The President’s Afghanistan Strategy

I was adamant that we get out of Afghanistan, but Obama has convinced me that his way of doing just that is the best of no good alternatives.  I think a lot of progressives may have had wax in their ears – all they heard in the speech was the boosting of troops. What I heard said up front was “to bring this war to a successful conclusion.”  I don’t know how successful it will be; but there’s a better chance of it being relatively more successful with the temporary boost in troops, prior to withdrawal.

I listened to the speech again and made an outline of what he said.  He was right in going back over the history of the Afghanistan war and making a clear distinction between it and Iraq and between it and Vietnam.  I supported the war in Afghanistan and most of the country did as well – most of the world did. We went in there with the full backing of Congress, NATO and the UN.  And then George Bush dropped the ball.  Now, in our thinking Iraq and Afghanistan are all confused together.

Regardless of my belief that al-Queda was coddled and promoted by the US under the table, and encouraged and left unrestrained from attacking us, the fact is that THEY did do the dirty work on 9/11.  Go back and remember that they attacked us before 9/11 too, and Bill Clinton made attempts to decapitate them.  Bush pulled back investigation and preemption of terrorism in order to boost his globalist agenda (Iraq) and to give legitimacy to his stolen Presidency.  All that is true, but the al-Queda brand of extremist violence was a threat then and will be in the future if we don’t take action to further erode it in its main pocket of control.

And he correctly pointed out, pretty much without resorting to the constant “threat” “terror” fear tactics of Bush Inc, that recent attempts to attack us by extremists based in the area HAVE been disrupted.  And it is obvious that al-Queda would love to get hold of some nuke material in Pakistan.

I also think that many progressives also had wax in their ears when Obama listed his 3 objectives in the speech:
1) Military strategy to break Taliban momentum, strengthen Afghanistan’s security forces.  This with our NATO allies.  Begin withdrawal July 2011.  It’s not as if all problems will be solved at that time.  It’s more like he’s saying “go do all you can do to get it as good as possible by that time.”  That is motivating.  And I think the Karsai regime is on notice to get their ducks in a row before the American military leaves.
2) Civilian strategy with the UN to combat corruption, boost things like agricultural development.  (i.e., nation building)  Work with UN.  This doesn’t appear to have a deadline of July 2011 and it should be open-ended. (Please see Secretary of State Clinton’s testimony before congress at  <http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/12/132953.htm>
3) Pakistan strategy.  They are most at danger from extremism, and opinion has now shifted against the Taliban.  They’ve got the nukes we’re worried about.  This also does not appear to be time limited.

Why are so many of us not listening to all of the objectives?  Number Two at least has been something I’ve been claiming in my emails to Obama that he should be doing.  And that is said with the realization that some military may be needed for security for non-military personnel to do their job.  Objectives 2 and 3 make crystal clear the difference between Barack Obama and George W Bush, for whom military action was the cure for everything.  Did we progressives not even listen to the last part of Obama’s speech?  He talked openly about the financial cost – when did Bush ever do that?  He talked about how our involvement can’t be open ended because we need to turn to work at home.  And he reminded us that the US does not seek world domination or claim the resources of other countries as our own.  How different from Bush was that?

And I don’t see many other alternatives Obama had because of the Bush ineptitude.  I think a wholesale removal of troops from Afghanistan would be, as he termed it for Iraq and Afghanistan, irresponsible.  You just don’t do military withdrawal that way.  Where would it leave our non-military personnel?  We’d  have to give up on that too and that’s would be a shame.  So, what he’s chosen to do is give the troops some assistance to see what they can do to help our security there and they’ve got a time line to meet some objectives.  Can we really expect that they could do as well with the current force of 70,000 as they could with 100,000?  If we left the level where it is, as he said, it might be longer before we could extricate ourselves from there.  And if we can improve the security situation it will help the non-military people who might remain to help Afghanistan.

Finally, all this is consistent with what Barack Obama said during the campaign, that he was going to focus on Afghanistan and get the job done there.  This seems to be a reasonable way to try to do it.  Obama seems to be taking a calculated risk to his Presidency here.  I don’t think he would do that without good reasons.  I think we should “trust but verify” him on this.  The anti-war protest should continue to keep on the pressure, but I won’t be joining them until July 2011 comes around and Obama is nowhere near doing what he said.

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