Obama’s Hedged Bet on Afghanistan – by Jacob Laksin


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President Obama is committed to victory in Afghanistan – at least for 18 months. That seemed to be the upshot of the president’s announcement yesterday that he would order an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, a bold decision he hedged with the political caveat that they would be withdrawn in time for the 2012 election.

The president’s new strategy, unveiled before an audience of military cadets in West Point after months of deliberation, certainly has its virtues. While the new deployment falls short of the 40,000 troops originally requested by General Stanley McChrystal, it represents an important escalation in American forces – an essential element in McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy to secure the Afghan outlands, marginalize the resurgent Taliban, and allow the central government in Kabul to assert a measure of control over the turbulent country.

Just as significant, President Obama showed that he grasps Afghanistan’s importance to American national security. Reminding a watching world that the United States had been forced to invade Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, Obama stressed that the U.S. mission would be to prevent the country from relapsing into the “epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda” that incubated the plot to mass murder nearly 3,000 Americans. “We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country,” Obama said. And while Obama did not use the word victory in his remarks, he underscored that he intended to bring the war to a “successful conclusion.” It was the president’s strongest expression to date that he considers success in Afghanistan vital to the national interest.

Obama painted a realistic picture of what success would mean. The primary goal of the new strategy will be denying safe havens to al-Qaeda elements on Afghanistan’s border and reversing the recent momentum of the Taliban. To that end, the president outlined a three-part campaign that would include a military surge to secure population centers, as proposed by General McChrystal; an effort to fight corruption in the central government and among provincial administrators; and an increase in support for Pakistan as it continues its offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan. While one might have wished for more specifics on some of these points, the overall objective is both reasonable and achievable.

The trouble with Obama’s strategy is that it hinges on the success of a troop surge bounded by a timeline designed to serve political rather than strategic aims. It is one thing to suggest that the United States cannot maintain an “open-ended” commitment in Afghanistan. It is far less sensible to set a specific date for the drawdown of American troops – timed to precede the U.S. presidential election – before the surge has been given a change to work. Not only does the timeline present the Taliban with the option of waiting out the U.S. military, but it vitiates the president’s message that his administration is fully committed to the success of the Afghan war effort.

In other respects, though, the president’s new strategy is politically brave. It represents a sharp rebuff to the Democratic Party and its antiwar base, which has made no secret of its opposition to a troop surge. Obama did not shy away from that schism in his remarks, challenging the Left on its claim that Afghanistan has become a Vietnam-like quagmire. Obama asserted that this was a “false reading of history”: Among other differences, the United States is not facing a broad popular insurgency but a backlash from Taliban extremists that most Afghans do not wish to see return to power.

Obama also derided the “efforts against al-Qaeda from a distance” approach supported by many Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden. The argument that withdrawing troops in favor of a limited aerial campaign against terrorist targets has gained a following among war critics, but Obama insisted that this approach would have the effect of ceding ground to the jihadists and thus “would create unacceptable risks of additional attacks on US and allies.” As for those who opposed expanding troop levels, the president noted that keeping levels the same would prove more costly in the long-term, since it would make it difficult secure the country and to stand up Afghan security forces.

That this repudiation has been seen as exactly that by the Left is well illustrated by groups like Code Pink, which has already launched a campaign against the president and his “hopeless escalation.” Incessant attacks from the antiwar Left are probably not what Obama had in mind when he lamented the poisonous partisanship that has “left our unity on national security issues in tatters,” but his willingness to confront the left-wing critics head on was at least a rhetorical breakthrough for an administration that has tried to blame just about every political hardship on its predecessor.

untitledNot the change they seek: Antiwar groups like Code Pink have come out swinging against the administration’s new strategy.

Obama also deserves credit for supporting a strategy that goes against not only the wishes of his party and the Left but also, increasingly, of the country at large. Polls show that nearly half of Americans now oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan, and the president in particular is faulted for his war leadership, with just 35 percent approving of Obama’s handling of the war effort in Afghanistan, according to the latest Gallup poll. For the president to risk his political capital on an unpopular but critical campaign is a commendable gamble, even if the arbitrary pre-election timeline smacks of political calculation.

If the stakes in Afghanistan are immense, the scope of the challenge is no less so. As the president himself acknowledged, corruption, an underdeveloped economy, a thriving drug trade, the power of the Taliban and the weakness of the internal security forces make pacifying Afghanistan a singularly difficult task. And yet General McChyrstal, backed by General Petraeus, believes that the United States can still prevail if given the resources to do so. At long last, President Obama has given the generals a chance to prove they are right.

  • USMCSniper

    The speech that the West Point Cadets deserved. Just change Iraq to Iran and their proxy terrorists. This is a must see and hear!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyUX6wV1lBQ

  • Robert Bernier

    Wow! Read this one. It is really good. And this gentleman says it just like it is.

    This venerable and much honored WW II vet is well known in Hawaii
    for his seventy-plus years of service to patriotic organizations and causes all over the country. A humble man without a political bone in his body, he has never spoken out before about a government official, until now. He dictated this letter to a friend, signed it and mailed it to the president. Consult : http://xrl.us/bgeewc

  • Robert Bernier

    Every American should know the truth

    No one should miss this video:

    http://xrl.us/bf29mb

    Look to the end ( 10 min.)

  • fiftyfifty

    When Obama spent two years running his mouth about right and wrong war before he became the man and found this President shit is real. Obama spent the last 3 three months trying find a strategy Bush didn't think of and guess what there isn't one.so
    McChrystal has 12 and out to get it done Mikeal Moore and Nancy Pelois need to give Obama his balls back

  • abrahamstubenhaus

    Thank you Mr. Laskin for an interesting perspective on the rollercoaster ride Mr. Obama's mind travels on.
    However sir, his announcement was strongly coupled with his declaration that the U.S. will leave beginning at acertain time, a clearly defined time.
    So what?
    I'll tell you “so what.” Mr. Obama should never have given a date for leaving.
    It means that the enemy now has a set time to relax and regroup. First, they have a nice long bunch of months to repair their depleted resources, to bring in more of their own fighters, to relax with little pressure. After they finish waiting until the U.S. leaves, they will have great celebrations through the huge bloodbaths which will come and which is now inevitable due to the timeline thay now have to plan with. They now have time to plan and to recover and to prepare for the spilling of innocent blood which they love.

  • USMCSniper

    First of all, let me correct the major lie this bastard Muslim son of a Marxist wigger woman made last night. By every measure, The United States and coalition forces have conclusively defeated all enemies in Iraq, pacified the country, deposed the previous regime, successfully helped to establish a new functioning democratic government, and suppressed any lingering insurgencies. The war has come to an end. WE WON THE WAR IN IRAQ.

    What more indication do you need? An announcement from the Obama administration? That's really not gonna happen. A declaration of victory by the media? Please. Don't make me laugh. A concession of surrender by what few remaining insurgents remain in hiding? Forget about it. The moment has come to acknowledge the obvious. To overtly declare a fact that has already been true for quite some time now. Let me repeat: WE WON THE WAR IN IRAQ.

    Barack Obama on Afghanistan and on Iran could learn from Churchill, who said:

    “If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of victory. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, and only a small chance of survival.”

    In war, there can be no substitute for victory, victory at all costs, for the survival of western culture and freedom depends on victory.

  • tlwinslow

    That's why the U.S. has presidential elections every 4 years. John “the Rifleman” McCain is waiting in the wings.

    http://go.to/islamhistory

  • USMCSniper

    Fouad Ajami says

    Recent surveys from the world of Islam that confirm that the animus toward America has not been radically changed by the ascendancy of Mr. Obama. In the Palestinian territories, 15% have a favorable view of the U.S. while 82% have an unfavorable view. The Obama speech in Ankara didn't seem to help in Turkey, where the favorables are 14% and those unreconciled, 69%. In Egypt, a country that's reaped nearly 40 years of American aid, things stayed roughly the same: 27% have a favorable view of the U.S. while 70% do not. In Pakistan, a place of great consequence for American power, our standing has deteriorated: The unfavorables rose from 63% in 2008 to 68% this year.

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    Martin Kozlowski
    Mr. Obama's election has not drained the swamps of anti-Americanism. That anti-Americanism is endemic to this region, an alibi and a scapegoat for nations, and their rulers, unwilling to break out of the grip of political autocracy and economic failure. It predated the presidency of George W. Bush and rages on during the Obama presidency.

    We had once taken to the foreign world that quintessential American difference—the belief in liberty, a needed innocence to play off against the settled and complacent ways of older nations. The Obama approach is different.

    Steeped in an overarching idea of American guilt, Mr. Obama and his lieutenants offered nothing less than a doctrine, and a policy, of American penance. No one told Mr. Obama that the Islamic world, where American power is engaged and so dangerously exposed, it is considered bad form, nay a great moral lapse, to speak ill of one's own tribe when in the midst, and in the lands, of others.

    The crowd may have applauded the cavalier way the new steward of American power referred to his predecessor, but in the privacy of their own language they doubtless wondered about his character and his fidelity. “My brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against the stranger,” goes one of the Arab world's most honored maxims. The stranger who came into their midst and spoke badly of his own was destined to become an object of suspicion.

    Muslim Arab States think that Obama talks too much and says nothing, that he is a weak man, and that terrorist states and their proxies sense this too.

  • jackhampton

    Very good article Sir.
    After being coaxed by the Obama people to respond enthuastically to Obama's comments it is more than telling by the cold reception this replica of Jimmy Carter got. May God Bless the Corp and those serving.

  • heidifromoz

    No matter how many troops the West sends to Afghanistan, they will never, never defeat the Taliban.

    The US failed in Vietnam, they will fail here.

    Unfortunately.

  • CowboyUp

    The US didn't fail in Vietnam, we failed at home. Vietnam didn't fall until after the democrat party cut off our aid to South Vietnam, the soviets tripled their to North Vietnam, and the NVA invaded with more tanks, troops, artillery tubes, and trucks than Patton had in his drive across Europe. The result was mass murder, oppression, starvation, and poverty that last to this day, over 30 years later, not just in Vietnam, but in Laos and Cambodia (where close to half the population died in under 5 years). What I never could figure is why dp politicians and supporters are proud of it.

    It sure looks like hussein is planning a variation of the same bugout. In 18 months hussein says he will leave the Afghans fighting the taliban twisting in the breeze, like the dp did our SE Asian allies. That negates, to be charitable, all he said about the importance of Afghanistan and his 'commitment' there.

    The US certainly can defeat the taliban, it's only a question of will, and hussein answered that in the negative with his fixed withdrawal date.

  • hoolad

    Islam is pure evil to the core. islam is not a religion but a political movement to achieve global dominance. Show me a churhc or a hindu temple or a jewish temple in saudia arabia. Go to Egypt and see how they deal with the Coptic Christains, the egyptians treat them like animals, burn down their chruches at every riot and they dont allow new chruches to be build, infact you have to ask permission from the president of egypt to build a church. Remind you, Egypt was a Coptic Christain Country before Islam took over with the sword and now coptic christains are a minority in their own country. I Guess the Swiss have realized the danger soon…..

    In Turkey, they have taken Hagia Sofia Church and turned it to a Mosque, then into a museum. Still they will not give back Hagia Sofia to be a church again. Muslims are hypocrates. Turkey has a mission to wipe off all churches and convert them into secular museums and thus will elimanate the christains populations.

    Christains are not allowed to be christains in middle-east, period. Now muslims shout. Give me a church, hindu temple, jewish temple, buddist temple or any other temple in the heart of Mecca or Medina and then I will voice my dis-taste for the swiss vote.

    http://www.faithfreedom.org
    http://www.thereligionofpeace.com
    http://www.thethirdjihad.com

  • edisa

    The decision to send more troops is the most “un-left” thing our President has done so far. It has a good chance of working, as the surge was successful in Iraq. I read the abandonment of the recent electoral process by much of the local population as FEAR. A surge properly implemented could alleviate that fear. Nothing convinces a generally fatalistic people of the validity of the American approach like SUCCESS–in winning against the violent. In addition, reality tends to bite politics, so the time line is probably more flexible than it first appears. So far so good on this decision and speech. Hope the job can get done in 18 months–and for flexibility if it cannot. A surge is the correct move at this moment.

  • USMCSniper

    Once the shooting starts it is America's war period. And if you do not support the troops and their mission then you are aiding and abetting the enemy. Even in South Vietnam my leftist friend, it was not a Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, or Ford's war although it was Ford's war to win or lose and he opted out much to his and the Democratic Congress's shame for cutting off all aid as they did cause South Vietnam to lose – and the aftermath of a bloodbath that took place in the millions was on all of them and the aiders and abetters that called themselves anti war was not a Clinton, Bush, or Obama's war although it is America's war. If Obama and the Democrats abandon Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Islamic fascists, the Taliban and Al Qaeda then the aftermath bloodbath that takes place and the future terrorism that is unleashed on America will all be on them – and all the aiders and abetters like you.

  • USMCSniper

    Once the shooting starts in any war it is America's war period. And if you do not support the troops and their mission then you are aiding and abetting the enemy. Even in South Vietnam my leftist friend, it was not a Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, or Ford's war although it was Ford's war to win or lose and he opted out much to his and the Democratic Congress's shame for cutting off all aid as they did cause South Vietnam to lose – and the aftermath of a bloodbath that took place in the millions was on all of them and the aiders and abetters that called themselves anti war. The war on Islamic terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not a Clinton, Bush, or even Obama's war although it is America's war. If Obama and the Democrats abandon Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Islamic fascists, the Taliban and Al Qaeda then the aftermath bloodbath that takes place and the future terrorism that is unleashed on America will all be on them – and all the aiders and abetters like you.

  • 080

    The “timeline” that is mentioned is not a deadline. The President said that troops will start to pull out in July 2011. It can start then and extend to some years afterwards. If we are pulling out of Iraq and also pulling out of Afghanistan we will be nowhere in the Middle East. Given the importance of the area to the west I doubt that such an outcome is likely at any time in the forseeable future.

  • Paul Rinderle

    Have we all retreated to the first grade in the D.C. schools of the unlearned. Ayear and one half of which one year is in snow up to your AH. That leaves 6 months to move in and shoot out and way out. This is so stupid it has to be on purpose.