“Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.”
-The Who (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”)
President Obama displayed appropriate humility in accepting his Nobel Peace Prize last week, acknowledging that he had done comparatively little to deserve the honor when matched up against past recipients like Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and George Marshall. The rest of his speech put the humility to shame.
That obligatory paragraph out of the way, Mr. Obama proceeded to don his George W. Bush mask as he moved from peace president to war president without missing a beat.
“I am the Commander in Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars,” he declared with just a touch of defiance. But don’t blame me, he seemed to suggest, as he reminded everyone that war had been part of the human condition since “the first man.” He also could have laid some blame on his predecessor for those two wars, but he chose not to do so.
Instead, he claimed that some wars are “just” and others are “unjust.” It wasn’t a new distinction, but in embracing it, this president may have set a marker for what others may soon refer to as the “Obama Doctrine.” For what Mr. Obama then proceeded to do was make a veiled comparison of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to the Second World War (WW II) both of which, he would assert, fall into the category of “just wars.”
He didn’t specify those wars that would be deemed “unjust” in his view, but presumably the current war in Iraq might qualify, since he has never favored it and wants to get the United States out of it as quickly as he can (i.e. under the timetable for withdrawal negotiated by his predecessor).
But the Afghanistan/WW II comparison was one that he should not have made and should not have had to make, and therein lies the real story.
The Nobel speech followed, by less than two weeks, Obama’s West Point speech. In that one, he had told a contingent of Military Academy cadets that he was ordering the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total U.S. force in that war to approximately 100,000, or twice the number that was there when he took office.
Using Mr. Obama’s reasoning, only in the event of a “just war” could such an escalation be tolerable, let alone justified. But if escalating a war can be labeled as tolerable, or even justified, because the war itself is “just,” then understanding the difference between “just” and “unjust” wars becomes critically important.
For openers, let’s agree that, taken together, the two speeches could easily have been delivered by George W. Bush, who would have had no trouble adopting the “just” war reference, and who never met a troop increase he couldn’t embrace.
But if one president believes starting a war in Iraq was “just” and another doesn’t, how is “just” to be understood?
Obama cites the WW II example. There, war was waged against Hitler’s Germany and Hirohito’s Japan. Both countries were seeking global domination, and they were seeking to gain it through the use of military force. In the case of the United States, Japan had attacked its forces on a U.S. colony (as Hawaii was at the time). Germany had not attacked the United States, but it was at war with U.S. allies in Europe, where it was running roughshod over much of the western part of the continent.
Still – and here is where the comparison warrants close scrutiny – the United States did not join the fray against Japan until it was attacked by Japan and against Germany until Germany declared war against the United States. (Both events occurred within a matter of days.) Thus, if WW II is the paradigm for a “just” war, it stands for the following definition: A nation engages in a “just” war only when it has been attacked by a foreign power or when war has been declared against it by a foreign power.
Does Afghanistan qualify under either of those measurements? And the clear answer is no, it does not. Afghanistan did not attack the United States, and it has not declared war against the United States.
Ah, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama would respond, but we aren’t talking about that kind of war. This war is one against terrorism, or to be more precise, against a form of Islamic fundamentalism that has implicitly declared its intention to wage a war of terrorism against the United Stated and its interests.
And so the plot thickens, and we need to go back to 9/11/2001, when members of al Qaeda, then operating in Afghanistan (where the organization was receiving support from the Taliban government), commandeered commercial airlines and caused them to be flown into New York’s twin towers and the Pentagon.
Bush and Obama identify those acts as attacks by a foreign power, which then justifies the initiation of the Afghanistan war later in 2001.
But a closer view of the buildup to that war raises more questions. In fact, the war in Afghanistan was only begun when the Taliban government refused to rid itself of al Qaeda’s presence and turn over those responsible for the planning of the 9/11 attacks. In other words, the Afghanistan war was initiated against the then-ruling government of Afghanistan, not against the country itself. And the Taliban government was disposed of with remarkable alacrity, officially falling within months of the October, 2001 start of the war.
So much for the WW II comparison, and so much for a legitimate “Obama doctrine.”
The new guy has decided to embrace the same strategy to keep his country safe. It probably won’t work, because it will end up creating more terrorists than it kills, but that’s a separate issue.
I’m writing this column to unmask the chicanery of the current president’s rhetoric. He can deliver a whale of a speech, but on this critical issue he’s still “same as the old boss.”