Morning Bell: Is Afghanistan Next?

Conn Carroll /

Democratic National Convention

DENVER — Tonight former President Bill Clinton is supposed to deliver a speech on the official Democratic National Convention theme, “Securing America’s Future.” It is still unclear whether Clinton will stick to his assigned topic, or if he will go off message and defend his presidential legacy. Part of that legacy is the beginning of the online left, specifically, which was created in 1998 to help defend Clinton from impeachment.

MoveOn has since expanded its policy portfolio far beyond sexual harassment lawsuits, and its claimed 3.2 million members are now a major force in the party. They have been very active against the surge in Iraq, notoriously buying a full-page ad in the New York Times labeling Gen. David Petraeus, architect of our recent success, “General Betray Us.”

But now that Iraq is becoming more and more peaceful every day, some of MoveOn’s members are shifting their focus to Afghanistan. Yesterday in The Big Tent, MoveOn executive director Eli Pariser said his membership was divided over what position to take on the direction of the war in Afghanistan. He said some still believe that the United States “can’t let the Taliban win” but he said growing numbers of his members believe “escalation is the wrong direction.”

This position is at least consistent for MoveOn. After all, if a surge of troops is bad for Iraq, it has to be bad for Afghanistan, too. But progressives are also beginning to question if we should be in Afghanistan at all. Pariser explained that MoveOn’s members first opposed deposing Saddam Hussein because they believed it was “impossible to occupy Iraq without causing civil chaos.” But Afghanistan is just as hostile to foreign troops as Iraq. If the left believes force would never work in Iraq, why would it ever work in Afghanistan?

After Barack Obama announced he wanted to send 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan, influential lefty blogger Juan Cole wrote:

I don’t know whether Senator Obama really wants to try to militarily occupy Afghanistan even more than is now being attempted. I wish he would talk to some old Russian officers who were there in the 1980s first. … If the Afghanistan gambit is sincere, I don’t think it is good geostrategy. Afghanistan is far more unwinnable even than Iraq. If playing it up is politics, then it is dangerous politics. Presidents can become captive of their own record and end up having to commit to things because they made strong representations about them to the public. …

Afghan tribes are fractious. They feud. Their territory is vast and rugged, and they know it like the back of their hands. Afghans are Jeffersonians in the sense that they want a light touch from the central government, and heavy handedness drives them into rebellion. Stand up Karzai’s army and air force and give him some billions to bribe the tribal chiefs, and let him apply carrot and stick himself. We need to get out of there.

By the end of tonight we will know if Bill Clinton was able to stay on message and only talk about foreign policy. But what the left does next on national security is a completely different story. Progressives never like to talk about Clinton’s use of force around the world. Instead, they only talk about all the evil President Bush has done. If Obama becomes president, however, we just may see a MoveOn campaign pressuring him to get out of Afghanistan.

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