You sweat and you squirm -- at least you do if you’re being honest with yourself. You try to make what you were saying then line up with what you’re saying now, and if you can’t, you feel some obligation to explain the difference -- to yourself, and to the people who may have seen those earlier words.
What you can’t do is simply walk away from your earlier words and hope nobody remembers.
Which brings us to Afghanistan.
We’re going deeper, and maybe longer, into Afghanistan. The prospects are daunting. The historical parallels are chilling. But for those of us who spent much of the previous administration criticizing George Bush and friends for ignoring Afghanistan in their eagerness to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- for “taking their eye off the ball” -- for us to suddenly decide that, come to think of it, Afghanistan really doesn’t matter, and...
For many of us, Afghanistan was a major part of the argument against Iraq. Not only was the Iraq invasion built on faulty (if not falsified) premises, we said. Not only was it misconceived and mismanaged, fought on the cheap and slow to adapt for far too long.
But -- and didn’t we say this over and over again? -- every bit of energy and effort and expertise that was going into Iraq, every dollar and every soldier that was focused on Saddam Hussein, meant we were paying less attention to the real danger looming farther to the east: Osama bin Laden and the murderous al-Qaeda, living to plot another day, and another, and another.
Iraq meant we were taking our eye off the ball. Keeping our eye on the ball meant Afghanistan, and neighboring (and wobbling, and nuclear) Pakistan. Iraq was the “war of choice.” Afghanistan was the “war of necessity.” We said that.
And now Barack Obama, who ran for the White House saying many of those very same things, and who said them again after he took office, is making good on those judgments -- sending more troops, spending more money. Putting the focus where the focus should have been all along.
And some of us are suddenly saying, “Wait a minute!”
We’re saying, “Who ever said anything about going deeper into Afghanistan?”
We did. Over and over again.
Now, there’s an argument to be made that conditions have changed -- and not just the political condition that the president of the United States is no longer named George Bush. There’s an argument to be made that the situation on the ground now isn’t what it was then, and that we need to adjust our strategy to meet the new situation. Or that the situation here at home now isn’t what it was then, and that we need to adjust our strategy to meet that new situation.
Fair enough -- but then make that argument.
Argue that the threat from al-Qaeda has diminished, and that going harder after them is no longer necessary. Or that the threat from al-Qaeda has increased so much that going harder after them is no longer feasible.
Argue that the Afghan government is more corrupt than we ever imagined a year or two (or six) ago, and that we have no viable, reliable partner for our efforts on the ground there.
Or that there are better ways to spend those billions over there -- more drones firing more missiles at suspected terrorists on either side of the border. Or over here -- hardening our ports and our mass transit and the rest of our infrastructure, better equipping our hospitals and our first responders.
Or argue that we simply don’t have the billions to spend, that joblessness and an exploding national debt are greater threats to our well-being than anything al-Qaeda is likely to cook up.
There are arguments to be made. A few of them might even be convincing arguments. But then make those arguments. Don’t pretend that we haven’t spent these past years shouting “Afghanistan! Afghanistan!” at every opportunity. And now that there’s a president who’s listened, who’s reluctantly reached the very same conclusion, we say --
That won’t cut it. Not if we’re being honest with ourselves.
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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.