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Friday, March 27, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Double Down: the Bold Irony

What if I told you that neo Con Robert Kagan was wholeheartedly supporting a foreign policy decision by President Obama at the same time the liberal, the Nation magazine, was condemning the same decision. Let no one say that President Obama is a straight down the line ideologue who's every move is easily predictable. Most his moves I would say are predictable, but there are moments when he surprises the political world.

His decision to double down in Afghanistan and outright own the war going forward is just one of those moments. Here's how neocon Kagan views the decision.

Hats off to President Obama for making a gutsy and correct decision on Afghanistan. With many of his supporters, and some of his own advisers, calling either for a rapid exit or a “minimal” counter terrorist strategy in Afghanistan, the president announced today that he will instead expand and deepen the American commitment. He clearly believes that an effective counter terrorism approach requires an effective counterinsurgency strategy, aimed not only at killing bad guys but at strengthening Afghan civil society and governing structures, providing the necessary security to the population so that it can resist pressures from the Taliban, and significantly increasing the much-derided “nation-building” element of the strategy. The United States, he argues, has to help the Afghan people fulfill “the promise of a better future,” by rooting out government corruption, helping the elected government provide basic services, fighting the narcotics trade, and, in general, advancing “security, opportunity, and justice.” This is the opposite of a “minimal” approach.

It is also evidence that the president is pragmatic in the best sense of the word. He and his key advisers, such as Richard Holbrooke, understand that better and more effective government in Afghanistan is a key to the successful defense of American security. Self-proclaimed “realists” argue, as always, that the pragmatic course is to pull back in Afghanistan. But President Obama recognizes in Afghanistan what the previous administration only belatedly recognized in Iraq: that the only way out is forward.

Here is how the Nation viewed the same decision.

The Obama plan instead will accelerate any plans Al Qaeda commanders have for attacking targets in the United States or Europe. The alternative for Al Qaeda is to risk complete destruction, an American objective that has not been achieved for eight years. A terrorist attack need not be planned or set in motion from a cave in Waziristan. The cadre could already be underground in Washington or London. The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to meet legitimate Muslim goals, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.


Escalation of American troop levels is a slippery slope. John F. Kennedy sent 16,300 Americans to save South Vietnam from the Vietcong.

President Obama obviously has no intention of sending hundreds of thousands of American troops into Afghanistan or Pakistan. But escalation, once it begins, is increasingly difficult to stop. Already Obama's generals want more troops than the president is sending. The neoconservatives and Republicans are demanding a "must-win war" and denouncing any talk of an exit strategy. A gradual American escalation may play into the jihadist game plan, drawing more Western troops into jeopardy or permitting a retreat into mountainous wastelands if necessary. Any "redeployment" (another word for retreat in the minds of the neocons), other than returning with Bin Ladin's head on a platter, provokes a right-wing reaction at home. The easy solution to these pressures is another escalation followed by another, like one drink at a time.


In summary, be prepared for a war that spans the length of the Obama presidency, an Obama War. Expect the Congress to be inert and distracted. Expect little help from the media. But hey, we've been here before.

It's time for a new movement against reckless escalation, especially one that threatens to divert our attention from the crisis at home, while only leaving poverty, malnutrition and anti-American hatreds rising abroad.

Today, President Obama announced that additional troops were on their way with a "comprehensive" new strategy.

President Obama, declaring that coalition forces must "disrupt, dismantle
and defeat" Al Qaeda, called on Friday for thousands of additional U.S. troops
and billions of dollars in aid to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and

The president, announcing what he called a "comprehensive new strategy" for the region following a two-month review, outlined an approach to the war that places far more emphasis than before on Pakistan.

Obama said he was ordering 4,000 additional U.S. troops to help train Afghan security forces and was calling on Congress to approve $1.5 billion a year in aid for Pakistan over the next five years.

The increases are aimed at making the security forces, governments and infrastructure of both countries more self-sufficient and stable, as well as capable of taking on Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

With that President Obama has embraced the war in Afghanistan even if it is still a cautious embrace. On domestic policy, President Obama can be referred to as solid liberal, far left, or radical depending on whether or not you want to identify his position as a pejorative. On foreign policy, his overall philosophy is difficult to place. His rush to close down GITMO and to attempt to give suspected terrorists rights similar to criminals make him rather dovish. On the other hand, he has largely kept Bush's policy in Iraq in place and now he has reluctantly embraced victory in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, he is simultaneously embracing diplomacy over military action when dealing with Iran. So, on foreign policy at least, President Obama gives everyone plenty to cheer and to criticize.

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