Both of my presidents in the past few days have made policy announcements I’m afraid they, and we, will live to regret.
Barack Obama’s decision to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan puts at risk thousands more lives and billions more dollars. Gary Forsee’s decision to urge our congressional delegation to oppose cap-and-trade legislation puts at risk a policy that’s crucial in combating climate change.
A headline in Thursday’s New York Times announced that Mr. Obama’s speech at West Point “wins over some skeptics.” I watched the speech hoping to be won over, but I wasn’t.
Let me be clear — as President Obama himself might say, and indeed did say several times Tuesday night. I’m a strong Obama supporter. I voted for him, and I think he’s a smart and thoughtful guy trying hard to do the right things with all the difficult issues he faces. Most of his decisions I agree with. On this one, though, I’m still a skeptic.
If you haven’t read Nick Kristof’s column, also in Thursday’s Times, you should. He’s a writer who walks the ground in the dangerous corners of the world he opines about, from Afghanistan to Darfur. I share his conclusion:
“My hunch is that if Mr. Obama wants success in Afghanistan, he would be far better off with 30,000 more schools than 30,000 more troops. Instead, he’s embarking on a buildup that may become an albatross on his presidency.”
He quotes Greg Mortenson, the “Three Cups of Tea” author who actually builds such schools in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as saying that the Afghans themselves “want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops.”
To be fair, Mr. Obama took pains Tuesday to stress the difficulties and uncertainties that abound in the land that defeated two previous world powers, Great Britain and Russia. He clearly understands, as he said, that there are no perfect choices, no sure things. I thought he made the best case that could be made for the policy he has chosen.
His enemies on the right — and I think most of them really are enemies and not just critics — are attacking him for all the wrong reasons. The problem isn’t the time he took weighing unattractive options or the timeline he announced. The problem is that, to him and his advisers, Afghanistan looks like a nail. So they’re reaching for a bigger hammer.
Instead, it seems to me that the situation there more closely resembles one of those Improvised Explosive Devices that plague our troops. The more force that’s applied, the greater the likelihood it’ll blow up in our faces.
Of course, I could be wrong. Mr. Obama is certainly acting on the best advice he could get from the most knowledgeable experts.
That’s not so clear, at least not yet, about President Forsee’s decision. As I write, we just don’t know who, if anybody, was consulted. We do know that Chancellor Brady Deaton wasn’t. I’ve seen no evidence that any of the university’s scientists or economists were.
We also know that economists from Nobel winner Paul Krugman on the left to the staff of the Economist magazine on the right agree that cap-and-trade or a more straight-forward carbon tax is essential if we are to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that nearly all climate scientists hold largely responsible for global warming.
President Forsee complained of the costs that could be imposed on our coal-burning university. I wish that, instead, he had publicly pledged to move as fast as possible to switch to less toxic sources of heat and power. Actually, in an earlier statement shared with other university presidents, he appeared to do something close to that.
Both presidents, I’m confident, are leading to the best of their considerable ability. I just wish they were headed in a different direction.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.