I hope most of you have heard about the heroics of Sgt. Dakota Meyer as he received his Medal of Honor last Friday. Through his selfless actions, dozens of American marines and Afghan soldiers were saved. Talk a moment to watch Meyer’s story, which was featured on 60 minutes yesterday:
Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’
Does Pakistan stand for ‘Land of the Duplicitous’? In case you haven’t heard, during a Congressional hearing, Adm. Mike Mullen made some damning accusations of the Pakistani government’s role, particularly the ISI, in some serious attacks on American targets:
The remarks by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, represented the strongest U.S. criticism to date of the long-suspected ties between the militant Haqqani network and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.
In his most serious accusation, Adm. Mullen said the agency had aided the militant group’s attack last week against the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and also helped in the Sept. 11 truck bomb attack in Afghanistan’s Wardak province.
“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives plan and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” Adm. Mullen said, adding there was evidence the group also was behind the June 28 attack on Kabul’s Inter-Continental Hotel and others.
“The Haqqani network … acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency,” Adm. Mullen said.
Don’t forget to add that Osama bin Laden was found near a major Pakistani military base. Now the relationship between the US and Pakistani governments is a marriage of convenience for both sides and each partner has not held up their side of the bargain at one time or another, but with these latest statements from the head of US military, it appears that the US may be growing tired of the ISI’s double game. These are pretty damning accusations and they were made very publicly. There is no doubt that even if these statements don’t change current American policy toward Pakistan (we still need their support in Afghanistan and for intelligence against Al Qaeda) it will likely harden American public opinion against future financial and military support for Pakistan.
Analyzing President Obama’s Afghanistan speech and policy is at once easy and difficult. His decision to start to withdraw his own surge policy (10,000 troops home this summer and 33,000 by the end of next summer) is blatantly political, not strategic. Joint Chief of Staff Mullen and Secretary of Defense Gates have both called a withdrawal at this proscribed timetable to be ‘risky’, aka this policy decreases the chances for a successful outcome in Afghanistan. Next summer, as the weather and therefore the fighting heats up, the Taliban will be facing a retreating army. The fact that the surge of troops is dissipated just two months short of the 2012 presidential election is no coincidence. Obama wants the war off his plate and he made that clear in his speech.
Candidate Obama once called the Afghan conflict “the war we need to win”, but things have changed. Obama concluded his speech with ‘Let us responsibly end these wars’. He also mentioned ‘our effort to wind down this war’. Of course ending wars is a good thing, but it would also be nice to win them too. Barack Obama is a domestic minded president through and through. In a key foreign policy speech, one that will affect the life and death of American soldiers, he stated that he was more interested in nation building in the United States. This critical Afghan war speech featured this sentence: ‘We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.’ This is not exactly ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears‘. Michael Gerson of the Washington Post has it right: A president provides for the common defense and promotes the general welfare, instead of positing a dangerous choice between the two. In other words, having a successful outcome in Afghanistan should not mean that we have to suffer here at home.
Now for the difficult part: This decision to drawdown our troop presence in Afghanistan is indeed a tough call. We have spent billions of dollars (as Obama said in his speech, though I don’t hear him discuss our unfunded entitlements very much if at all) and have soldiers being injured and killed in a conflict that may not have a positive outcome with a majority of the strategies we put forth. We are in Afghanistan to protect ourselves from foreign terrorists who wish us harm. It is this key point where the death Osama Bin Laden comes in. If you take away the parts of the speech where Obama credits our killing of the Al Qaeda leader than our case for a well earned victorious departure gets quite flimsy. It gets especially cloudy when we look back at Obama’s reasoning for starting the surge in the first place, only a year and some months ago. Did the surge help capture Osama Bin Laden? I don’t think so, but now it is being used as a reason to start leaving Afghanistan. Fellow political blogger UNRR posits two key questions regarding Obama’s decision to pull out troops, both have to be answered in the negative:
Is there anyone who seriously believes the situation in Afghanistan is so improved that we can reasonably start pulling out troops? Does anyone really think the incredibly corrupt and incompetent Karzai government and Afghan military are ready to start taking over their own war effort any time in the foreseeable future?
Obama’s surge was only fully in place last August and 10,000 of the 30,000 troops are already packing their bags for home. I know progress has been made in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, two Taliban strongholds, but can these tactical gains be cemented with less troops and the Taliban’s knowledge that we are leaving. I guess it’s possible, though unlikely. I also want to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt that negotiations between the US, Karzai government, and Taliban are already ongoing and showing signs of progress. I also have great faith that even with minimal numbers, there is no greater fighting force than the American military and they still may be able to accomplish our goal of making Afghanistan a somewhat stable, secure country where terrorists cannot effectively plan and implement their objectives against the United States.
Part of the job of a leader, and especially one in charge of the United States, is to make tough decisions that overall best serve your constituents. President Obama has every right to make this withdrawal decision as he is our commander in chief. We as a country cannot fight every battle or right every wrong in the world and our current fiscal crisis and long term debt have made tough decisions even harder. Choices need to be made. These choices will have outcomes and we must judge our leaders by them. President Obama has made a major decision that will shape the future of the war on terror and like his predecessor, he will have to answer to the people and history.
Though the piece is now over a month old, I really would like to recommend this incredible story by Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post on Lt. Gen. John Kelly’s family. Kelly lost one of his two sons to a land mine in Afghanistan and is now a close adviser to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Kelly and his son Robert’s story is one that every American should know:
Without once referring to his son’s death, the general delivered a passionate and at times angry speech about the military’s sacrifices and its troops’ growing sense of isolation from society.
“Their struggle is your struggle,” he told the ballroom crowd of former Marines and local business people. “If anyone thinks you can somehow thank them for their service, and not support the cause for which they fight – our country – these people are lying to themselves. . . . More important, they are slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to this nation.”
Kelly is the most senior U.S. military officer to lose a son or daughter in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was giving voice to a growing concern among soldiers and Marines: The American public is largely unaware of the price its military pays to fight the United States’ distant conflicts. Less than 1 percent of the population serves in uniform at a time when the country is engaged in one of the longest periods of sustained combat in its history.
President Obama devoted only six sentences to the war in Afghanistan in his State of the Union address in January. The 25-second standing ovation that lawmakers lavished on the troops lasted almost as long as the president’s war remarks.
Kelly has largely shunned public attention since his speech and his son’s death. He discussed his speech and his son to provide insight into the lives and the burdens of military families.
And here is the section covering the moment Lt. Gen. Kelly found out his son had been killed that ends with a message from the Lt. General to the country:
Months later, Kelly would struggle to describe the pain he felt on his front porch. “It was disorienting, almost debilitating,” he wrote in an e-mail. “At the same time my mind went through in detail every memory and image I had of Robert from the delivery room to the voice mail he’d left a few days before he died. . . . It was as graphic as if I was watching a video. . . . It really did seem like hours but was little more than a second or so.”
Kelly composed himself and moved down his front steps to speak with Dunford’s wife and walk his friends into the house. His wife, Karen, was still asleep. “I then did the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life,” Kelly said. “I walked upstairs, woke Karen to the news and broke her heart.”
Four days later, Kelly stood in front of a microphone in St. Louis. He saw his speech there as a chance to remind people that the United States was still at war.
“We are in a life-and-death struggle, but not our whole country,” he told the crowd. “One percent of Americans are touched by this war. Then there is a much smaller club of families who have given all.”
The war in Afghanistan continues to find its way off of the average American’s daily schedule. This is especially true of late, as the Libyan ‘kinetic something, something’ and our nation’s budget battles have taken over. We must never forget the incredible sacrifices being made daily by our servicemen overseas.
A great way to show your thanks is through the charity group Spirit of Giving.
Last weekend, I was left alone with my 8 month old daughter so did I pass the time? By watching, a loud, violent documentary of the Afghan war, that’s how! I enjoyed and my daughter tolerated ‘Restrepo’, the story of U.S. Army platoon of the 173rd Airborne Brigade during much of its 15-month deployment in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The documentary was filmed and directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, who followed the small army battalion into Korengal Valley, which they called the most dangerous place in Afghanistan for American soldiers.
Junger and Hetherington do an excellent job letting the soldiers tell their story with little forced story lines or political undertones. ‘Restrepo’, which comes from the name of one of the platoon’s fallen soldiers, brings its audience right into the battlefield with the American soldiers as they try to beat back Taliban insurgents and stay alive in their comprised outpost, which was also called Restrepo. The sacrifices and bravery of the US soldiers is palpably felt in the film as is the immense challenge they and all American/NATO forces face in this nearly decade long conflict. Though the film should make one feel in awe of the American military’s strengths and the capabilities of our soldiers, it also vividly portrays a foreign force attempting to tame an alien land invested with opposition forces. Watching the film, one can’t help but feel that even with all the US fire power and bravery, our country is facing an uphill battle against the Taliban insurgency. After all, the platoon featured couldn’t wait to finish their tour in the Korengal and get home (who wouldn’t?), yet the insurgents, for the most part were home…
I don’t want to get to inundated in judging an entire war effort by one film about one group of soldiers, though. You can definitely read too much into such small sample sizes. Nevertheless, ‘Restrepo’ is a worthwhile documentary, that if anything, provides a glimpse into the sacrifices being made by a few for the rest of us.
Here is a clip of the platoon taking on enemy fire and returning it in kind:
For a majority of President Obama’s 2nd State of the Union address foreign affairs were only brought up in relation to domestic economic or social issues. For instance, the US was ‘falling behind’ South Korea in education and Europe in infrastructure… The focus on domestic issues should not be a surprise as Obama has already stated that ‘the country he’s most interested in building is our own’ and the United States is still struggling economically and psychologically with many Americans seeing a bleak future for our coming generations. Alas, there are foreign monsters abroad that need to be addressed by our Commander and Chief and Obama curtly discussed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Al Qaeda, and even Tunisia. I’ll make a few observations of these topics with Afghanistan at the end: (The near entirety of the SOTU’s foreign affairs section is found at the bottom of the post)
- Iran and North Korea: Here is the President’s statement on those two destabilizing forces in international security:
Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.
Yes, that’s it. If you want to scroll lower to the entire foreign policy section you can see a paragraph on Sudan that is longer. So in a speech dominated by domestic policy, we see a nuclear state that in the past year twice militarily attacked its southern neighbor, strong US ally South Korea, and another state nestled in the volatile Middle East that just turned down yet another Western attempt to disclose its nuclear capabilities and desires, get two sentences. Words in a speech do not define effective policy, but if you were Iran or North Korea, wouldn’t this signal to you that you are not one of the United States’ main concerns?
- Iraq: Though I’ve read some conservative pundits critique the President for washing his hands of the conflict or for taking credit for the Bush administration’s surge and SOFA policies, I thought Obama did a good enough job discussing a topic that he nor the country probably wanted to talk about. Though the word ‘civilian’ is inaccurate (we still have a strong military presence in the country), Obama made a necessary statement in regards to our logn term commitment to the future of Iraq; ‘our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people.’
- Afghanistan: The Afghan war, where over 100,000 American troops are currently engaged, received twice the time as Iran and North Korea…that’s right not one short paragraph, but two! (Highlighted below) Nothing really new was said. President Obama did state that our main reason for the war was to keep the Taliban from gaining a ‘stronghold’ where they could assist Al Qaeda in launching attacks on the US. If one takes this to heart, it is hard to imagine the administration being too lenient on negotiations with members of the Taliban, but they have shown many other signs that this is likely to occur. In this vein, the President also said that we will start to bring troops home in July, bringing back the fading July 2011 drawdown date that we haven’t heard much of lately. Does this mean that tens of thousands of American troops will be coming home in July? I still don’t think so, but a more than token amount will.
- China: The Middle Kingdom was mentioned twice, both times in reference to the American education/innovation/economy. The US was shown to be behind in both comparisons.
The Afghanistan and whole foreign policy section seemed to me like the President was checking boxes. It appears that those who predicted he would pivot to foreign affairs after the midterm defeat were wrong.
He’s a great interpretation of President Obama’s foreign affairs SOTU pronouncements by The Cable’s Josh Rogin:
Foreign Policy section the SOTU:
Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West; no one rival superpower is aligned against us.
And so we must defeat determined enemies wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and dignity. And because we have begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.
Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.
Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.
We have also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.
Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.
In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe-havens are shrinking. And we have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.
American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START Treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.
This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take responsibility – helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.
Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power – it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan – with our assistance – the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life. Now we want to be free.”
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.
Peter Feaver of Shadow Government has penned (keyboarded?) a provocative analysis of coming dilemma facing President Obama and his forthcoming Afghan war decision. Feaver first recalls the candidate Obama’s rhetoric on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, reminding us all how hawkish the future president sounded on Afghanistan. Feaver than discusses how some things have changed and how others have stayed the same:
As president, Obama has kept up the campaign critique of his predecessor even as he has kept most of the war-related policies that President Bush pursued in his second term. Across the board from the legal framework for the broader war on terror, to the phased Status of Forces Agreement — dictated withdrawal from Iraq, to the surge in Afghanistan President Obama has largely followed the trajectory President Bush’s strategies anticipated.
Where Obama has diverged from the Bush trajectory, it has almost always been in the same direction, towards reducing the wars’ footprint on Obama’s governing agenda. He has followed Bush’s Iraq policy, but at a hands-off distance. He delegated Iraq policy down to the vice president and limited the administration’s involvement in helping Iraqi political leaders deal with their post-election paralysis. He authorized the surge in Afghanistan that Bush’s 2008 strategy review recommended, but he imposed an artificial withdrawal timeline and tried to convince his base that the timeline meant the war would be ended rapidly, regardless of progress in the battle or other facts on the ground.
Most noticeably, President Obama has dramatically reduced the prominence of the wars in the administration’s rhetoric and, consequently, in the public debate. To be sure, the wars do produce headlines, sometimes because of barely-foiled attempted terrorist attacks, sometimes because internal debates from within Obama’s fractious national security team bubble to the surface with dramatic leaks. But in sharp contrast with his predecessor, the administration does not appear to be trying to drive the public narrative on the war. Or rather, the administration’s strategy appears to be to drive the public narrative underground.
Feaver’s final point, concerning President Obama’s near silence on the Afghan war, is point much belabored on this blog. Feaver goes on to provide his guess as to why this quiet approach is taken:
There is a cold political calculation behind this strategy. Obama has pursued a largely partisan strategy in governing overall, ramming through his most important domestic policy achievements on straight party-line votes. However, his national security policies are only kept afloat by bipartisanship. Indeed, Republicans have been his most stalwart supporters on virtually every war-related issue. Obama’s most ardent political supporters are the most fervent opponents of his war policies. Obama’s political advisors, who played an unusually large role in setting war policies, evidently have calculated that the less Obama talks about the war, the less this contradiction is exacerbated.
The coming year will put this political calculation to the test.
The test is indeed very near the horizon as 2011, which holds the announced beginning withdrawal date of July 2011, is just days away. Finally, Feaver offers the possible consequences of both President Obama choosing to dramatically drawdown the US military presence in Afghanistan or stick to NATO’s new 2014 withdrawal/handoff date:
Come August, the contradictions in White House messaging about the Afghanistan timeline will be unspinnable. Either the timeline will start a rapid rush to the exit as the left base wants or it will be the gradual, conditions-based withdrawal inching towards a distant 2014 deadline (followed by a long-term strategic partnership) that General Petraeus and moderates in the war cabinet have indicated.
If Obama opts for the former, then Republican support for the war will likely quickly diminish. People who supported a war they thought they could win will not want to be caught as the last one supporting a losing effort. If Obama opts for the latter, then any remaining left-leaning props undergirding public support for the Afghanistan war will likely collapse altogether. The timeline straddle bought muted Democratic criticism, but the mutes will be off once the straddle is abandoned.
At that point, President Obama will need to explain to the American people why we are in the war and why additional sacrifice is worth bearing. But at least one significant constituency, his base, will be in no mood to hear him out.
As I have argued before, the American populace does not seem to hold the US military presence in Afghanistan at the top of concern list, even for Obama’s leftwing base, and I don’t see this changing substantively by 2012, which if I recall correctly will hold a certain American presidential election. This does not mean it won’t affect American voters opinions, but I don’t think it will be a game changer. Those on the American Left know that Barack Obama is probably the most liberal person their ever going to get to sit in the White House and will not abandon him over Afghanistan. On the other hand, most conservatives and Republicans will not be giving him their vote no matter what policy he follows in Afghanistan. I foresee President Obama mostly adhering to the NATO 2014 handoff date with a small, but not insignificant number of troops headed home soon after July, 2011 passes.
Feaver’s article left much to be debated and discussed so please give it a gander and comment below.
A new poll covering all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces was released today by The Washington Post, ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp. and ARD television. Let’s go over some of the polls main findings:
Afghans are more pessimistic about the direction of their country, less confident in the ability of the United States and its allies to provide security and more willing to negotiate with the Taliban than they were a year ago, according to a new poll conducted in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Overall, the trends in the country are on a downward slope as faith in the Afghan central government and international presence are falling in the eyes of the Afghan populace. Nearly a year ago 70% of Afghans said they thought the country was heading in the ‘right direction’ while today only 59% say so. I guess I use the term ‘only’ loosely as less than 50% of Americans think we are on the right track. Nevertheless, this is not a positive development as faith in the Afghan government and international presence to bring about positive progress in the country is clearly fading.
On the bright side:
The new poll – conducted by The Washington Post, ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp. and ARD television of Germany – found a particularly notable shift in public opinion in Helmand province, where Marines have been conducting intensive counterinsurgency operations. The number of people in Helmand describing their security as “good” jumped from 14 percent in a December 2009 poll to 67 percent now. Nearly two-thirds of Helmand residents now say Afghanistan is on the right track.
Bringing stability and security to Helmand and Kandahar Provinces is one of the key aspects of the American surge strategy and these numbers bring some hope. However, we have to be skeptical of any poll taken in an area under duress or serious instability. These numbers are also likely very fungible, that is, the situation can change to the other side quickly. This uptick in ‘good’ security could be because there are all of a sudden thousand of Americans troops hanging around town. These troops aren’t going to be there forever, heck, they may be for the most part gone in 2011.
About those American troops:
A year ago, 61 percent of Afghans supported the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. In the new poll, 49 percent support the move, with 49 percent opposed.
This obviously shows some disenchantment with how the surge has worked out so far. Not only have some Afghans become discouraged by the lack of progress in the stability/security realm, but others may have had their lives directly negatively impacted by a larger foreign troop presence (ie. night raids). The 49%, and high threshold of 61%, still shows that there is likely a plurality of Afghan citizens that want US troops to stay as long as they are making a more promising future for the locals.
Now on to the Taliban:
Afghans overwhelmingly prefer the current government over the Taliban, and almost three in four continue to say it was good that the U.S. military toppled the Taliban in 2001, although that number is nine points lower than it was a year ago.
9. Who would you rather have ruling Afghanistan today: the current government, or the Taliban?
Current government Taliban Other (vol.) No opinion 11/13/10 86 9 1 5 12/23/09 90 6 * 3 1/12/09 82 4 10 4 11/7/07 84 4 6 6 10/19/06 88 3 4 5 10/18/05 91 1 2 6
For the US, and in my opinion for an Afghanistan with a bright future, these numbers are inspiring. The Taliban had a chance to rule most of Afghanistan and they did so in one of the most brutal and totalitarian ways imaginable. Yes, they may bring a form of stability, but fear, poverty, and repression come along with it. However, it must be observed that the Taliban rule is on a slight rise, which brings me to my last observation from the poll:
Overall, nearly three-quarters of Afghans now believe their government should pursue negotiations with the Taliban, with almost two-thirds willing to accept a deal allowing Taliban leaders to hold political office. Nearly a third of adults see the Taliban as more moderate today than they were when they ruled the country.
The Afghans have lived lives of warfare for a majority of the past 30 years and it should surprise no one that most are willing to make tough to swallow deals for a more stable, fruitful future. The question’s ‘hold political office’ is obviously vague (Post Master General?) and leaves room for interpretation by the poll participant. It also does not surprise me that many Afghans are starting to see the Taliban as more moderate than when they ruled the country as with time, harsh memories become softer (while in no way comparing him to the Taliban!, just look at former President George W. Bush’s recent poll numbers). This is also an indictment on the Karzai administration’s failure to bring about any real substantive change for the better.
You can check out the whole poll here. What results shout out to you?
It was obvious a year ago that the 2010 midterms were going to be about domestic issues, specifically the economy, jobs, and health care. But it was hard to predict just how little foreign policy, the Afghanistan war included, would play in this political season. The war in Afghanistan has to be considered the top foreign affairs issue of the day, but that isn’t saying much.
There are many reasons why domestic matters are overshadowing the Afghan war when it comes to voters and politicians’ minds right now. President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress spent most of their efforts on domestic issues (Stimulus, health care reform, financial industry reform) and rarely discussed the Afghan war effort. The President almost never talks about the Afghan war and has used his political capital and bully pulpit for other issues. The American populace is unsurprisingly also inward looking as jobs aren’t going to come from Afghanistan. In a New York Times/CBS News Poll 60% Americans listed the economy or jobs as the most important problem facing the country while only 3% listed Afghanistan. The American people have a list of concerns and the Afghan war just isn’t at the top of that list right now. It is also true that both Democrats and Republicans do not find the Afghan war a beneficial talking point in their election campaigns. After all, Republicans actually agree with the President on the issue (which both sides have so far chosen to downplay) and the Democratic party fears bringing up the issue as it has the possibility to split the party (not literally), with some liberal Democrats deeply disappointed in the President Obama’s decision to escalate the conflict. Political analyst extraordinaire Charlie Cook brings up another reason the war has fallen off the political radar in an interview with the New York Times:
“I think the president is an ironic beneficiary of the success of Bush’s Iraq war surge,” said Charles Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report and an independent analyst of Congressional races. At the time that Mr. Bush ordered additional American troops to Iraq, many foreign policy experts argued that was a move bound to fail. It did not. “So the Afghan surge is getting a honeymoon of some time.”
Though Americans are growing more and more skeptical of a successful outcome in the Afghanistan conflict, I think it is accurate to discern that many Americans are at least giving this administration’s surge strategy some time to work. However, as the same New York Times article points out, the American public will not wait that long before they want to see results:
But Afghanistan, political analysts say, will almost certainly be a campaign issue in 2012, when Mr. Obama is likely to be on the ballot trying to keep his own job. By 2012, it will be clear whether Mr. Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, and his decision to begin bringing troops home next summer, has worked. The president will probably have to fend off challenges from both the right and the left on Afghanistan.
That is 2012, and 2010 is already a handful, so I wait to comment on that last part for at least a few….months.
The Washington Post editorial page shares my concern of President Obama’s seeming lack of commitment in his Afghanistan strategy, as portrayed in Bob Woodward’s ‘Obama’s Wars’ series:
What’s most disturbing in Mr. Woodward’s book is the evidence it offers that Mr. Obama’s own commitment to his plan is weak. The president is described as preoccupied with finding “an exit strategy” that will reduce the U.S. military involvement as quickly as possible. “This needs to be a plan about how we are going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Mr. Woodward quotes him as saying in one meeting.
Mr. Obama repeatedly cites the cost of the war and the need to shift resources to domestic priorities — though spending on Afghanistan is well below 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. He is portrayed as citing purely political reasons for setting the deadline of July 2011 for beginning a withdrawal: “I can’t lose all the Democratic Party,” he is quoted as telling one senator.
In Mr. Woodward’s narrative, Mr. Obama repeatedly rejects the notion of a military campaign in Afghanistan lasting eight or even five more years. Yet Gen. Petraeus and other commanders have made it clear that success will require a long-term commitment.
Perhaps the most damning assessment of the president comes from Gen. Lute, who Mr. Woodward says concluded that “Obama had to do this 18-month surge just to demonstrate, in effect, that it couldn’t be done . . . the president had treated the military as another political constituency that had to be accommodated.” For the sake of the Americans fighting in Afghanistan, and the families of the 360 service members who have died there this year, we hope that is not the case.