For what it's worth, I supported the invasion of Afghanistan (but not Iraq), and I support the ramping up of our military and civilian efforts there. I disagree with Obama in his suggestion that we cannot afford to do nation-building there - taking the medium-long stance, I don't think we can afford not to.
Invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake. It was based on bad intelligence, it opened up divides across Arab societies that could be very destabilising (Sunni-Shia), it disturbed a three-sided power struggle (SA, Iraq, Iran) that was also useful for regional stability (between two different faiths and a secular power, we knocked out the secular power), it was badly handled (destroying relationships with European allies and costing the US respect across the world), and it had no real chance of success (nor a strong idea of what success would look like).
Invasion of Afghanistan was different - it's an area that has not ever had an effective state, has never known civilisation either by osmosis or domination, has a population that is poor and one of the most traditional left in the world, is dominated by warlords of various flavours, and poses a threat to the stability of its neighbours (particularly Iran) as well as the rest of the world due it its use as a base for training theocratic militants.
We (unfortunately) rejected the Soviet Union's attempt to annex the region during the cold war, funding religious militants (some of whom became Al Qæda) to resist their invasion. If we withdraw now, we leave in place an ineffective government (essentially a failed state) that will give free reign to militants to continue to run their parts of the nation outside of the capital, running one of the strictest forms of Sharia in the world, training international militants to attack Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the west. If we withdraw, we leave a situation that is not much different than that which led us to invade in the first place. It is important that we strengthen the state there so it can begin a process of modernising its society. Hopefully this is possible, because it seems to be our plan. It would be more ideal to commit to a longer engagement, ideally with the help of as many allies as possible (from Iran to Europe - Iran has vital interests in the region), performing nation-building in the larger sense of building a semi-modern society.
I am lightly amused at how confused the political establishments are by this - some liberals disapprove strongly, others (like me) approve but wish for more, and the conservatives are likewise divided.
In other news, if I am feeling up to it, I will be attending a meeting of the Socialist Equality Party tomorrow (UPitt, Cathedral of Learning, room 312, 7pm), where they'll "evaluate" Obama's job performance. While like them I am considerably further left than Obama, I think many of their criticisms are pretty stupid, and if I go I'm likely to tell them so. They claim:
- Obama has continued the right wing policies of the BushJr administration and intensified the attacks on the working class
- He is sending more troops to Afghanistan
- He is continuing the occupation of Iraq
- He is threatening Iran
- He is expanding military action into Pakistan
- He gave money to wall street thugs who are living well, while producing no real results
- His health care plan will make health care worse
My responses are a mix of NEEDINFO, HARDTOSAY, WORKSFORME, NOOTHERCHOICE, and WEWILLSEE. Maybe conversations would work better if we had the C preprocessor to help us.
Overall, I still think Obama's a pretty good president given what's possible in the US. We can always hope for someone more liberal who is still effective, but apart from FDR (who in my opinion was the best president the US has had), we don't have a lot of better role models who managed to get anything done (Clinton was pretty good though, and despite personal immorality has and continues to serve the nation well). We should have high standards for what we want, but another set of standards that takes into account what we've had before and what is possible given the system - we can and should handle multiple sets.