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Is Obama’s Af-Pak Position Really a Surprise?

Via Lindsay Beyerstein, John Stauber criticizes liberal groups for becoming de facto adjuncts of the Obama administration:

CAP and the five million member liberal lobby group MoveOn were behind Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), a coalition that spent tens of millions of dollars using Iraq as a political bludgeon against Republican politicians, while refusing to pressure the Democratic Congress to actually cut off funding for the war. AAEI was operated by two of Barack Obama’s top political aids, Steve Hildebrand and Paul Tewes, and by Brad Woodhouse of Americans United for Change and USAction. Today Woodhouse is Obama’s Director of Communications and Research for the Democratic National Committee. He controls the massive email list called Obama for America composed of the many millions of people who gave money and love to the Democratic peace candidate and might be wondering what the heck he is up to in Afghanistan and Pakistan. MoveOn built its list by organizing vigils and ads for peace and by then supporting Obama for president; today it operates as a full-time cheerleader supporting Obama’s policy agenda. Some of us saw this unfolding years ago. Others are probably shocked watching their peace candidate escalating a war and sounding so much like the previous administration in his rationale for doing so.

I’ll leave aside the co-option point, since I’m hardly qualified to speak to it. But why should anyone wonder what the heck Obama is up to in Afghanistan and Pakistan? His strategy is commensurate with a year and a half of statements about what he’d do in the region. He campaigned on a promise to end the war in Iraq and to intensify the war in Afghanistan.

For instance, in June 2008: “It’s time to refocus our attention on the war we have to win in Afghanistan… It is time to go after the Al-Qaeda leadership where it actually exists. It is time to bring this war in Iraq to a close.” Here he is in October 2007 calling for more troops for Afghanistan and an end to the Iraq war. In fact, remember in August of 2007, when he took heat for calling for a sufficient troop presence in Afghanistan to reduce a reliance on air power? On Pakistan, remember how in the summer of 2007, Obama took more criticism for suggesting there were circumstances under which he would take unilateral action against al-Qaeda in the Pakistani tribal areas. His foreign-policy aides considered it an common-sensical statement of strategic wisdom.

Obama campaigned against the Iraq war and for the Afghanistan war for a simple reason: his consistent focus on going after al-Qaeda. There’s no inherent tension between the two positions. Iraq was a distraction from the anti-al-Qaeda effort; Afghanistan is central to it. On both wars, Obama has done precisely what he said as a candidate he would do. Where’s the confusion here?

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