A Tale of Two Vice Presidents

photo credit: BlatantNews.com

Once upon a time there was a young president who had campaigned on a platform of using the military more conservatively than his predecessor (who happened to be in the other party). During the campaign he had chosen a more experienced man as his running mate in an effort to soothe those voters who might be uncomfortable with his youth an lack of extensive experience.

Once in office an opportunity for military action presented itself and his vice president was among those who were keen to take the opportunity. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the president heeded the advice of his hawkish vice president and took the necessary steps to expand his use of the military  contrary to his campaign rhetoric.

Of course I am talking about George Bush here and his vice president, Dick Cheney. The trick is that the first paragraph applies word for word to Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden.

Now President Obama is faced with decisions about whether to escalate the war effort in Afghanistan and his vice president is naturally in on the discussions offering advice. Unlike Dick Cheney, Joe Biden is less eager to increase the use of military than some of the president’s other advisors.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. slipped into a chair, shook off his jet lag and reflected on what he had seen. The situation in Iraq, he said, was much improved. In Pakistan, he said he saw encouraging signs.

Then he came to Afghanistan and shook his head.

“It has deteriorated significantly,” he said. “It’s going to be a very heavy lift.”

He has been since the beginning. Over time the number of people within the administration agreeing with Biden has grown but the voices in favor of war have not abated. Despite the fact that Biden is only half right (he want’s to maintain our current level of involvement in Afghanistan when we should be working on an actual draw-down) let’s hope that President Obama will do as his predecessor and listen to his vice president, or I could say let’s hope that President Obama is smarter than his predecessor and heeds the calls for less war over the calls for more.

P.S. An hour after this was first written the New York Times Political blog posted a roundup of the latest buzz on this subject including a Huffington Post article calling for Biden to resign in protest if Obama does not listen to him on Afghanistan.

6 comments for “A Tale of Two Vice Presidents

  1. October 15, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Biden says a lot of … um, entertaining things. But he’s no idiot. He understands that completely leaving Afghanistan would likely create a far more dangerous situation than keeping a presence there. But he is justifiably uneasy about escalation.

    Although Afghanistan differs from Iraq in many ways, it is similar in that the quickest and safest way out is likely through more thoughtful, serious, and well planned military involvement. That means pain and the loss of American lives. Biden doubts the cost is worth it, so he prefers an interminable keep-the-lid-on approach.

    I can see how this matter could be viewed and argued in different ways. But it makes little sense to argue for the ideal situation, because we do not have the ideal situation. We have to start with the realities of where we are today and what can reasonably be achieved at an acceptable cost that will maximize our safety.

    • October 15, 2009 at 9:40 pm

      I think you may be mistaking my call for a draw down as a call for a complete pull out. I admit that I have taken that kind of attitude before (with Iraq) but what I had in mind was a targeted reduction in our presence there where we maximize the effect of those who we have their by concentrating on the most vital aspects of what is needed in Afghanistan and demonstrate our intent not to engage in an indefinite occupation.

  2. October 16, 2009 at 10:45 am

    The draw down in Iraq must occur at a pace that prevents a power vacuum and a return to greater hostilities. Therefore, it is necessarily occurring piecemeal. I think that in the minds of most Americans, we are working toward terminating our involvement there. I’m not sure that Iraqis see it that way, because it’s a slow process. We will likely have some kind of presence there for many, many years.

    Afghanistan is obviously a sticky problem, or else we wouldn’t still be experiencing such serious problems there eight years after invading. Leaving the place to the Taliban is hardly an acceptable solution. If expanding the military operation there is not an option, we must settle for “indefinite occupation.” I guess some people see that as the least worst strategy.

    • October 16, 2009 at 11:44 am

      Why is leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban “hardly an acceptable solution”? I agree that this is a commonly held belief, but it is one that I have never seen explained.

      The Taliban appear no more extreme than the Wahhabis who founded Saudi Arabia almost 80 years ago and yet I don’t here anyone saying that leaving the Saudis alone is unacceptable.

  3. Scott Miller
    October 16, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I have to admit I really don’t understand Bush’s or Obama’s real objective in Afghanistan. Is it neurtalizing the Taliban, is it keeping a check on Pakistan, is it creating a second–an Eastern stronghold–against Iran? Is it a need for Obama to save face and shoe he is willing to go to war? Is it a imperative need to provide stability to a part of the world that has nuclear weapons? Is it all of the above? I at least think the idea of identifying a clear Afghan strategy is important and that needs to be articulated without giving away tactical information to the enemy.

    Nonetheless, I think this Administration is looking weak to the world–yet nobody else is standing up for finding a solution. Considering the European proclivity for avoiding confrontation at all costs including liberty and the normal Russian and Chinese policy of anything America wants we oppose, it is no surprise America is going alone again. As with Iraq, I think Americans completely misunderstand the principles and concepts of how other countries and citizens see the world. President Bush continued to change the mission in Iraq–first it was WMD, then it was taking democracy to a people who had no idea what a democracy is. Then it became a war that took longer than Americans were willing to accept–we live in a world when we get upset now if the internet does not work fast enough for us; Americans have a need for instantaneous reuslts and no patience for things that require long-term thinking and determination. We get bored rather quickly.

    I hope President Obama gets it right no matter which way he goes. Just make a reasoned, well-informed decision either way and go all the way in, or all the way out. I just hope he does not make a politically safe decision that will ultimately lead to a total Afghan failure and the loss of life for no reason. Just make a decision and go for it–either way–just put some heart and commitment into the decision! That is all I ask.

    • October 16, 2009 at 10:08 pm

      The initial object in Afghanistan was to remove the Taliban because they had provided safe harbor to Bin Ladin and Al-Qaeda. Then we stayed after that was done (within a matter of weeks) lest we look irresponsible (besides, we were focused on Iraq). Now that our attention has shifted back we still don”t want to look irresponsible.

      I agree that Obama needs to make a decision and commit to it. I was not a fan of the surge and would not be among those recommending that tactic here, but I will admit that the surge in Iraq did more good than the occupation-lite approach that preceded it.

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