Afghanistan is one of those litmus tests issues, in how people talk about how Obama has done on the issue since taking office. Take out the fringe pacifists and hard core hawks, since we know what their reaction will be in advance, and what you see is a seriously FUBAR situation, that Obama saw when he took office, get seriously better in the time since he began making changes to the policy over there.
Certainly there is room to disagree on the details of President Obama's choices. Perhaps things would be going even better had he given the military all of the troops they asked for, and maybe we'd have been able to accomplish the same goals with fewer troops, casualties and cost. On the macro level, though, it is inarguably a much different situation, and much better, than it was a few years ago.
So much so that hard core partisans like Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Republican President George W. Bush are giving Obama props for what he's done.
In his upcoming book, according to Politico, Bush said he appreciated that Obama “stood up to critics by deploying more troops, announcing a new commitment to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and increasing the pressure on Pakistan to fight the extremists in the tribal areas.” Bush is absolutely spot on here. Obama looked past partisan haters who will be against him no matter what he does, the type who opposes any military action and short sighted people who want to get out of Afghanistan on the cheap (not realizing that we may have been able to avoid all of this had we stayed and helped them rebuild after helping the Afghans fight off the Soviets in the 1980's) - among others.
Boehner's comments were even more pointed:
Mr. Boehner, speaking at the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum, said he has been “very supportive of the president’s decisions in Iraq, in Afghanistan.”
“By and large the president has continued the effort to take on the Taliban, to take on al Qaeda, and to help America stays secure.”
“When you look at the prosecution of the war effort against the enemy in the tribal areas (of Afghanistan), there’s clearly more been done under President Obama than it was under President Bush, in terms of a more aggressive effort focused at that.”
Foreign policy is one of those areas of political thought that doesn't neatly fall along the one dimensional red/blue map of the political spectrum in our country. There are isolationist strains in both parties, as well as interventionist elements in both liberalism and conservatism, even if their reasoning for being so is very very different. But wanting to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan in no way means the choice is merely between leaving as quickly as we can load our troops onto planes and fly them back, or set up giant permanent bases that we're going to stay in, much like we have in Germany since the end of World War II.
It's not even about finding a middle ground between extremes. More than anything it's about short sighted policy vs long term, big picture, thinking. As I mentioned above, had we stayed in Afghanistan past helping them fight off the Soviets, we may have made an ally in the region and helped them avoid the dominance of what later became the Taliban. A similar choice was before Obama in 2009... cut out losses and get out, or put in a serious effort to make things better before we leave. We wont know for sure if he made the right choice for a long time, but so far it looks like he has, and he's earned the positive attention he's gotten for it.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.