Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Speech

President Obama gave his long-awaited speech on Afghanistan last night, and he seems confident that he can disable al-Qaeda and the Taliban effectively within the next three years. If polls and pundits are any indication, though, he seems to be the only person who thinks it's possible. Well, maybe Robert Gates as well.

The President announced that he will add 30,000 more troops beginning this month, with escalation to be completed by this coming summer. Other NATO members will be asked to provide more troops. Obama hopes he can begin a withdrawal by July 2011, with a full withdrawal possible by some time in 2012 - January, hopefully. But - I know it's cynical for me to say this - certainly by November 2012.

Specifically, before Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

Obama declared that as long as the Taliban and al-Qaeda are at large, the common security of world is at stake. The President illustrated this by citing numerous terrorist attacks around the world that followed 9/11, and his goal is not to engage in nation-building but to help the Afghan government shore up its foundation and train and prepare an Afghan military to take over the country's security. He plans to do this by launching a counterattack on the al-Qaeda-Taliban insurgency and the securing of key population centers.. as well as helping the government of neighboring Pakistan stabilize itself and support the Pakistani army's objective to secure and stabilize its tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.

Obama was largely realistic and measured, and his speech was astonishingly low-keyed for that reason. His plan seems to fall short, though, in several areas. For example, without a deeper commitment Afghanistan, he offered no realistic reason to expect Afghanistan to become more secure on its own. Ineffectiveness of the Afghan army remains a concern, as does the weak central government in Kabul, with all the corruption involved with that. Key Democrats have already given their thumbs a downward trajectory in response, and the Republicans - used to hyperactive saber-rattling rhetoric - haven't given Obama much support either.

The President was wise enough to put limits on spending for the counteroffensive, and he expects to see results from Kabul before he gives Afghan President Hamid Karzai more help. Obama even tied the war in Afghanistan to the problems faced at home, sating that America can't afford to and won't stay in Afghanistan for any longer than he plans to. In this otherwise sober speech, Obama insisted that Americans don't historically wish engage in imperialism, occupy other countries, and exploit their resources.
That's what made me laugh, although no one in Latin America or the Philippines were likely laughing at that remark. Well, Obama is a law professor, not a historian.
Having heard Obama's speech - and the references to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Cooper Union speech were nice touches - I am begrudgingly willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt on this. I only hope he's right.

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