Frank Rich gets to the heart of magical thinking that guides American foreign policy:

Americans want our country to be secure. Most want Obama to succeed. And so we hope that we won’t get bogged down in Afghanistan while our adversaries regroup elsewhere, that the casualties and costs can be contained, that the small, primitive Afghan Army (ravaged by opium, illiteracy, incompetence and a 25 percent attrition rate) will miraculously stand up so we can stand down. We want to believe that Obama’s marvelous powers of reason can check a ruthless enemy and reverse decades of tragic history in one of the world’s most treacherous backwaters.

Em-fass-is mine. This is the Obama brand, the power of intellect using strategy and precision to bring order to the world in a calm, realistic manner. Maybe I should put ironic quotes around that last modifier, because the latest proposal for war seems no more grounded in realism than the democracy-fomenting fantasies propounded by the previous administration.

Admittedly, no one has any good answers when it comes to Afghanistan. I was in grade school the last time the country had a functioning society and a competent government, before it became a monumental casualty of the Cold War and the abandoned child of the Peace Dividend. The Russians and the Americans, along with other big powers in the region (India, China) have moral obligations to help Afghanistan to get back on its feet. This is not to say we can solve the country’s problems — we seem pretty overwhelmed by our own — or that we have some globalization variation of the White Man’s Burden to show them the way. They need space to sort their shit out, and the materials to do it with. That requires troops to provide training and security so that essential elements of nation-building can occur.

But we can’t fight their civil wars. We can’t fight anyone’s, a lesson we should have learned forty years ago. And our whack-a-mole approach to Al-Qaeda is no less a waste of time. We delude ourselves if we think Al-Qaeda is capable of imposing the reactionary caliphate it sells as a pipe dream to angry youth disaffected by oppressive regimes, poverty, resource wars and that crazy mix of religious and ethnic identity politics. They threaten to destabilize any number of regions, true; but that such a threat exists at all raises more fundamental questions about the root economic and social causes of instability in the first place. Oddly, those problems remain as strong as ever.

To borrow Rich’s formulation, we want to believe that whatever Great Daddy Figure we put in the White House can magically restore the country to economic solvency and productivity, checking the ruthless practices of corporate globalization and reverse decades of systematic destabilization of our manufacturing base and our social infrastructure — while simultaneously using our ridiculously expensive military ventures to fight over-hyped enemies around the world. Teabaggers are not alone in ascribing to a mythical vision of American exceptionalism, a fuzzy vision of a glorious past that didn’t exist. The Washington Consensus debates within the confines of a narrow, unrealistic ideology of American Leadership/Greatness/Foofarah. For all of his reputation as The Thinker, Obama smokes from the same bong as his right wing rivals.

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