I completely expect President Obama to receive a huge amount of pushback from liberals for escalating the war in Afghanistan, and that’s not a bad thing. But before liberals and progressives go apoplectic with rage over Obama’s decision, it’s worth reminding them that progressive change — even in the best of circumstances — is grinding, difficult and never pure. And it’s that last point that’s most important.
The progressive movement has never been ideologically pure, and it has always been led by flawed men and women forced to make difficult choices. The “original” progressives of the early 20th century worked admirably to improve conditions for the poor and working class, but they were also incredibly prejudiced and heavily invested in the eugenics movement. FDR is the father of the American welfare state, and his policies helped — and continue to help — millions of Americans. But he also interned the Japanese, didn’t think that much of the Constitution, and gladly worked with southern segregationists to accomplish his goals. Hell, Lyndon Johnson’s entire political career revolved around opportunistic compromises and painful decisions. The man responsible for Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start and a vastly expanded system of welfare was also responsible for enmeshing the United States into a difficult, costly and ultimately worthless war.
This isn’t to say that we should uncritically accept Obama’s decision and move on, but I think it’s really important for us to keep these things in perspective and recognize that this isn’t some unique betrayal, it’s just sort of how these things work. Withdrawing from Afghanistan would be a political disaster, and there’s a fair chance that it would sink his domestic agenda. By contrast, doubling-down gives Obama the space to pursue said agenda. This may end up being a terrible decision, in which case I will gladly eat my words, but it’s certainly an understandable one.