Sunday, December 06, 2009

On Obama and Afghanistan

by Peter Worthington (Toronto Sun)
Source: Toronto Sun

As a speech, it was slick and persuasive, but it wasn't Churchill.

No "we will fight on the beaches ... we will never surrender" rhetoric from President Barack Obama, as he pledged 30,000 more American troops to his "surge" in Afghanistan.

While falling short of Churchill in the early dark days of the Second World War, or Henry V's "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" speech before the Battle of Agincourt, it was still a speech that should win support among Americans.

The trouble is, while saying all the right things about defeating al-Qaida and curtailing the Taliban, one wasn't sure just how serious Obama is in his pledge to succeed.

As has been pointed out, his commitment of 30,000 more American troops is three-quarters the number his general running the Afghanistan war, Stanley McChrystal, asked for several months ago, while Obama thought it over.
Again, Obama said his commitment was "to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure" -- but that he's going to withdraw American troops in 18 months.

To some, that doesn't sound very committed.

So he's given the military until July 2011 to crush al-Qaida, roust the Taliban, train and build the Afghan National Army and police into functioning entities that can protect their own country.

Not easy, especially after eight years of occupying Afghanistan and no great improvement in local forces.

Still, Afghanistan is now Obama's war, just as Iraq was George Bush's war.
And while Obama declared the success of Iraq (one hopes he is right, even though he gave no credit to Bush), success (much less victory) in Afghanistan is much more tenuous.

Obama expects, or hopes for, 10,000 more NATO troops joining his "surge." The trouble is, NATO countries mostly shy away from committing fighting soldiers. Some 43 countries are involved in Afghanistan, and if they shared the urgency expressed by Obama, the task would be easier.

Obama made no mention of Canada in his speech -- the country that carried the heaviest load and did most of the gritty fighting in the volatile Kandahar region until the Americans took over.

Canada feels it has done enough, deserves a respite. Obama recognizes and accepts this. It could be noted, too, that Canadian troops have kicked the enemy's ass on every engagement, and set a positive example for the Marines who are going to be taking over.


Obama broke down the present campaign into three goals -- the military, or fighting part; mobilizing civilian competence; cooperating with Pakistan.
All valid, but the latter two hinge on the success of the first -- defeating the enemy in the field and shutting down the Taliban.

Unfortunately, Obama has also to appease, or tranquilize, the lib-left faction of the Democratic party which favours complete withdrawal and isolation. Hence the defensive nature of his speech -- sort of: "We'll try this, hope it works, but we're getting out in 18 months."

That's bound to reassure al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Deadlines or firm withdrawal dates in war make no sense if victory is the goal. Yet politicians feel they must impose them to pacify the electorate.
So perhaps Obama is more determined than he seems.

But don't count on it.
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