Arsenal of Democracy coverMy copy of Julian Zelizer’s book Arsenal of Democracy arrived in the mail at about the same time late in 2009 that Barack Obama gave his address at West Point expanding U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.  Obama had inherited the war, and his choices ranged from bad to worse.  But the one he selected, a middle-course option that would send 30,000 additional troops and called for removing them in eighteen months, was difficult to comprehend if the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan were really as high he claimed they were.  It was hard for me to see how an increase of that size, even if accompanied by a boost in NATO troops, could really do the job in the vast and forbidding Afghan terrain.  By announcing a deadline, moreover, the president signaled to anti-American forces in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) that they could count on a U.S. withdrawal in 2011 and hence could bide their time until then.


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