Belmont Club

Thinking it over?

Australian officials have apparently failed to get any details on the Obama “plan” on Afghanistan. Xinhua reports:

“It was an ideal opportunity, with Smith and Fitzgibbon (Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon) meeting the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, yet we’re none the wiser to any extent about an increased commitment the U.S. is expecting of Australia,” Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop told reporters. … This week Australia would not commit more troops to Afghanistan unless the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) increased its commitment and the U.S. outlined a new strategy to fight the Taliban insurgents, Fitzgibbon said in a statement last week.

That suggests that if Obama had a plan he was either unwilling to take the likes of Kevin Rudd into confidence or that it was still incomplete. With Obama himself recently returned from NATO and Holbrooke just back from South Asia perhaps the “plan” doesn’t exist yet.

Which might not be a bad thing. Modern politicians are supposed to have a plan for everything. A “plan” to save social security; ‘reform’ immigration; end the ‘scourge of piracy’ and many other things. But many of these problems are complex and it is often unclear how, much less when, they will be solved. When GWB went into Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003, his plans, such as they were, turned out to require constant revision. I think it is the nature of the beast that only provisional plans can be realistically made. President Obama simply can’t come up with an “exit plan” he can show to the Australian ministers that resembles a kind of PERT-CPM launch schedule with a countdown at the end. If he shows them one, it’s a fraud. At the very best, he might decide on a direction and get together a stock of political and material provisions and keep going until he either realizes he’s going down the wrong road and changes direction or uses up his capital and shrivels by the electoral wayside.

It may surprise some members of the public to realize that the President doesn’t have all the answers. There are some questions to which the reply is, “I don’t know”. There are some problems to which the solution is “do nothing”. But the public has been conditioned to believe in the political magic machine. There’s a plan for everything, including alien invasions from Outer Space, which are stored in Area 51. Maybe the only thing politicians can do is show them a folder marked “plan” and play along. Perhaps the most useful thing about official secrecy is to create a space where the public can imagine that all the confidential answers are stored. Its most useful content is hope. There’s no change.