Obama’s AfPak Usa War
Barack Obama’s speech ordering 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan was the closest thing to a war cry that the new administration has made. It fell short, of course. There is an obvious contradiction in saying things like “I will finish the job” and then speak of rolling back the troops by July 2011 or speak of ending the threat of Al Qaeda and saying building an Afghan nation is not what the US plans to do.
It has already been seized upon by Republicans but also by Taliban leaders.
Definitely you’re not going to see any further commitments by countries like India or Iran – there is nothing in what Obama has said that will not make them continue to hedge against a US withdrawal and a Taliban resurrection.
There was no real strategic picture about the Afpak region in the speech – just retreaded (if valid) Al Qaeda is going to get us warnings.
But I think we can live with this speech. Obama was speaking to an American audience. And he was speaking to his own party constituency, almost none of whom support the Afghan war any more. “I am going to wage a war you hate. I’m sorry but it’s a fact. As sops I promise a fuzzy withdrawal timeline and talk about civilian surges and pulling up Hamid Karzai,” is how I would summarize the speech.
I think Obama feels vulnerable politically. His ratings are gently falling but largely because there is no sign of job creation in the US economy and a general sense of nonaccomplishment in his administration. He doesn’t want to have a Bill Clinton type midterm congressional election disaster. And he doesn’t want to open the door to a Peace Now candidate in 2012 splitting his party and handing the presidency to the Republicans.
So he’s muddling right now. If he could have, he would have put off making a decision on Afghanistan. But the ground situation was too grim to afford him that luxury.
The question is what happens if his political capital is replenished: healthcare reform passed, jobs start rolling in and so on. My guess is that his war cry will have less of a quaver in it as the possibility of a Democratic left revolt recedes.
Many Democrats and others still believe Obama is just looking for an exit strategy.
I don’t think so. I think he’s seeing the threat reports about Pakistan piling up on his desk and he’s saying that if he wants to rule for eight years he can’t be short-termist about this.
People forget that in US history it is Democratic presidents who have most often taken their country to war. And they do it like Obama: reluctantly, half-secretly and only revealing their true colours once the time is right at home.