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Lawrence Martin
Lawrence Martin

Lawrence Martin

The President who betrayed his reform agenda Add to ...

You too, Barack?

Barack Obama wasn't exactly considered a liberal hemophiliac. But given his degree of enlightenment, it was thought he'd at least steer clear of exaggerations and escalations worthy of Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush.

Instead, he's in the embrace of the hawks. He's the president who campaigned on ending the climate of fear and who now has chosen to escalate the Afghan war on the basis of fear. Sounding much like the Bush/Cheney administration on Iraq, he's even concocted a WMD threat. The enemy might get nuclear weapons, he said on Tuesday night in a speech fused with Pentagon prose. The common security of the entire world, he intoned, as many in his own party gagged, is at stake.

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This wasn't the only parallel to his Republican predecessors. We recall that they pushed out the Taliban in 2001, then withdrew most of their forces, then watched as the Taliban returned. Mr. Obama promises to push back the Taliban, then withdraw most of his forces. Then what?

Mr. Obama has already tried one big Afghan surge. It didn't work. Now, like the Bush/Cheney administration in Iraq, he proposes another. The surge worked in that country, a flat land. Will it work where the enemy can readily retreat into the mountains?

Many would say the biggest threat to U.S. national security is at home, where deficits and debts have reached staggering levels. The war escalation will add another $30-billion. It will divert attention from the President's major reform agenda. It will cost him support from his liberal base.

No foreign enemy has laid a hand on the U.S. since 9/11. There's been no increased threat of late. The country, a victim of threat exaggeration on Vietnam and Iraq, risks the same again on Afghanistan.

The threat of terrorism is never going to go away. If hypotheticals over what terrorists might do continue to form the basis for war, the U.S. will always be at war. At some point, the country has to get the benchmark right for what constitutes a grave and present danger. If it doesn't, it will continue its slide until the world is China's stage.

Mr. Obama has a laudable bipartisan streak. He seeks to be a consensus-builder at home, and his efforts at alliance-building abroad have come in beautiful contrast to the confrontational imperialism of the GOP, God's own party. But by turning himself into a prototypical warrior president, he betrays his change agenda.

Had the liberal standard-bearer Ted Kennedy still been around, the war buildup likely wouldn't have happened. The senator would have threatened to withdraw support. He would have told the President what his brother John learned: Don't be taken in by your national security apparatus.

In Canada, it will be intriguing to see whether Mr. Obama's golden image now fades. A good part of his allure was that he seemed to view things differently. He appeared capable of moving the collective psyche away from the failed precepts of the past.

His decision will at least make it easier for Ottawa to stick to its own Afghan pullout date of 2011. The Harper Conservatives have chosen to listen to the people and not extend the mission's combat element.

They are to be commended for this, though not for their retrograde attitude toward all things military, as seen in their slapdowns of anyone they deem to be not quite rah-rah enough in support of our troops. Our military personnel would be the first to acknowledge that they aren't infallible, that they shouldn't be above criticism. Impugning the patriotism of those who critique the armed forces is intellectually infantile and has no place in a democracy. One need also question this government's habit of using the military as political props. Is that supportive or is that insulting?

This continent, with the Obama election, appeared to be heading toward a time when proponents of peace and disarmament would find a voice that could compete with the warrior mentality. But on this side of the border, we see a government bent on glorifying the military to an extent rarely seen before. In Washington, we have a president embarked on a Vietnam-styled escalation of war in a country heretofore untameable.

Regrettably, this is how progress is now being defined - by turning back the clock.

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