Exit Strategies

Those Wikileaks

I’m still not sure whether the recent Wikileaks scandal has proven the power of the Internet to bring the dark dealings of the Pentagon into the light and challenge government authority, or whether it has actually proven the impotence of “Web 2.0” vis-à-vis the state and political inertia. (Justin Raimondo has a wrap-up here; the Guardian has created an interactive map connected with the leaked documents, which can be explored here.)

I certainly didn’t need help from Wikileaks to conclude that Washington’s war aims are incoherent, that its soldiers are confused and demoralized, and that the national interest is not being served in the land of the Afghans. All of these things have been abundantly clear for years. Moreover, most of the people fascinated with the Wikileak revelations are antiwar anyway, and it’s not certain whether the conservative push-back against Afghanistan, launched by Ann Coulter and (shockingly) World Net Daily super-hawk and Christian Zionist Joseph Farah, will be much affected by the revelations, which are easy to classify as “anti-military.” (The leaked documents could even conceivably be spun as a call to expand the war into Pakistan...)

The reality is, the American public doesn’t care about the Afghan War enough for it to be an election issue. Most everyone outside deluded Weekly Standard subscribers feel in their guts that Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t going well, and that we’re taking far too long to be done with them. But with job loss and the sustained recession, Americans would rather let these concerns be muffled by the calm reassurance of “the Surge is working!” The only way Afghanistan could become a political issue would be if Obama ended both wars and the neocons and conservative movement reacted by howling about national pride and Democrat surrender monkeys. As Austin Bramwell put it recently,

Obama doesn’t really care about Afghanistan and probably sees the occupation as pointless. Still, he supports it because it keeps Afghanistan boring and therefore off the front page. Rather than order of withdrawal, in other words, Obama prefers to buy an option at $70+ billion a year that lets him pursue his domestic agenda without distraction. … [N]o President would have the courage to make Afghanistan policy based on what’s actually best for America. The paramount concern is public relations.

Obama seems incapable of confronting, 1) the bureaucratic inertia of the Pentagon, whereby Afghanistan will be fought much like Washington’s other endless wars on drugs and poverty, 2) the ideological inertia of his conservative critics, who will attack anything mildly antiwar as an insult to the troops, and 3) the largely invisible Power Elite, which is interested in Afghanistan’s mineral wealth as well as having American military bases stationed around the world.

The Imperial Presidency ain’t what it used to be.