The Good, Bad, and the Ugly of Obama’s Afghanistan Speech
Just in case you missed President Obama’s nationally-televised speech on Afghanistan last night, here are the highlights. Overall, the President’s speech to the nation was a coherent, clear, and concise case for stepping up the war in Afghanistan; a campaign that he repeatedly portrayed as essential for the future safety and security of the United States. However, there were certain blunders included in the address as well, which are outlined below:
Key Accomplishments in Obama’s Afghan Policy Review
1) Told the American people why we are in Afghanistan: With flagging domestic support for the war, it was especially important for the President to stress the reasons why American soldiers are in Afghanistan in the first place. Obama mentioned the tragedy of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as the basis for his argument, as well as the valuable role Afghanistan played in Al’Qaeda’s capabilities. Considering the fact that many American citizens have become confused over the Afghan conflict, detailing the Taliban-Al’Qaeda connection was a fresh reminder for the increasingly skeptical American public. The 9/11 reference gives the public a key message; the U.S. is in Afghanistan for justifiable objectives.
2) Outlined Strategy: The new strategy for Afghanistan calls for an increased military, civilian, and diplomatic commitment. The plan follows several basic guidelines;
a) 30,000 additional U.S. troops to the fight
b) A revamped civilian strategy concentrating on reconstruction and development
c) An enhanced effort to draw low-level Taliban fighters onto the Afghan Government’s
d) More cooperation with Pakistan in its battle against Islamic extremism
4) Why the New Strategy Will Work: As expected, lawmakers and the general public expected President Obama to explain why his new counterinsurgency approach would work. Thankfully, he answered this question with accuracy and conviction. Not only will the “Afghanistan rollout” keep pressure on Al’Qaeda…it will also lay the foundation for the quick improvement in Afghan institutions. Reversing Taliban gains were also discussed.
5) Points He Addressed: Afghanistan’s corruption must be tamed, and NATO must be willing to take a greater share of the burden- both in soldiers and in dollars.
5) Established A Concrete Timeline: To the surprise of many in the U.S. Congress and in the U.S. Military establishment, the President announced that all American combat troops would be out of the country by July of 2011. This withdrawal date is not only impractical- boosting the Afghan Security Forces and reforming Afghan institutions will take much longer than 18 months- but it gives the Taliban insurgency a new blueprint for success. All the Taliban essentially needs to do now is keep the insurgency running until the summer of 2011, in which American forces will inevitably have to withdraw with their tails between their legs. Symbolically, creating an official benchmark provides Islamic extremists in the region with a reason to celebrate; they can now add the United States in their list of superpower defeats (after Great Britain in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th century).
The President’s timeline may also conflict with his goal to increase Pakistani cooperation against Al’Qaeda and the Taliban. If American troops are departing from the scene within a period of 18 months, the Pakistani Government simply has no alternative to aid the U.S. Military in counterterrorism operations. With a Taliban takeover of Kabul imminent after a U.S. withdrawal, the Pakistani Military may find it worthwhile to look after their futures by backing the winning side. After all, the Pakistanis have not necessarily viewed the Afghan Taliban in a threatening light to begin with.
There is one more development that is worth nothing in the President’s address. For some reason in which I have yet to understand, the President decided to briefly discuss nuclear nonproliferation, as if this was a major step in pacifying Afghanistan’s tumultuous environment. Why he included preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is beyond me, but I suppose this may have been a direct reference to Iran’s increasingly defiant stance on the nuclear issue. In fact, with Iran’s nuclear program rising on the world’s agenda, President Obama may have found it necessary to use a nationally publicized forum to bolster his case for more sanctions. But again, this has nothing to do with sending 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan. Does anyone else have any plausible ideas?
These were the main highlights of the President’s speech last night. Now we wait for the action to begin.
-Daniel R. DePetris