's Delusion," which appeared in the 22 October 2009 issue of LRB, letter-writer R.W. Johnson says, "David Bromwich writes as if Obama's main problem were a deluded search for bipartisanship in the face of intransigent Republican rascals --Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Fox TV and so forth.... It might be better to admit that the left has deluded itself into believing that Obama, a nice, eloquent young man from Harvard with no gubernatorial and little legislative experience, has some sort of magic wand, when the truth is that he's out of his depth."

    The Times's own Friedman, Herbert, and Krugman seem to have gotten it long since but are not saying it straight out. It's time they did.

  57. "It would have left Mr. Obama vulnerable to the charge of being weak".

    Obama is weak. Overseas, he has refused to confront human rights outrages in Iran, China and Darfur. Domestically, he has backtracked on many of his pre-election commitments, e.g. to the homosexual community.

    I question whether Obama's decision to expand the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan is based upon narcissistic image repair or sound policy.


  58. It would be great if Herbert could ever write a column not infected with his mindless partisan hatred. He loses all credibility when he reverts to partisan bashing.

    What Herbert and many of his peers need to understand is that his brand of poisonous partisanship is as great a scourge to our country as any of the actions of those he criticizes.

  59. So sad but true. You can't achieve peace by killing. Too many reactionaries in this (and other countries) see this idea as weak and naive. But it's just common sense. And we know that common sense ain't so common.

    Bring 'em home and let's (re)build our own nation.

  60. I did not vote for Obama to continue Bush's phony wars. Obama will not be getting my vote in 2012. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  61. Nobody who has listened to a WWII vet recall fighting would call Afghanistan, "a meat grinder," that's a real stretch. But it is a money grinder, and that's bad enough. My vote for Nader looks better every week.

  62. Bin Laden got everything he wanted when Bush/Cheney walked into the ambush that was Iraq. US troops left Saudi Arabia, we got stuck in a quagmire that drove us to bankruptcy, he got a larger following, and he got many American targets closer to home. Obama needs to be wary of getting stuck in any more messes like that.



    Congress needs to figure out a way to pay for our war debts before we start escalating. How about a war profiteers' tax (Dubbya seemed to ignore that problem by putting his wars off budget even though war profiteering was illegal in most of our wars in history)? Halliburton seems to have played an offshore tax haven avoidance game. Since both wars are really about oil, how about a carbon tax to pay for all the war debts Bush/Cheney et.al. left us. At least Pappy Bush figured out a way for all the other countries in the coalition to pay for the liberation of Kuwait so America got off lightly.

  63. It's not a mistake. No one who speaks honestly to the public about the financial and human costs of continual military actions can ever be elected president. The Big Money Boys and the military contractors will see to it that anyone who colors outside the lines of supporting "a strong defense" is either ignored or ridiculed into obscurity.

    Sad to say, generations of Americans have been fooled into thinking that joining the military is "serving one's country." They somehow believe that guarding the Oil Ministry in Baghdad, bombing villages to no clear purpose in Afghanistan or Vietnam, training Central American government forces to repress peasants, or sitting on a safe and superfluous base in Okinawa or Germany is "fighting for freedom."

    What does it say about our culture that so many Americans think that militarism is the essence of patriotism and that joining the military is the best way to prove one's patriotism?

    I'll tell you what it says. It says that we are not who we think we are. We are no longer a great democracy, a land of opportunity, or a beacon of freedom to the world. Maybe we never were all these things, but we could at least believe that we were. No longer.

    More and more, America is acting like an empire, with a larger military than the next ten nations combined, bases in dozens of countries, and an arrogant confidence that it knows what's best for other countries.

  64. Thank you for an excellent commentary. The money spent on this ill-considered war could go to health care and education and infrastructure. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price. I have looked in vain for leadership from Obama, but he seems to be taking the easier choice at every fork in the road.

  65. As somebody who enthusiastically supported Barack Obama for president, I have pretty much decided not to vote for him in 2012. He offered the promise of being a different kind of politician, but this was obviously an illusion.

    Bob Herbert is absolutely correct, Obama is making a "tragic mistake" in sending tens of thousands of more troops to his war in Afghanistan. The parallels to Vietnam are remarkable. Obama, as Kennedy and Johnson between 1961 and 1966, is more concerned about appearing "weak," especially to conservative Republicans and hawkish Democrats, than making the right decisions for the nation, the people of this country, especially the soldiers sent on such misguided missions.

    Any rhetoric about an exit strategy is likely to be vague and not carried out for many years. Anti-war progressives and others should start thinking about encouraging a prominent, genuine progressive Democratic candidate for the primaries in 2012, as an alternative to Obama.

  66. Until the US power structure does continue to be under the clutches of military-industrial-corporate complex, and the policy establishment remains immune to democratic control and accountability, the young Americans would continue to be fed as fodder in obsolete war machines abroad on the pseudo patriotic pretext of defending the nation, with little concern for the fact that the social time bomb, stuffed with mass unemployment, hunger and shattered dreams of the American youth is ticking in the backyard, likely to explode any moment.

  67. So, this is the "jobs program" we've been hearing about! How ingenious to kill two birds, as it were, with one stone. Spend $1 million a year to send each and every young man or woman in uniform to Afghanistan, and then spend billions more to care for wounded veterans, many of whom will be unfit for work when they return home. Do those beating the drums for expanding this war even know that our hospitals and homeless shelters are still overflowing with veterans of another unnecessary war that ended 35 years ago? The Vietnam War ended when the nation's youth took to the streets in protest. That hasn't happened with this war, because the draft was abolished, and today's soldiers are fighting for a paycheck. Wouldn't it be better, and much less expensive, to pay our young people to rebuild roads, bridges, schools and power networks here at home?

  68. Thank you Mr. Herbert. The references to the Lyndon Johnson era are especially apt. We are in the same place with the same types of people in power. We lost Johnson's dream of a "Great Society" because of his misjudgement; we may lose even more because of Obama's misjudgement.

    Obama should resign. Biden could at least start anew. Also, it would help the Democrats in the midterm election and, at this rate at least, Biden would stand a better chance than Obama in 2012.

    Thank you again for saying this; we should all be cutting it out and pasting it on our walls.

  69. A tragic mistake! - That is an understatement.

    With all the troubles we have here at home why are we re-building a country that does not appreciate it. Who will help re-build the US when we are even further down on the ground.

    Does Obama really think that the American public will believe him when he also introduces his plan for winding down the war? I think not. 18 months will turn into 36 months months and untold detahs of young men and women.

    A lost generation for the US.

    If there is a positive side to this I guess we can say that Obama has created 30,000 new jobs in a single day. Should also keep the funeral industry busy as well.

    What a tragedy!

  70. Just because people supported Obama during the election campaign doesn't mean they should let him off the hook for this dumb, gutless move to expand the mission in Afghanistan. The US will not win peace by waging more war.

  71. If it was a question of war on one side and the peace on the other then Mr. Herbert's piece would make perfect sense. Unfortunately, it's just not that simple. In its most simplistic aspect the reason we went to Afghanistan was to root out terrorists being sheltered by the Taliban. Most everybody would agree that we needed to root out the terrorists. On the day before we invaded Afghanistan we were the number 1 provider of humanitarian aid to that country. The Taliban are barbarians. Not only could they not provide for their countrymen they ruled ruthlessly. The very people that Mr. Herbert and those of his ilk protect and promote are going to be throw to the the Taliban wolves and it won't be pretty. Are those "kinds" of people, e.g., women, important to save in our country but not Afghanistan?

    I think we need to try. Maybe we'll fail, but its worth the effort.

  72. Thank you, Mr. Herbert, for always writing with honesty and candor about heart-wrenching issues. I agree with your sentiments 100%. Indeed, today is a tragic day, and Obama is indeed making a tragic mistake. Thanks for calling it like it is.

    Here is an article I wrote for my school newspaper today. I hope you enjoy it.



  73. So true.

    Cut your losses and leave.

    Let Pakistan(and Saudi Arabia) take over Afganistan(it did so,untill the USA went in after 9/11).

    Iran will not allow the Taliban to grow westward. The Northern Alliance will not allow the Taliban to grow northwards. India will have to take on the task of stopping the eastward growth of the Taliban, which Pakistan will gleefully direct towards India.

    Anytime you see any build up of the Al Queda, in Afganistan and in Pakistan,come in and in great force, and with the assistance of the world;take them out and leave.

    The Afgan and Pakistani people will suffer;the indian people will suffer;but there is no way that this can be avoided until you have a functioning state in Pakistan, one which is really interested in being a part of the civilised world.

    Get out. Solve your economic problems, grow strong again.

    And while you are doing that, ask the world to help you in straightening out Pakistan. Unless you do that, you will never succeed in Afganistan.

    Be smart.

    You are weak now. Dont get weaker. Buy time till you get strong again.

  74. Even as a Progressive, I often think your columns are off the mark. But this one is spot on, absolutely right and to the heart of the matter. Nearly all Americans--in fact, nearly all people--love war, as long as they don't have to fight it or be affected by it. The horrible tragedy of Vietnam is being shown in the Moyers show to have been even more awful than we thought. Afghanistan is a terrible waste of money, blood and life, and Obama is only adding to the waste. Shame on him, but even more so, shame on every American who doesn't stand up and demand that this waste stop now.

  75. I think this is a wonderful description of the historic and current states of this and past wars. Herbert chooses examples perfectly, and they make his case with irresistible impact.

    So how do I use this framework to judge a long and detailed, possibly equally well informed interview by Ted Koppel this morning, which (in my simplified interpretation) claimed that the really critical security issue was in keeping the taliban from overwhelming the Pakistani army and gov't, getting control of the Pakistani nukes, and then raising hell all around the world?

    After pondering for a few minutes, given the binary choice, I am relatively sure that the Herbert forecast is well-based in fact and history. The deficits, the wounded and dead (ours AND the Iraqis, etc- almost a million dead and 2 million refugees), and the deflection of our attention and resources from domestic and climate change issues are guaranteed, as well as anyone can predict history.

    The Koppel arguments that if we don't combat the taliban on the Afghan/Pak border they will take the Pak nukes and severely damage the world- are very speculative. They bring us back to a cold-war world of dominoes which didn't fall, of doomsday machines and nuclear winter. For about 50 years we were ruled by a military cold war struggle which, in the end, simply collapsed. While the Koppel scenario ends up in a much worse place than the Herbert forecast, Koppel depends on a chain of evidence and predictions which sound very much like what got us into Iraq, and many of the same people are still influential. And some of them are still pushing to validate their unfulfilled predictions.

    It would be a pity to have our President's enormously powerful rhetorical skills get the American people to support action in the wrong direction.

  76. It's horrific and sad and I'm sick to my stomach. And I know I will be out in the street on Wednesday protesting, because I have two sons. And they are never going to serve in an idiotic war half way around the world -- for nothing.

    The general's demands for more troops are ludicrous. And only the Republicans, people who will never vote for or truly support Obama, are in agreement with his decision. We're watching his presidency go down the drain. He will be deeply into this Afghan quagmire for the rest of his ONE TERM in office.

    The sheer and startling illogic of McChrystal's 66 meandering report, which I read, is STUNNING BEYOND BELIEF.

    1 - He says the Taliban only survived because the ISI in Pakistan helped them. But then he says the Taliban threatens Pakistan's nukes. Both can't be true.

    2 - He barely mentions the logistical nightmare of flying in supplies to 110,000 troops. There are no safe land routes. That's why gasoline cost $400 per gallon for our troops there. Should the Taliban get a hold of some stinger missiles, this could be the messiest retreat in military history.

    3 - He says we have to stop using our air power to win hearts and minds. He favors American soldiers at checkpoints being cops fighting with the same weapons as the Taliban in their backyard. This is a recipe for many dead Americans. It's shameful that a general would propose getting American's killed unnecessarily.

    4 - McChrystal proposes NATION BUILDING, a ludicrous concept regarding Afghanistan which has been entirely discredited and thus dropped from the discussion. But that's what HE SAID. There are 37.5 million people in Afghanistan. There are 172 million people in Pakistan. There's no way 40,000 more troops will provide security.

    5 - There are 30,000 Taliban fighters, most of whom are poor people who work for them for cash. The Taliban itself is made up of many different groups with local grievances. There's no logic to making them out to be an international threat. They fight with rifles and homemade bombs made from cow poop. It's crazy to think they can overthrow Pakistan which has a military capable to standing off India's million man army.

    6 - McChrystal admits that Iran could destabilize Afghanistan even if we stabilize it. This completely undercuts his logic. What there is of it. Karzai is a crook and his brother is a murderer and General Dostrum is a war criminal. These are our allies. It's absurd to think these people can become a legitimate government winning the hearts and minds of anyone.

    7 - He says we have to keep Al Qaeda from setting up bases. Well, guess what, they already have bases. In PAKISTAN and elsewhere. They don't need bases in AFGHANISTAN to attack us. It's idiotic.

    8 - But the biggest illogic is that Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan anymore. Bin Ladin is NOT THERE! Al Qaeda is an international organization of murderers. They are NOT a country. We're occupying a country to chase down terrorists WHO AREN'T THERE!

  77. Bob, this the best column I have ever read regarding the relation between wars we fight and how we see ourselves as a nation. Even though we know the folly of wars but still we cannot stop it because, it is not only the President but we as a nation do not want to look weak.
    But has it ever occur to us that there are many prosperous nations is the world who do not see themselves that way but still nobody consider them weak or inadequate.
    So how do we get out of this gangster mentality? Double digits unemployment for few more years? But the scars it would leave on us might stay with us forever and any victory in foreign land would not mean anything at that point.

  78. Absolutely! We need those funds to get things going here. Why on earth do these politicians think that we can pay for all kinds of things overseas, but not here? It's appalling.

    That's not to mention the punishment of our soldiers and the innocent civilians.

  79. Thank you, Mr. Herbert. I completely agree with your opinion. Except, so many Americans agree with us, that the right thing to do might also be the right thing politically. If President Obama sends more troops I think he should also announce he will not be able to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

  80. Isn't the money that is being spent on those wars something like an ongoing stimulus? It seems to be a stimulus package that is rarely mentioned as such and somehow (how?) always gets approved, but is all borrowed, mostly from abroad, and has started to look scary as a debt. -- I would not want to (have to?)lend money to someone who only owns an immense debt debt and an immense gun.

  81. You can quote a Soldier who regrets the waste of war, lets continue

    We are tired of aristocratic explanations in Harvard words.
    Dwight D. Eisenhower

    When you are in any contest, you should work as if there were - to the very last minute - a chance to lose it. This is battle, this is politics, this is anything. Dwight D. Eisenhower

    What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight - it's the size of the fight in the dog. Dwight D. Eisenhower

    History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. Dwight D. Eisenhower

    I have one yardstick by which I test every major problem - and that yardstick is: Is it good for America? Dwight D. Eisenhower

    In the final choice a soldier's pack is not so heavy as a prisoner's chains. Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Our forces saved the remnants of the Jewish people of Europe for a new life and a new hope in the reborn land of Israel. Along with all men of good will, I salute the young state and wish it well. Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Our real problem, then, is not our strength today; it is rather the vital necessity of action today to ensure our strength tomorrow.
    Dwight D. Eisenhower

    There is no victory at bargain basement prices. Dwight D. Eisenhower

    We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it.
    Dwight D. Eisenhower

  82. I completely agree. I feel like this is the final blow to our economy and strength.I really think that most Americans believe we should be nation building at home.

  83. Senseless and thoughtless macho-ness will always be celebrated by the weak-minded Republicans. America fell into Osama bin Laden's trap. It is spending itself into bankruptcy. Obama is falling into the Republican's trap. He is getting bogged down into a war that will ruin his presidency (already in question from the unfixable weak economy).

    To paraphrase Mr. T: Pity the USA. Pity Obama.

  84. Excellent piece. The sad reality is that Obama is a spineless deceitful coward whose sole and only concern is saving his own political skin.

    Why do we keep electing politicians like Obama in this country to high office that are devoid of any integrity and are so flawed of character that they lack any moral compass.

  85. Bob Herbert, you are a national treasure. The rest of us, lacking such a prominent soapbox, had better rummage in our closets for our old peace T-shirts & in our garages for stakes to hold up our protest signs. Eisenhower's military-industrial complex is taking us on another egregiously futile, wasteful ride. I hear the ghost of Mary Travers asking, "When will they ever learn?"

    The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com

  86. Mr. Herbert, "rugged individualism" is only practiced here at home. Elsewhere we are engaged in nation building and must win the minds and hearts of the locals, help them build infrastructure and a true democratic government and provide a sound economic base on which to build a future. We must make them secure. Somehow we fast forwarded through that part about thirty years ago here in the US. Here such actions are called Marxist, socialism, liberalism... you get the picture.

  87. Dwight D. Eisenhower also said, "The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without."

    In general I'm a pacifist, and I can't think of many logical reasons for bolstering forces in Afghanistan. However, the world has never been simple. As you mentioned, unemployment is increasing and the economy isn't in great shape. Putting thousands of people to work on the front lines and in the factories has to be a motivator in this situation. This country is addicted to war both financially and emotionally. At least that's the way I see it from my limited vantage point.

  88. In his response to Wall Street corruption, Bush-Cheney torture, healthcare profiteering, jobs policy and the willful destruction of the planet, Barack Obama has hardly been a profile in courage. "Change we can believe in" he clearly is not. But sending our young to their deaths for political purposes is worse than cowardly, it is sickening.

  89. Well, I would have to concur with everything this author wrote, except for one thing.

    Obama wants a war.

    He wants to outdo every President who ever held office.

    Obama wants to fundamentally change the United States, and he is doing it by ignoring the wishes of the people, while running through his agenda as fast as he can.

    That means having his own war. He has to do it bigger and better. Obama knew that when he began all of his policy measures that would kill the economy that it would also result in no jobs for young people.
    That would lead to dependency issues that worked in his favor. People post trash on line for him for $15 and hour, just like they recruited and harrassed voters for him during the election.

    Now kids are signing up for the military because there are no jobs.

    Obama doesn't really care if they get killed. If he did, then he would have let his general have his troops and the backing of the Commander in Chief months ago. Now he is willing to send less troops, after sending out his war plan on CNN so that the enemy will know where and when he will send the troops.

    Obama is a disaster that is currently happening and must be stopped.

    Supernanny could do a better job containing Obama to his job as defender of the Constitution, than all of his advisers and Congress. The toddler is running the nation, and no one is willing to stop him from destroying us along with the country.

    I just wish the supposed journalists in this country would get on top of the Obama situation. I've never seen so many "journalists" behind in their research than a majority of the public.

    Isn't this your country also? Do you just not care?

    This is the first article I have seen from the NYT that has come close to acknowledging the problems with the Obama Administration. I suppose that I should be happy that my kid is one of those who couldn't find a job, went the military route, and might end up as a belated troop in Afghanistan.

    But I just can't be that happy because I knew more about Obama than the NYT writers ever wrote about him for nearly two years, I knew he would be a disaster as President, and I knew early on this year that the kids would pay because Obama has done his best to make sure there are no jobs and people will become Govt dependents. That's all the man wants. Give him all of your power and money and he will take care of you. Worst daddy ever. And he never came close to being a President.

  90. The words of Eisenhower are certainly right, as long as the whole world accepts them and lives by them. But if only one country follows them, and even worse, that one country happens to be the U.S. then we are in deep trouble

  91. I totally agree. What a tragic mistake for our dear President. I worked so hard during his campaign thinking he could "be the change I wish to see in the world". That change is a world without war. We are going down the same path and another president is heading toward the abyss of endless war.

  92. I just cannot get beyond the lunacy of it all. We don't have money to provide health care for our citizens. The jobless rate is over 10% (WAY over according to some estimates) and we have no concrete plan to remedy this..........but by golly, we have money for WARS and as you pointed out Mr. Herbert, the one that we are preparing to ratchet up has ALREADY been lost. However, there is a market for this war - by the corrupt whose pockets will be lined handsomely. Obama should have started bringing our military home instead of letting politics dictate his stance. He might not have won re-election but he could have held his head high and REALLY CHANGED something for the better, which I understood was his original mandate to the country and himself. Must have just been a pleasant dream I had one night.......

  93. True that there are enormous problems and a growing debt problem as well in the United States. However, consider also the following:
    1. You made the same arguments about the surge in Iraq - that it would be a failed waste of money and effort, and you were not correct about that.
    2. The U.S. and NATO, in invading Afghanistan and toppling the Taliban government, has a sacred obligation to the Afghan people to not abandon them to the misery and backwardness of guerrilla war and the Taliban regime.
    3. Taxes in the U.S. are simply far too low - see this recent NY Times Economix post about it:
    My personal experience in Belgium also informs me of this. If the U.S. had tax rates near the OECD average, it could successfully prosecute the conflict in Afghanistan and address its domestic problems.

  94. Its sad indeed that Obama is sending more troops into Afghanistan. If troops already there for the past 8 years haven't trained those forces yet, its not going to happen. And lets face it, everytime our guys get some of the Afghans trained, then someone comes along and bombs the Afghan forces because any Afghan terrorist can sign up for that training just to get *inside*. We're been thru this endless cycle enough in Iraq. Americans want our troops BACK HOME.

    If our plan is to get Osama, you can forget that. If a $25,000,000 bounty hasn't flushed him out of his cave then an agreement to spare his capture has already been signed, sealed and delivered. That should be obvious by now.

    Its a sad day that what few resources we might have are going to be squandered on another ill-conceived war. Our own country is going to hell in a hand basket because we don't have enough money for a jobs stimulus, but we have billions for Afghanistan. Give me a break.

    The ironic thing is that I'm sure if Obama hadn't sent the additional troops, the Republicans would be up in arms. Wanna bet now they'll be complaining because he IS sending additional troops. Lets face it. Whatever he's for, they're going to be against it; you can bet on that.

  95. Perhaps it's better to lose a battle and win the war.

    I am against all wars. I was against staying in Afghanistan after it was obvious that the US was not going to capture Osama Bin Laden. REMEMBER, our purpose for invading Afghanistan was to capture Bin Laden "Dead or Alive" as our ersatz cowboy president said.

    I was, of course, against invading Iraq.

    If Obama were to take all of the US troops out now, the Republicans probably would win Congress again soon. Obama is "Damned if he does and Damned if he doesn't" I consider Obama a man of peace and WHATEVER he does to be better than what a Republican administration would do.

    OF COURSE Obama's actions are done with political considerations. He has to fight the SUPREME POLITICIANS, the Republicans. If he wins the war against the disaster party, the Republican Party, he will
    have used the right tactics even though he has lost the battle for immediate end to the Afghanistan war.

  96. Having been a young man during the days of the Vietnam war, I know that the parallels between President Johnson and President Obama in regards the national war are very close indeed. The decision by both presidents to continue a pointless war for domestic political reasons speaks volumes to their lack of courage. Each of these presidents had a chance for greatness and then blew it. What a pity!

    More lives and treasure will be lost. We will be no safer. We will be securing our own fiscal and moral impoverishment. Bob Herbert has said it eloquently.

  97. Well said, Mr. Herbert. It's disgusting that President Obama is continually trying to appease the right, while having no trouble betraying those on the left -- from Jeremiah Wright (who I regard as a hero) to Van Jones and even those within the public whom he labelled as irrational for their goals of a single payer plan in his health care speech a few months ago. This is LBJ's middle course and even Rory Stewart argues that the US should prepare to stay in Afghanistan for 40 years to achieve levels of modernity found in Pakistan. Otherwise, staying a few years is just a waste of lives and resources and will upset the Afghans. There's nothing civilized about warfare under the rubric of "counter-insurgency" either. War is just as morally ambiguous as terrorism and the real way to staunch the emergence of Al Qaeda type groups is to be fair to the Palestinians and not meekly warn the Israelis for the very actions that, when carried out by Palestinians, result in the US fomenting civil war by buttressing less democratically supported elements. Even barely known Hollywood writers like Ronald D. Moore and Ira Steven Behr have known that and written about it since the mid-'90s (long before the mainstream media paid attention to such issues) in shows like "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and then "Battlestar Galactica" (2003) and "The 4400". I wish one of them were President and not an ego-centric appeaser like Obama, more interested in getting into the history books for the job title than doing what our world needs.

    I'm glad SOMEONE in the media is speaking the truth, unlike those vultures on CNN like Gloria Borger and Anderson Cooper, who don't operate from any moral imperative or genuine curiosity or analysis, but waste time forecasting politics like it's all a game because they're insulated from the result.

  98. Looks like Huckabee won't be the next Republican presidential candidate--Maybe Obama will run as a Republican?

  99. I do not agree with Obama on a lot of things, but I should hope, Bob, that you really don't think Obama considers ramping up this war as the "easier" option. He knows it's going to lead to more sacrifice, more pain. And by the way, 'it was right to invade but then Bush screwed up so we can tap out now' is not really a viable stance for our national security. That's what this review by Obama was all about. We're stuck. Should this surge have happened years back? Sure. But if we leave, and Taliban is yucking it up in Kabul within 2 years, do we go back in?

  100. Bob

    It was easy to spot that Obama was going to do this. The WH has been floating trial balloons for weeks now. It really is tragic. Now it is Obama's war. With all the debt and problems the US has money for a useless war that will flow freely but US jobs are not that important at all apparently. It will be financed by the Chinese, of course. I love my US friends but feel sorry they are trapped in such dysfunctional politics.

    Have you noticed that the US used to have wars but now it is perpetual war all the time? It does not affect me since I live in Sydney but I have a friend in the US who hates his job but is stuck for the health insurance benefits and lack of other jobs. It is easy to be cynical and give up but I still have some caring left. Does the WH read all or some of our posts and do they care?

  101. As usual, Mr. Herbert hits the nail directly on the head with a great economy of words. One the few voices of conscience in this country.

  102. The sad thing is that deep down the vast majority of Americans support winding down this conventional war of a standing army occupying and controlling territory in Afghanistan. A lot of Americans just want to be in a Winston Churchill fantasy camp and claim they are against "appeasement". But after awhile the uproar would subside and the truth would come out when they go behind the voting booth curtain alone to vote.

  103. Bob, pinch yourself, wake up; change your meds. War has been declared against America; it was brought tragically to us 8 years ago and more recently a very few weeks ago. You can take it to the enemy on your terms or cower and react to the enemy bringing it to you on theirs.

    Your comments about the meat grinder are utterly disgusting, shameful. I wonder if you've ever "gone beyond self" on anything.....such thought of sacrifice would clash with arrogance.

  104. Mr Herbert you speak the truth. This President is and has been all talk from day one. He is constantly tip toeing around the hard decisions a President needs to make. Like ending two wars tout sweet! Unfortunately for the country he is not up to the task! He needs to get rid of the tele prompters and the big smile and get real. Just what the hell are we doing over there except wasting lives and treasure to prop up a people & government that doesn't want us there in the first place. While Russia, China sit back and laugh at our stupidity and Mr Good Bar goes around giving speeches to the rest of the world on why we need to all get along. Forget it it ain't never going to happen. I hope I am around for 2012 to see this guy get his walking papers. In plain English he is a dud not a dude of the first order. How this guy ever got elected was a fluke because our last President was an unmitigated walking disaster. Is this the "change" people were promised. Well the joke is on them. I voted for Ralph Nader who speaks the truth that no one wants to hear. Very few people do.

  105. Mr. Herbert forgets that then-Senator Obama and then-Senator Biden voted numerous times to deny funding for armaments and supplies for our
    troops during the Bush Administration. These actions plus the words from other Democratic Senators such as Mr Reid who stated that "this war is lost" simply emboldened our adversaries to fight harder. How can the current Administration who cannot even use the term "victory" while trying to subdue and defeat our enemy be trusted with the defense of our nation from all enemies? My father and his brother fought during
    WWII and the Korean War in order to protect this nation from our enemies. The Korean war was when politician muddled the concept of a military victory and we have suffered the consequences through Korea, Viet Nam, Somalia, Desert Storm, Kosovo and now Afganistan. Appeasement is what worsened the conflicts in Europe during WWI and WWII. God help us all !!

  106. So, the reason we have not yet ended our involvement in Iraq is.........? I feel like I am President Obama's
    last loyal supporter, defending him to just about everyone I know, pleading for them to be both patient and reasonable in their expectations. But I feel that Bob Herbert's column is exactly on-point [ as it typically is].
    This escalation in Afghanistan does seem to needlessly, once again, make cannon fodder out of our young men and women. We- the United States- has disrupted the lives of so many in the military and their families in the process of the Iraq " misadventure". Aren't Haliburton, Blackwater, etc [or whatever they are now calling themselves] rich enough yet?

  107. Yet another Obama cop-out. I don't even recognize the person sitting in the White House as the same person I watched campaign for 2 years. Where is THAT Obama? Long gone, I'm afraid--if he ever truly existed to begin with.

    I hope 2012 brings us an Independent candidate worth voting for--someone that's capable, committed to middle America instead of another puppet on a string & especially someone with Integrity, as in true to his/her convictions.

    The situation as it now stands, and has stood for these last several decades, cannot continue. Real change (ha! remember that one?) must happen before the corporatist vampires & their army of zombie politicians drain the very last drops of our remaining life blood from us. Our only weapon is our vote and it is now or never, fellow citizens.

  108. When the Roman Empire was at its zenith, it was well on its way to
    its nadir. The United States is now in that position. Perhaps our
    entire species, homo sapiens, is moving in that direction. Without
    an adequate social index, great nations--and even species--founder.

  109. thank you an honest liberal, mean what you say,

    weather it be democrat or republican party id of the White-house occupant.

  110. Certainly a well spoken opinion. I voted for President Obama for change; with regard to our wars, it is sad to see him give our Nation more of the same tired and ineffective government we have endured during the last two Presidential terms.

  111. We can be certain he will begin his *speech* this evening by blaming Bush. This regime seems so fearful of criticism that no action can be taken until they gain the media's help in constructing a bunker of whipping boys to blame when things go wrong.
    That Kerry- commissioned study designed to blame the Bush administration for not capturing Bin Laden is one such example. The report contains not one single verifiable piece of evidence but will be cited to justify the coward-in chief's decision. It will be one of a long list of excuses.

  112. We shouldn't worry -- once the Afghan war is lost the Goebels-like propaganda machine helped with media whores will proclaim it a victory and then we'd move on to Iran or Pakistan or some other convenient enemy to keep fighting a Forever War.

    But as long as you focus on Obama and not on the Financial Crime Cartel and military complex, both entities that are strangling our country and squeezing every penny (in Obama's world of unprecedented domestic looting this reads "every trillion") and every drop of blood from the troops (read: endless streak of coffins will keep coming back home) out of us, while COMMANDING the puppet-president, you'd help keeping us in a mirage that democracy works.

    There's no democracy. There's no will of people. Just a shameful Bush III, a worse Trojan horse we ever let into our houses (and the White House) and our lives, installed to sell us lies and sell us out to the higher bidder. Iraq War 1, that lasted few months had 1 out of 64 people involved came from the private sector. Iraq War 2 has 1 out of 4 people involved came from the private sector. So, yes, Obama's economy's booming, looting abroad under whatever false pretense that sad little blimp of life we call our president we'll read from a scripted speech, but booming for a chosen few. It is time to take our country back and throw all these criminals (politicians) out from their cozy offices, starting from top-down.

  113. America has helped all her enemies (minus Talibans)by sending troops to Afghanistan. Russia is specially happy because she will be able to REVENGE her defeat in Afghanistan that was enforced through Pakistan. India in the process is the clever one grinding her axe by creating more and more problems for Pakistan. Sooner the Americans realize this, the better for all Americans.

  114. Even if you disagree with Herbert's position, this is a very good article. A nice contribution for a healthy debate of ideas. Thank you for this.

  115. As you say, everyone knows what would be best for the country in this mad situation. The president certainly is taking the easy way out (for himself) so he cannot be accused of displaying "weakness" by the Republicans. However, the Republicans (if they have even a smidgen of intelligence) ought to know what is best for the country (putting an end to this waste of life and treasure), and they would be blatantly betraying this country by attempting to impede, through their histrionics and accusations, the resolution of an intractable crisis they themselves created. However, knowing Republicans as we all do, they would never hesitate to betray the welfare of this country to gain political advantage. As far as they are concerned, let there be perpetual war for perpetual political advantage.

    This disgusting dilemma will never be resolved as long as we have only two political parties locked into a zero sum game. Perhaps if we had three or four parties of relatively equal strength there could be coalitions formed based on rational thought and the common good, rather than this winner-take-all dualism. If ever there was an era in our nation's history that should favor the emergence of such a multi-polar polity, now is the time. Those multitudes of you who have come to hate Obama and the Democrats because they have not spontaneously cleaned up all the monstrosities left behind by Bush and the Republicans, vote for a third party rather than the Republicans in the 2010 elections. Don't just put the criminals back in power. Where would be the sense of that?

  116. 'Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.'

    (Sir Peter Ustinov, 2003)

  117. Bravo

  118. One of the best assessments I've seen yet.

    It's important to remember, however, that The President (Any President) is in a box He can not get out of or control. All the arrows point at Him.

    War is now and always has been, an answer to Nothing!

  119. I have not missed a speech given by President Obama. I shall this one.
    I believe great strength in keeping with his Nobel Prize would be demonstrated by pulling out of the mess given to us by Bush/Cheney. Yes, great courage and strength would have been demonstrated. Dick and his daughter's comments would not have mattered. The world would have recognized it.

    I am once again back to being very sad for this country and this decision takes my hope away.

  120. Ah, Mr.Herbert. If I had the funding to start a support group where dejected Obama idealists would gather round a folding table with plastic cups of coffee in hand and comfort each other over the news of the administration's continuing reluctance/refusal to get us out of Afghanistan and sign the international bans on antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions (to name just two), you would be the first to receive a call.

  121. What is the adage, history teaches us that history teaches us nothing. We seem doomed to repeat the mistake of Vietnam. Bob Herbert has captured that foolishness perfectly.

  122. Lyndon Johnson: Guns and butter
    George Bush (43): Guns, butter and tax cuts
    Barack Obama: Guns, butter, tax cuts and stimulus spending
    Will we never learn?

  123. many people told me when I voted for Obama that I was making a mistake - that he was just a creepy politician......"A BLACK BUSH". I regret to say they were right.

    My prayers are for the soldiers.

  124. While I sympathize with Mr. Herbert's argument, he is wrong. We must stabilize Afghanistan in order to prevent it from becoming another safe haven for those who would attack the United States. If that means spending another decade there training an army and building the kind of civil structures which clamp down on extremist groups, then so be it. To be sure the Bush Administration mucked it up in the first place. But, as a matter of national security AND as an ethical matter, the United States Military must stay and finish the job.