The big bug-out

By September 1970, President Nixon thought he had the left where he wanted it on the subject of the American commitment to Vietnam. “All they’ve got left to argue for is a bug-out,” Nixon told Henry Kissinger.

Nixon was on to something. When the Democrats nominated George McGovern as their candidate for president to run against Nixon in 1972, McGovern frankly make the case for the big bug-out. Although the American people resoundingly rejected McGovern, the left had the last laugh in 1975.

President Obama took the occasion of the death of Muhammar Qaddafi on Thursday to issue a self-congratulatory statement on Libya and to declare the impending withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq. (Fred and Kim Kagan usefully expand on the meaning of our withdrawal from Iraq here.) In his remarks Obama presents the withdrawal as a great success of his strategy. Both of these statements are worth reading. They say a lot, while leaving much unsaid.

Taken together, the statements make out Obama’s teaching. It may be okay to deploy American power, so long as it is done in conjunction with others, or in limited fashion, for no particular American interest. Afghanistan had its uses in the campaign of 2008, but the withdrawal from Afghanistan is coming soon.

In his weekly address today (transcript here, video below) Obama fits both Libya and Iraq into a “larger story.” In this address he is bringing it all back home, you might say. To the themes of R2P, collective acton, and strategic retreat, Obama adds the clear McGovernite note that America is coming home to turn its attention to the important things involving projects in which we have “invested” too little. He really couldn’t be much clearer.


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