Tonight President Obama will announce his plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. That’s probably a good thing, although, as in Iraq, what the troops do–are permitted to do–is more important than how many of them there are. But Obama’s announcement will be greeted with dismay by most Democrats. Byron York notes that most Democrats want to reduce, not increase, troop levels in Afghanistan, and two-thirds of Democrats don’t want any expansion of our effort there.
But during the 2008 campaign, nearly all leading Democrats said that Afghanistan was the “good war” which they would step up, once in office. Why the disjunction? Byron is blunt:
If the base didn’t support it, then why did candidates promise it? Because Democratic voters and candidates were playing a complex game. Nearly all of them hated the war in Iraq and wanted to pull Americans out of that country. But they were afraid to appear soft on national security, so they pronounced the smaller conflict in Afghanistan one they could support. Many of them didn’t, really, but for political expediency they supported candidates who said they did. Thus the party base signed on to a good war-bad war strategy. …
But now, with Democrats in charge of the entire U.S. government and George Bush nowhere to be found, Pelosi and others in her party are suddenly very, very worried about U.S. escalation in Afghanistan. “There is serious unrest in our caucus,” the speaker said recently. There is so much unrest that Democrats who show little concern about the tripling of already-large budget deficits say they’re worried about the rising cost of the war.
It is in that atmosphere that Obama makes his West Point speech. He had to make certain promises to get elected. Unlike some of his supporters, he has to remember those promises now that he is in office. So he is sending more troops. But he still can’t tell the truth about so many Democratic pledges to support the war in Afghanistan: They didn’t mean it.
That’s exactly right. Democratic voters supported Obama on Afghanistan (as, to take another example, gay rights) because they believed he didn’t mean what he said.