Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Strategy, Afghanistan and Obama's Speech

I am going to list a few words and I want you to read them as fast as you can and tell me what they have in common. Afghanistan, Obama, Speech, Pakistan, Bush, War, 30,000 Troops, Timeline. Besides dominating the headlines alongside Tiger Woods, these words represent key elements of one of our country's great challenges; The Afghanistan Conflict. Not only is the situation complicated, it is extremely polarizing. A fact that the media and political pundits exploit and exaggerate at all costs, much to the detriment of our nation's unity and any political progress on the topic at large. That is why I love reading Andrew Sullivan. He has his views but tries to express them based purely on the facts as he sees them. There is minimal exaggeration and a common recognition of the opposing view, even if he strongly disagrees. If I had to boil it down I would say he is grounded in reality, not theatrics. Here is the post he wrote regarding President Obama's speech on our nation's way forward in Afghanistan as well as some excerpts and comments below.

I think this strategy is doomed. But then I think any strategy that does not pledge to colonize Afghanistan, pour trillions of dollars into it and stay for a century is doomed. So why do I end up this morning feeling rather similar to my colleague, Jim Fallows, who simply sighs: 'Well, I hope he's right"?

Here's why. The sanest option - leave now - would leave allies high and dry, prompt domestic cries of surrender, demoralize the military, break a clear campaign pledge, and signal to Pakistan that the Taliban is their problem now. Everything but the latter are worth avoiding.

This war is already eight years' old and will soon have lasted longer than Vietnam. Its rationale today is very different than what it was in 2001 - 2002. Al Qaeda is based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The US, thanks to Bush and the recession, is bankrupt and facing a long and brutal period of high unemployment and soon huge cuts in entitlements or big tax hikes.

Our enemy already knows that the US cannot sustain neo-imperial control of a vast inhospitable country on the other side of the planet for more than a decade. And if the US were to do so, it would be becoming the imperial power the neocons and the Islamists truly want. What Obama was saying last night is that he is determined to return America to normal, to unplug this vast attempt at global control in Muslim countries that Bush and Cheney unleashed. He is trying to unwind the empire, not expand it.

How best to unwind the empire? By giving McChrystal what he wants and giving him a couple of years to deliver tangible results. If McChrystal delivers, fantastic. I will do a ritual self-flagellation and bow down to the man with no body-fat and a close relationship with 33 Kagans of various generations and genders. If McChrystal does his best and we still get nowhere, Obama will have demonstrated - not argued, demonstrated - that withdrawal is the least worst option.

I possess many of the same feelings as Andrew Sullivan. One area where I digress from his view is with regards to strategy. I have read/heard many comments whether or not people agree with sending more troops. But one thing I have not heard addressed is that lack of detail regarding a new, or as I have said numerous times, the creation of a strategy to end our involvement in this war on a grand scale. I did like increased emphasis on Pakistan's involvement and responsibility as well as the actual mobilization of troops to combat the Taliban. Both are good signs in my view. However the lack of a legitimate and capable government coupled with a fuzzy strategy at best have me worried. One thing I will say is that the military leaders and members did not choose to go to Afghanistan. It is not their place to question the decisions of our elected officials when they are lawful orders. So our military leaders are requesting the troops and resources they feel are necessary to do the job they are told to do. In general I feel that we should listen to leaders on the ground, I would just feel a lot more comfortable if the strategy was so clearly defined that the average person on the street could give a brief overview of what it is. I worry because there are many military members who could not provide a brief overview of our strategy let alone the average American.

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