Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Barack Obama sets out final push in Afghanistan.

He always argued during his election campaign that the real battle the US should be engaging in was in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, so I suppose I am not surprised that Obama has announced the troop increase.

He presented the troop surge as a necessary part of creating the conditions for eventual withdrawal. "As commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan," Obama said.
My problem was that I always thought he was emphasising Afghanistan in order to highlight the catastrophe which is Iraq, and that he was talking about Afghanistan so that he didn't appear soft on national security.

But, he appears to be determined to push ahead. Although there was some silver lining to the cloud he was laying out:

Although Obama and his officials were careful in public not to talk about a date for complete withdrawal, in private administration officials hinted they were working towards a date of well before January 2013, the end of Obama's first term in office.

The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, almost said as much publicly when he noted that Obama did not want to leave the problem to his successor.

My problem with all of this is that I don't see how the US can win in Afghanistan. It is a much more difficult and complex conflict than even the war in Iraq. Karzai to this day has no control outside of Kabul.

I wish him well. I would be delighted if he could wipe out al Qaeda and establish a national government which took charge of the whole of Afghanistan. I simply don't see how he is going to pull this off.

Although, I am also pleased that he has set out a timetable which determines when US involvement will end in that country. That's a first. It inevitably led to Republican complaints.
Republican criticism was swift. "The way that you win wars is to break the enemy's will, not to announce dates that you are leaving," said Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Obama's campaign rival in last year's presidential race.
The Republicans would stay in Afghanistan forever rather than admit defeat. Obama has, at least, set a time limit for this war.

He also set out the need for Pakistan to work on the area of Waziristan, which has always been the problem of defeating al Qaeda; as long as they have a safe haven in that region of Pakistan then all US effort in Afghanistan is essentially a waste of time.

In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who have argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani Army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development.

If he can get Pakistan to engage in this way then there is the very slightest chance that he can make this worthwhile.

But, the history of foreign intervention in Afghanistan tells it's own story and implies that hope of success in that region is always going to be a long shot. He is seeking to unify a nation which has defied foreign conquest for 2,500 years. A nation which saw off Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and many others.

It will be well nigh impossible for him to achieve what he has set out in the time scale he has given. The Russians spent ten years pounding those self same mountains before packing their bags and going home.

I genuinely wish him well, but I'd be lying if I pretended that I was remotely optimistic about this.


Glenn Greenwald identifies a welcome change in Obama's rhetoric:
The claim that we must stay in Afghanistan in order to reduce genuine threats to our security is at least cogent, though ultimately very unpersuasive. But the claim that we're fulfilling some sort of moral responsibility to the plight of Afghans by continuing to occupy, bomb and wage war in their country -- and by imprisoning them en masse with no charges -- is sheer self-glorifying fantasy. Some credit is due Obama for refusing to promote that fantasy last night when doing so might have helped his case. Now that the "Commander-in-Chief" who is prosecuting the war has largely dispensed with this fictitious rationale, will other war supporters do so as well?
Obama has, at least, dropped all the shit about promoting democracy and helping Afghani women. That's not to say that those are not noble causes, but they were never actually anything to do with why the US were in Afghanistan.

Obama, at least, is avoiding sugar coating what he is doing with that familiar right wing bullshit. He's talking to the American people as if they are adults, which is why O'Reilly and Rove hated it so much.


Cecilieaux said...

I'm very disappointed. He hasn't pulled out of Iraq.

The picture at the blog below says it all:

Kel said...

C, I feel he tied his hands over Afghanistan during the election, because he didn't want to appear weak on national defence.

I share your frustration over Iraq. He should be moving faster. But he will take the US out of that hellhole.