Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Editorial: Obama Made the Wrong Decision in Afghanistan

Last night President Barack Obama announced his decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000 troops.
AfghanPashtunMap President Obama announced Tuesday that he would speed 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in coming months, but he vowed to start bringing American forces home in the middle of 2011, saying the United States could not afford and should not have to shoulder an open-ended commitmentPromising that he could “bring this war to a successful conclusion,” Mr. Obama set out a strategy that would seek to reverse Taliban gains in large parts of Afghanistan, better protect the Afghan people, increase the pressure on Afghanistan to build its own military capacity and a more effective government and step up attacks on Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
“America, we are passing through a time of great trial,” Mr. Obama said. “And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.”
The military escalation Mr. Obama described and defended in his speech to a national television audience and 4,000 cadets at the United States Military Academy here, the culmination of a review that lasted three months, could well prove to be the most consequential decision of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
In his 33-minute address, he sought to convince an increasingly skeptical nation that the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the continued existence of Al Qaeda across the border in Pakistan — what he called a “cancer” on the region — were direct threats to the United States, and that he could achieve the seemingly contradictory goals of expanding American involvement in the war even as he sought to bring it to a close.
The scene in the hall was striking and somber: row after row of cadets, in their blue-gray uniforms, listening intently to a strategy that could put many of them in harm’s way. “If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow,” Mr. Obama said. “So no, I do not make this decision lightly.” He called on foreign allies to step up their commitment, declaring, “This is not just America’s war.”
He delivered a pointed message to Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, saying, “The days of providing a blank check are over.”
Addressing critics who have likened Afghanistan to Vietnam, Mr. Obama called the comparison “a false reading of history.” And he spoke directly to the American people about the tough road ahead.
“Let me be clear: none of this will be easy,” Mr. Obama said. “The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world.”
With the economy weak and the issue of jobs foremost on Americans’ minds, the president conceded that the new strategy would carry an expensive price tag, which he put at an additional $30 billion in the first year.
Yet with some Democrats talking of a war surtax, Mr. Obama offered no details of how he intended to pay for his new policy, saying only that he was “committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly.”
White House advisers said they expected the administration would do so in the coming weeks, as officials including Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testify on Capitol Hill starting Wednesday.
The approach laid out by Mr. Obama — not so much a new strategy as a doubling down on the one he embraced earlier this year — incorporated the basic goals and came close to the force levels proposed in the counterinsurgency plan that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, put forward in September.
In that report, General McChrystal said, in stark language, that unless significantly more troops were sent, the war in Afghanistan was likely to be lost.
But by including an explicit timetable to begin a withdrawal, Mr. Obama highlighted the seemingly conflicting pressures defining the debate over how to proceed: to do what is necessary to ensure that the region is not a launching pad for attacks on the United States and its allies, and to disengage militarily as quickly as possible.
Senior administration officials suggested, however, that any initial withdrawal starting in mid-2011 could be very limited, depending on the military situation at that point.
“The pace, the nature and the duration of that transition are to be determined down the road by the president based on the conditions on the ground,” said Michèle A. Flournoy, under secretary of defense for policy.
The initial political reactions showed the crosscurrents facing the White House. Republicans applauded the buildup of troops but questioned the commitment to a timetable for bringing them home.
“Setting a draw-down date before this surge has even begun is a mistake, and it sends a mixed message to both our friends and our enemies regarding our long-term commitment to success,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.
But among many Democrats, the response ranged from noncommittal to outright opposition.
“I see no good reason for us to send another 30,000 or more troops to Afghanistan when we have so many pressing issues — like our economy — to deal with in this country,” said Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York.
Mr. Obama is calculating, administration officials said, that the explicit promise of a drawdown will impress upon the Afghan government that his commitment is not open-ended…
Inserted from <NY Times>
Tom122007 You have heard nothing on this subject from me, because I committed to withhold my decision until after I heard what Obama had to say.
I am already hearing cries from the left that Obama has betrayed his progressive base.  That is not true.  Obama campaigned on increasing the US troop level in Afghanistan.  I supported and voted for him knowing that, so I am not surprised and will not withdraw my support from him, because he is doing what he said he would do.  Up until very recently, I supported increased involvement in Afghanistan.  What changed my mind was the Bush-style election and the revelation of the depths of corruption in the government of the Bush/GOP puppet, Hamid Karzai.
Obama correctly disclosed that we got to where we are in Afghanistan through years of mismanagement of that war.  He has based his plan on three components.  First is to control the cities and large towns.  Second is to fight the corruption.  Third is to maintain a presence in the border area because of Pakistan.  I believe that he is honestly trying to do the right thing, but he’s depending on bad advice.  The USSR tried to control the cities and large towns with 500,000 troops.  I do not see how we can do so with 100,000.  He did not make a case for how he intends to control the corruption.  The Karzai regime is just as corrupt as the Bush/GOP regime.  The corruption pervades the nation.  Even Karzai’s brother is one of the world’s biggest drug lords.  He also did not tie in how operations in Afghanistan will stabilize Pakistan.  My guess is that he intends to backstop Pakistani forces at the border, as they go after Al Qaeda and the Taliban in their own country.  If I’m correct, that is the one part of the strategy that does make sense, but that could be accomplished without increasing troop levels.  In my opinion, Obama has made the wrong decision.
Here are the problems, as I see them.  They are not in order of importance.  First, we are on one side of a tribal war that has been going on for hundreds of years.  For all intents and purposes the Taliban are the leaders of the Pashtun tribe.  That complicates the matter, because Pashtun territory extends to large areas of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Second, we do not have enough troops to do the job.  In my opinion, Afghanistan will be no better off in eighteen months than it is now.  Third, the Afghan people now see us as invaders.  Fourth, we cannot circumvent Karzai without leaving a power vacuum there.  Fifth our troops are exhausted.  Most of the 30,000 will already have served several tours in Afghanistan and/or Iraq. The suicide rate among our troops is the highest it has ever been.  They have spent so little time at home that their families are breaking down.  They need a rest.  Sixth, we will have no troops left to deal with whatever future threat could materialize.  Seventh, Obama has dumped financing the war on Congress with no suggestions about where to get the money.  Seventh and most important, we cannot afford this war.  Repuglicans are already calling to delay health care reform due to increased war expenses.  The $30 billion figure we keep hearing is only the cost of the increase.  The entire war will cost almost $100 billion per year.  We have 45 million people without health care.  We have crumbling infrastructure.  We have high unemployment.  Millions of  Americans are losing their homes.  Our education system has fallen behind most of the world.  Portland, Oregon, now sixty miles from the coast is about to become an oceanfront community.  Which of these priorities will we tank to pay for this war?
Here are the good points, as I see them.  First, Obama denied McChrystal the ten years he wanted, promising to start withdrawal in eighteen months.  I admit that I’m skeptical that he will follow through.  He also needs to reveal how long withdrawal will take.  Second, he is not financing the war off budget the way Bush did.  Third, he has rejected the no bid contracts so loved by Bush/GOP war profiteers.  Fourth, and most important, if McConJob and Mooseolini had won in 2008, we would be trying to conquer both Iraq and Afghanistan, and probably Iran as well.
Overall, I am disappointed in Obama’s decision, and I shall oppose it vigorously.  However, I want to make it clear that I reject the war without rejecting the man.  I remain thankful that Obama is President rather than a goose-stepping Republican.  I just wish he had listened to Keith Olbermann the night before last.


Vigilante said...

Yeah, Tom! I am not buying this used war from this used-warsalesman any more I bought new wars from the new-warsalesmen eight years ago.

Punkypenny said...

Hi Tom,
Thanks for the comment on my blog. I'm not sure how I feel about the President's decision. I like Pres. Obama and I hate to think he's not acting in our best interest.

Sue said...

Tom you have done a thorough job once again. I agree with you on this, I hate the troop surge and would have loved hearing an exit strategy last night, but I have to support Obama because his burden is huge and I have great respect for him. He is an intelligent man and I hope in 2 years this strategy will have worked and the wars will be over. But I still feel very depressed about this decision... God Bless and keep our troops safe...

MadMike said...

Well done Tom. I wish I could add to this but I cannot. I am tired.

Kevin Kelley said...

I am surprised that I have not heard of any resurgence of the establishment of Pashtunistan since the American led invasion. I would think that it would be in the best interests of opposition leaders to call for secession, rather then supporting a counterinsurgency, but I would think it is too late for that.

Sometimes I wonder what ever happened to Wilson's 14 points, where I believe it's application in this region would be beneficial.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Absolutely wonderful post Tom. Your representing facts are clear and self evident. The congressional delay - debate you forecast is already here. We see eye to eye here. Great post.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Tom, this is about as thorough a job as anyone I have seen do on the subject of the escalation of the war. Very well done.

I keep thinking of the human and the financial price tag that is going to go along with this....and its scary.

In the long run, is it worth it?

The cynic in me for a moment thinks the GOP supports this decision because they know what the outcome will be- I hope that is not the case, but enough of them have so much as said they want Obama to fail its hard to think otherwise.

Our many tours of duty will they have to fulfill being shot at, wounded or killed, while the rest of us debate the merits on the internet? it worth it?

Holte Ender said...

It's all very "Rome is burning . . . Rome is burning" isn't it? The military fiddles while the homeland is going to hell. I love to hear Obama speak, such a pleasure after the W. but last night I didn't like what he had to say.

TRUTH 101 said...

Tomcat: I have to respond my friend.

First off, I think we should leave also. But as we've both pointed out, Obama made a campaign promise and he needs to keep his promises.

The key here is the timeline. As all the pundits are saying, this is now Obama's war. If he leaves now he breaks his promise and chaos will ensue. The timeline, provided he sticks to it, puts the onus on the Afghans to clean up their act. Which I think we all probably agree they won't do. But this gives Obama nd our Nation the cover to finally get the hell out of there. I know this is a lives for time strategy I despise. But this is what Bush left him.

There are always shades of gray in every decision. Obama is a smart and pragmatic man. I feel good that he made the best decision he thought he could given all the circumstances.

ivan said...

I said it before elsewhere but it might be time so say it again.

Why are we sending even more troops to Afghanistan? This might limit Mr. Obama to a one-term presidency.
As went Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam, so may Mr. Obama may go on Afghanistan. Presidents, for some reason seem obsessed by foreign wars, sometimes even falling in love with them, if I can used the oxymoron.

I forget what antique British parliamentarian has said it, but about the new troop surge in Afghanistan (can't stop it now),I would say to the Obama administration, "Think yet, ladies and gentlemen that you may be wrong." But the mighty C5's full of troops, are roaring toward Afghanistan.
To get a little Lovecraftian:
Oddly, signs with a cryptic message are popping up all over Louisiana "You might yet be wrong.".
There should have been earlier warnings in other states. People might have gotten the message. Ne ultra mas in Afghanistan.
Jeremiah was no bullfrog.
And nobody heard the croak.

Brother Tim said...

Obama is an extremely inteligent man. Do you think he honestly believed what he said?

Why is it, everyone is saying the troop escalation is acceptable because that was his campaign promise? Need I remind anyone of all the other campaign promises he has reneged on? This is about the only one he has fulfilled, except for the one Ted Kennedy helped him with, getting a dog for his kids.

How many more must die before we say, "Enough is enough"?

I've been doing a lot of research on the area (when I'm not farming) and it is a real eye-opener. They don't call it 'The Graveyard of Empires' for nothing.

We have elected a black Harold Hill as President, and he has sold the country band instruments, based on the 'think system'.

TRUTH 101 said...

I hear you Brother Tim. Obama's had ten months to think about this with all the intelligence available. I trust that he, along with Hillary and Joe Biden made the decision they thought was best.

Politically it was a bad decision because it pissed off his base and pleased assholes that aren't going to vote for him if Jesus Christ returns and tells them to.

He had to weigh that and still decided 30 thousand more Troops with a 2011 timeline was the answer.

If 2012 rolls around and the Troops are still there, I'll give serious consideration to supporting someone else for president.

Jo said...

All Presidents go into these battles with a time-line and the best of intentions. And as usual, there is no way of predicting how the tide of any war will go. All the Americans folks will do is lose more money and more lives. And for what?

I think Brother Tim has hit the nail on the head: "Why is it, everyone is saying the troop escalation is acceptable because that was his campaign promise? Need I remind anyone of all the other campaign promises he has reneged on? This is about the only one he has fulfilled, except for the one Ted Kennedy helped him with, getting a dog for his kids.

How many more must die before we say, "Enough is enough"?

Everyone had such high expectations of Obama -- he was almost deified -- and no one wants to admit he is not what he represented himself to be.

I am curious, Tom, why you still support Obama so staunchly? He has now escalated a non-winnable war in yet another God-forsaken country that really is completely irrelevant to most American folks. It will come to no good. It certainly will not stop the Taliban, or help the Afghan people.

I just don't get it...

gabrielle said...

Thoughtful analysis as always, Tom. Thank you!

I agree with many of your points and would add:

"You can't imagine how much a dead man weighs” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, grandfather who served in 2 civil wars.

Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.

Abraham Flexner, educator (1866-1959)

Hearts are seldom won with guns. So if it’s not hearts we want to win, what is it then?

Geopolitical: pipeline – Iraq had the misfortune of being seated on fields of easily extractable crude and Afghanistan has the misfortune of being strategically located to deliver the lucre via pipeline.

Follow the money - Obama has been taken over by the military industrial hawks and national security theorists who play war games with other people's lives and money. According to the Center for Responsive Politics' database, the top recipient of defense industry money in the 2008 election cycle was Barack Obama, whose haul of $1,029,997 far surpassed Republican contender Sen. John McCain's $696,948.The top five defense industry contributors during the 2008 elections were Lockheed Martin at $2.5 million, Boeing at $2.1 million, Northrop Grumman at $1.8 million, and Raytheon and General Dynamics at $1.7 million each. All pointing to the insatiable thirst of the war machine and the flaws of our electoral system.

Resources - 30 billion dollars for war? As a rule, I don’t believe in this business of nation building. But considering the sad state of affairs in the homeland: 47 million Americans who go to bed hungry, 47 million Americans who don’t have any health care, 15 million Americans who are out of work, another 10 million Americans whose homes are threatened with foreclosure, people going bankrupt, business failures. How come there is money for wars and Wall Street, but not for schools, health care, public works projects to repair the crumbling interior?

Security – What is real security? Poverty is the most potent weapon of mass destruction known to humanity.

Facts – Let‘s stop conflating Al Quada with Taliban, which is essentially a homegrown resistance that has been strengthened by the U.S. occupation. We need to be very careful that we don’t use counter-terrorism to justify counter-insurgency. They are two different things. As the Taliban is not the same thing as Al Qaeda.

Selling the war – all empires see themselves as liberators, And this is the preferred narrative of American history.

Obama – We all like and respect him. Thus, we need to challenge him.

Oso said...

Hi TomCat,
I'm essentially repeating a similar diatribe on a lot of blogs.

Afghanistan has little in the way of resources and has been somewhat of a feudal state for years.They finally had a chance,one chance to become a modern state.
After Taraki assumed power in the late seventies women were given equal rights with men.Fundamentalists and the drug trade (in some cases one and the same)were suppressed.
Money was being spent on education and health care.It wasn't Sweden but they were on their way.

Adopting Brezinski's Grand Chessboard strategy we ultimately overthrew that progressive regime to put the warlords-the same drug dealers and fundamentalists who opposed Tariki's sweeping changes-in power.


Same as we're doing now. We don't give a damn about the Afghanis. Anyone who claims we are there to help them or who claims if we leave now the poor Afghanis will suffer,women will not have their freedoms,any bleeding heart who supports our policy because we are the good guys is naive at best,at worst a cynical liar.

We are the Romans,the British,Imperial Spain.We do what we do because we can get away with it. We pit Sunni against Shia,Tajik against Pashto,we prop up Karzai like we propped up Thieu, and just as Thieu evaporated without US support so will Karzai or whomever we choose to plug in there evaporate.

Vietnamization failed because nationalism eventually overcomes the puppets of a colonial regime.

We discarded the lesson learned in Nam and repeat it here.Yes,this is different here-these people speak Pashto and Dari. Yes,this isn't Vienam.Vietnam was tropical,this is desert.One was Buddhist,one is Muslim. But the same methodology applies-a foreign invader who installs a puppet regime must prop that unpopular regime up forever.Once the invader leaves the people will do what's best for them. Eventually they will have a workable system until another foreign invader comes along.

Lisa G. said...

TC - an excellent, thoughtful post. I was so pissed off earlier that I couldn't post or it would have been filled with expletives. I'm more calm now.

Everyone above have made outstanding points as well. We all knew this was coming, we just don't have to like it.

Routing out corruption in Afghanistan? Bah, that's a laugh. We might try the same thing at home, but that would be futile, eh? Just look what we did to the Iraqis - they are 100 time more corrupt than they were under Saddam.

My stepson is serving in Iraq right now (he's a helo mechanic and relatively safe for being in Iraq) but we worry about him. Is Afghanistan his next stop? Who knows, right? And you are right, we don't have the troops and now that Obama has stop the stop-losses, where are we going to get them? They don't materialize just because Obama says so. They'll have to come from somewhere.

McChrystal is in the business of war - it's not his ass on the line so what does he care if he sends more troops. 10 years? Are you kidding me? Talking about drinking kool aid - his is spiked with LSD.

What's the goal - to keep the Taliban and Al Queada in Pakistan? Then what happens when we leave? They just get to waltz in and come back? Or do we do a DMZ zone like Korea - yeah, that sounds like a good idea. And Pakistan - please, like they are gonna anything other than a half assed attempt at getting these guys? They've been getting enormous amounts of money to 'fight terra' and haven't done jack shit. This is the one case that I approve of Blackwater/Xe or whatever their new black ops name is - go over into Pakistan, find these assholes and wipe them out. Their doing contracts with Pakistan (it's all over their media) now though, so I wouldn't doubt they would double cross us - it's all about who write the bigger check.

And don't even get me started with the money - if you have an R after your name, your ass gets taxed. Yeah, I know it'll never happen, but a girl can dream.

I think I've puked up enough on this subject. But really, what's the end goal here? The end of the war on terra? Please, give me a frigging break.

TomCat said...

Vig, I don't buy the war either, but I'd still hire the salesman.

You're welcome, PP. I think he is trying to do so.

Amen to that, Sue. Thanks.

Thanks Mike. Given the [position you took, I bet you're tired. :-)

Kevin, tribes in that part of the world don't have nationalism, per se, in their mindset. Wilson's 14 points was for white people only.

Thanks, Gwen {{blush}}.

Thanks Hugh. I think it is not.

Holte, that's a great way of putting it.

Truth, I think what you described is exactly what Obama intends. However, he has surrounded himself with such poor advisers on this subject, I fear that when the policy fails, he will succumb to the pressure to stay in.

Well said, Ivan.

Brother, I think he actually did believe a large part of it.

Josie, I still support Obama, because the alternative right now is the GOP. Are you ready for Cheney/Palin?

Gabrielle, that's well said. Challenging him is what I'm doing.

Oso, In the long term, you're right, I think.

Lisa, I love this: And don't even get me started with the money - if you have an R after your name, your ass gets taxed. Yeah, I know it'll never happen, but a girl can dream. That's not just a dream. That's the best wet dream of the year.

Jo said...

Tom, if Obama doesn't smarten up, you're going to GET Cheney/Palin. Or worse yet, Palin/Cheney. *shudder*

Brother Tim said...

Josie's right, Tom. If y'all don't stop this unrequited love and adoration for Obama by continually making excuses for his inactivity and faux pas, the Repugs are gonna be a shoo-in. Rather than glorify his occasional 'good deeds', we need to start holding his feet to the fire for his multitude of 'f*ck ups'. This is the man who campaigned on accountability. It's long past time to let him know that this includes him.

Hope we can only dream of.

TomCat said...

Josie and Robert, I too am frustrated by his failings. My best way forward is to support him while he is President, oppose those of his policies with which I disagree, while he is President, and in 2011 decide if there is a better choice available. What do you propose as an alternative?