War Is Peace

warmongerWar isn’t always bad; sometimes war is required.  And Obama may well be a better than average president.  But this is so strange:

  1. Many voted for Obama saying Bush was a warmonger.
  2. Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize.
  3. Obama doubled US troops in Afghanistan, for a net increase in US troops at war.
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  • MattW

    I think you have some equivalency problems in your first statement. My impression is that most of the war issues that voters had with Bush was with the Iraq war. They may not like the war in Afghanistan, but it’s a legitimate place to be.

  • http://www.theworldisawake.com Michael

    Also, all throughout the campaign Obama said his intentions were to increase troops in Afghanistan- so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

    Iraq on the other hand…

    • q

      that’s true. obama was quite clear about his plans with respect to afghanistan during the campaign. his supporters and the nobel committee might not remember this; mr hanson could be forgiven for not remembering this as well.

      the post however, seems to imply that people should have consistent attitudes toward war; ie a person or politician or whatever unit has an opinion should approve of or disapprove of all wars. i can’t imagine why that would be true.

  • Ewlp

    Wow, this blog is getting really lazy. First we had the silly graph about fuel efficency for transport with the mislabeled axis (which completely invalidated the point it was supposed to make), now we have this sloppy slur.

    If Bush was hated as a war monger, it was primarily because of his amazing ability to start new wars. Unless he is being completely dishonest, Obama’s increase in troop numbers is an attempt to finish some of the wars America is already in as speedily and comprehensively as possible. Unless you’ve got some information we haven’t (i.e. that the troop increase is part of some “secret plot” to prolong the war), I don’t see how this in anyway invalidates his counter-war monger credentials.

    Please, if your gonna take shots at the man, particularly over the peace prize, focus on the many many areas where he actually has failed, instead of this.

  • Ethan

    This post is ridiculous. Bush was called a warmonger because of his motivation and method to go to war, not because of the number of U.S. troops at war. Obama did not start the war; he inherited it. It’s nonsensical to suggest that he also be called a warmonger for trying to make progress in a failing war, even if it does mean there are more troops on the ground.

    I’ll grant that war is sometimes necessary, but the assertion that war isn’t always bad is offensive to someone who’s experienced combat. War is always bad. Period.

    What’s “so strange” isn’t the three disconnected facts you posted, but your choice to abandon logic and integrity to persuade us that Obama might be a warmonger too. Well Dr. Hanson, your readers are too intelligent to take that bait. I, for one, am quite disappointed by what I’ve read here, especially because I normally find your posts to be insightful and enlightening.

  • Dan

    Robin are you saying Bush is NOT a warmonger.. the only way you can say that is if the Iraq war was defensive.
    Also I don’t see Obama picking fights with russia to, so yeah must be weird to have war being peace and threats being diplomacy, truly an upside down world!!

  • Peiter

    Bush started two wars. Obama inherited them. That might account for some of the discrepancy in their public image.

    One might argue that by not using enough troops, Bush inadverdently prolonged the Iraq and Afghan wars more then necessary. Just as it has been argued that the Sri Lankan hard-nosed approach to counter-insurgency might at the bottomline be lest costly in terms of human suffering than a protracted Western coin campaign. But since this is counter-intuitive, it’s probably not at play here.

    Finally, you are aware of the exit strategy proposed by Obama, right?

  • josh

    My goodness, look at this thread. It’s almost as if politics isn’t about policy.

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    Robin, any chance you’ll poke at the right-wingers, too? Just for variety.

  • tony

    Yeah. This post lost me.

  • http://explodicle.blogspot.com Explodicle

    All this implies is that voters (and the Nobel committee) are willing to settle for “less war than John McCain”.

  • http://anotherpanacea.com Joshua A. Miller

    Normally I enjoy your blog, but I found your interpretation here confusing. The way I read that graph, it looks like there are few US troops at war now than there were at the start of Obama’s term. Even with the doubling of troops in Afghanistan, the number of troops pulled from Iraq leaves a net decrease. Am I wrong? If not, what bias led you to the conclusion that there was “a net increase in US troops at war”?

    • http://anotherpanacea.com Joshua A. Miller

      “fewer” troops at war. Not, as you point out, “few.” What bias led me to post so quickly without looking for typos?

    • Unnamed

      The graph is confusing, but based on the article I think that the top of the gray area represents the number of troops in Iraq, not the cumulative total. The article says “As of early this month, 65,000 U.S. troops were in Afghanistan and about 124,000 were in Iraq. At the height of the increase in Iraq, in late 2007 and early 2008, about 160,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq and 26,000 were in Afghanistan.” So Obama has brought us to about 189,000 troops deployed in Iraq + Afghanistan, roughly a 1.6% increase over our previous maximum of 186,000.

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        Yes, the top area says “Iraq” to the left on the graph.

  • Cognitive Miser

    Joshua, the linked article states

    “The deployment of the support troops to Afghanistan brings the total increase approved by Obama to 34,000. The buildup has raised the number of U.S. troops deployed to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan above the peak during the Iraq “surge” that President George W. Bush ordered, officials said.”

    Politics is not about policy.

  • magfrump

    Seconding the “less war than McCain” hypothesis:

    http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2009/10/rich-on-mccain.php

    Many people may believe that Afghanistan is a better place to be than Iraq was, and similarly the presence or lack of conflict is a larger signal than the size of conflict (although I’d rather see a comparison of US troop/local civilian deaths alongside the troop numbers, maybe a comparison of the number of battles going on as a better measure of how much “war” is going on).

    That said, there was no anti-war presidential candidate. There was “all war all the time” McCain and there was “maybe talking is sometimes a good idea” Obama.

    For people who care about policy, this is an unpleasant but obvious choice.

    Of course, if that was more than 5-10% of the population I imagine third party candidates like Nader and fringe candidates like Kucinich and Paul would get more votes, so I agree with the overall point (politics is not about policy), although I would suggest that some people care about policy and just can’t do anything about it (because potentially effective actions are swamped by people who only care about signalling.)

  • http://mattwarren.net Matt Warren

    There are some good comments accompanying this item. I don’t believe it was a lazy post, but just an interesting graphic that this crowd could appreciate and comment on.

    There’s the issue of whether Obama inherited the war or not – which is valid. But I just think it’s interesting to look at the space between what we imagine a president to be and what he must do in office, which is what I think this graphic is really about. Noble war or not, Afghanistan isn’t called the graveyard of empires for nothing. Whether it’s the just war or not has little to do with how we’ll remember it.

    We collectively remember Kennedy as honorable in spite of drawing a line in the sand with regard to Vietnam. Two administrations supported action in South Vietnam and he didn’t do a thing to alter that trajectory. Conversely, though, we hate Nixon and his administration effectively ended the conflict.

    I’m not arguing about whether or not we should agree with those assessments, just that it’s fascinating how little our opinions of a president have to do with actual policy. One is governed by our dreams, the other by geopolitical inertia. This isn’t a question of whether or not I support our Commander in Chief, just a question of whether or not my support matters.

  • loqi

    I have to agree with many of the other comments here, this is pretty sub-par for OB. I don’t want to defend Obama, I was already unhappy with his implicitly pro-war take on foreign policy before the election. But your hammed-up confusion seems predicated on the willful exclusion of a lot of relevant context.

  • bedmondson

    No, OB isn’t being lazy. They are just trying to manipulate people. They probably know the average person doesn’t remember what Obama said in the campaign so when they have an article like this it gets them mad. If OB wasn’t trying to manipulate, they would have put the caveat that Obama said he was going to do this almost from the beginning of his campaign. OB is not deleted from my rss.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    The post isn’t very good at all. There is one point – Obama has a reputation as a peacemonger, yet increases troops in Afghanistan – that is weak, arguable, but valid.

    But then there is the line about Bush, simply serving to add partisan politics to the argument, the appeal to incredibility in this is so strange and the odd disclaimer And Obama may well be a better than average president. This isn’t the democrats party blog-site; there is no need to caveat criticisms of Obama with initial compliments.

    Very far from the usual (high) standards.

  • John

    If you really do your homework you will find that the 8 years of the Bush administration were easily the worst 8 years in USA history.

    Such is the toxic legacy that Obama inherited

  • jostTu

    @ John,

    While I may agree with your comment, I think your comment is relatively meaningless. At least point to some specific issue with some data instead of empty rhetoric.

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  • Doc Merlin

    Its not strange at all. Its expected. The standard tactic for Democrats is to say the opposite of what you are planning on doing when what you are planning is unpopular for your base. (I don’t mean this as an impeachment of Democrats, just that I see them do it most.)

    In the short term (which is what most politicians care about) people will remember your words more than your actions.