Progress Never Comes Easy.

x-posted from U.S. of J.

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.


Jamelle Bouie is a writer for Slate. He has also written for The Daily Beast, The American Prospect and The Nation. His work centers on politics, race, and the intersection of the two.

You can find him on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram as jbouie.
  • I understand pretty much every decision the President makes, whether I support them or not, but this one, not so much. You can tell from watching his speech that he does not believe in this war. Focusing on al-Qaeda is an extremely low benchmark. His stated goal for the government is merely that it be able to defend itself. Laudably, he never mentioned human rights or ending poppy farming. And, then the date he set, 2011, leaves not nearly enough time to affect the kind of changes that COIN strategy calls for. The President does not believe in this war and he has set himself up politically so that he has an excuse to leave in a couple years. That I will never understand. How can a president not believe a war promotes American interests or human rights and still sacrifice blood and treasure to it?