Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

The Good, Bad, and the Ugly of Obama’s Afghanistan Speech

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on December 2, 2009

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.

Obama’s Blunders

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


25 Responses

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  1. thehappyamerican said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    The only echos of Viet Nam I can see are in the economic stimulus plan of the DNC and Obama The Hawk. Expensive failure from political manipulation.

    Obama The Hawk needs to focus on his war and ensure the gear our guys need is there and ready and they get timely intelligence.And keep the idiots of his own party out of the planning.

  2. Dan said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    While the concern of an Afghan troop surge is understandable- no one likes to see an additional 30,000 soldiers enter a war zone- I have firm confidence in President Obama’s decision. If his new counterinsurgency approach was purely a military affair- rooting out the Taliban insurgency in the south and west- without addressing the pervasive political issues within Afghanistan, I would perhaps agree with Rep. Harman’s assessment. But as everyone knows, this is anything but the case. The President is expected to put an increased pressure on the Karzai Government on political reform and widespread corruption issues. Obama recognizes that Afghanistan cannot be pacified unless security gains are not followed by comprehensive political acommidation.

    I will be curious to see if the President mentions something similar to Iraq’s Awakening Movement in his speech tonight. Tribal elders need to be engaged at the local and provincial levels, and conflicts need to be solved through traditional Afghan channels. Specifically, low ranking members of the Taliban need to understand that they will gain incentives for their cooperation; either monetary or otherwise. We have to remember that many Taliban fighters are shooting for a paycheck, not because they have some inherent goal of transforming Afghanistan into an Islamic caliphate.

    Let’s see what the President has to say tonight.

    • audiq7 said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:15 pm

      We have to remember that many Taliban fighters are shooting for a paycheck,

      Exactly. Unless your paycheck is going to last forever, these people will be bought off again after USA leaves. Also, we do not know if they are satisfied with one paycheck from US, or interested in collecting additional ones simultaneously (from the Pakistani army). My guess is the latter. Indications are they maybe turning over the check to their bosses who are collecting jihad money for war to be used later. These guys are smart. They know where to invest money and loyalty for long-term gains.

      not because they have some inherent goal of transforming Afghanistan into an Islamic caliphate.

      you mean they are quitting their jobs forever? pray, tell me, what will be their new source of income once you guys are done with your facade. Islam is a very profitable business, for those who control it.

      The President is expected to put an increased pressure on the Karzai Government on political reform and widespread corruption issues.

      India is on the verge of being a global power barring unforseen tragedies in the years to come. But it is still fighting plenty corruption within and is a long way off from reforming political systems.

      How delusionary can you be to think that a country that’s been in ruin since 30 yrs will be reformed in 3 or 5. Afghanistan is small comparitively but building it from scratch is not magic. If it was, it would have been done. Destruction takes 2 mins, establishment not less than 2 decades. America is addicted to instant gratification with short-term vision.

      • Dan said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:16 pm

        Audiq, I am not saying that Afghanistan will be completely reformed in 3 to 5 years. On this point, I actually agree with you…it is absolutely ridiculous that the President expects the economic, political, and security environment to change in only 18 months time. Why he included a concrete benchmark in last night’s address is beyond me. As one Afghan lawmaker said, ‘the United States has failed to turn Afghanistan around for the last eight years, so how can they expect to turn Afghanistan around in the next 18 months?’

        As far as your comparisons between Afghanistan and India, I would hardly call the two similar. India has a sustainable democracy at the local level, whereas the Afghan Government is lucky to exert its authority beyond Kabul. Sure, India has corruption, this is quite obvious. Every nation on earth has corruption. The key is to not eliminate all corruption within the Afghan political system; this would be impossible and unrealistic. The key of President Obama’s new approach is to limit corruption and mismanagement to tolerable levels. Again, I doubt this will occur in the next year and a half, but it is important to differentiate between the two.

        One more point on this statement: “what will be their new source of income once you guys are done with your facade?” First off, I do not necessarily agree that the Afghan mission is a facade. Let’s remember that this war started because of the September 11 attacks, and was thus justifiable and legitimate at the United Nations. In fact, I am confident that the the Taliban would probably still be in power today if the World Trade Center and Pentagon were not attacked. Let’s also remember that the war in Afghanistan was going quite well before the U.S. diversion into Iraq. It was during that transition phase when the Taliban started streaming back into Southern Afghanistan, in and around Kandahar.

        Anyway, this is besides the point. The question you pose is a great one. The answer, however, is murky at best. All I can say is that if things do not change on the ground- if economic opportunity is still a distant fantasy in the next 18 months- then we should expect Afghans to join the Taliban Movement in increasing numbers.

  3. Zathras said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    How does the enemy respond to President Obama’s announced strategy?

    The complaint already heard from Sens. Graham and McCain that a “date certain” to begin withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan sends a signal to the Taliban that it can wait America out seems to me to misread the enemy’s thinking. The enemy sees itself as being on the offensive now; it thinks it is winning by being more aggressive in mining Afghan roads, blowing up allied targets and Afghan civilians, and expanding its activities to more areas of the country.

    Will the enemy change what it has been doing in response to a growing American force? My guess is, only when it has to. In the short run at least — through, say, October of next year — we should expect more engagements with American forces, and attempts as well to interdict American supply lines running through Pakistan. The risk for us here is very considerable, for all sorts of reasons; the risk for the enemy in Afghanistan is that a larger American force will be able to extend engagements longer and thereby deplete the number of the Taliban’s best fighters. These are short term considerations only, of course.

  4. smci60652 said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    The Afghan Taliban is the spearhead of Pakistan’s national security interests in keeping Afghanistan pro-Pakistan. The same can be said of the Gulf Emirates vis-a-vis Iran.

    Honestly, from that perspective, I’d devise a 20 month strategy of pesky but limited ‘nuisance’ operations against NATO, and then a large putsch after this supposed ’18 month withdrawl.’ It only stands to reason.

    So if the administration is smart about this, which I believe they will be, it’s time to start taking Pakistan’s paranoia seriously and work with the Indians to dial down their involvement in development and diplomatic overtures to the Karzai regime.

    Also we have to start talking candidly with the Gulf states about curbing private donations by their nationals to shady charities in Pakistan.

    All of this in addition to preparing the ANSF and our own Air Force (possibly still SOF?) to dig in in Helmand, and Kandahar in the South and Nuristan to Nangahar in the East in preparation for counter-insurgency that will almost surely be needed in about 2 years.

  5. janbekster said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    What one is writing here, overlaps with what one has written in responce to Dr. Lynch’s posting on the same subject, but then again, Dr. Lynch didn’t offer the temptation of changing his mind, like Prof. Walt has done.

    Therefore, if Prof. Walt wants to taint his realism with some Delphic Omens, the number of US personnel in Afghanistan would reach 100,000 after the recent surge, which is equal to the number the Soviets reached in the country, after their last surge and subsequent withdrawal soon after.

    However, if we are to stick to the area of realism; a terrain Prof. Walt seems comfortable in, then we all know that there is a civil war going on in Afghanistan, between a dispicably corrupt regime, and equally dispicably extreme organisation, and since President Obama has affirmed that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan, and the US surge is supposed to stop it coming back inter alia, then one can only conclude that, Presidnet Obama intends to align the USA, with the dispicable corrupt regime in Kabul, to fight the dispicable extremist organisation, so that the US can prop up the former, and bend rather break the latter, in the hope of arriving at a power-sharing formula among the dispicable.

    So what is the common denominator in all this?. Actually the word dispicable.

    khairi janbek.paris/france

  6. seanmcbride said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Interesting remark by Patrick Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis today:

    The generals won – everything

    “Basically, the generals and their allies “rolled” Obama on this one. They reckon that they can do it again, because he is weak willed and they are not. The generals also reckon that they can manage public opinion over time. I doubt it The generals do not seem to understand just how bad the economic situation of the United States really is. That is strange since so many of them end up in corporate board rooms after retirement. The situation continues to be dominated by the phony “world war” atmosphere that has been generated on the basis of the “existential threat” posed by the onrushing juggernaut of the wold wide threat of the re-establishment of a CALIPHATE!!! (That was irony.)”

    Lang seems to be suggesting that the neocons are still fully in control of the American government (including the Obama administration). This should come as no surprise, since Obama’s foreign policy apparatus is dominated by neoliberals (neoconservatives in the Democratic Party).

  7. Joshua Keating of ForeignPolicy.com said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Referring to the United States’s NATO partners, President Obama last night asked, “that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we’re confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead.” A conference will be held in London in January to discuss international contributions to the effort.

    NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised 5,000 troops, but it’s a little unclear where he’s going to get them:

    “Reacting to Obama’s call for more help, a Polish official said the government will likely send 600 combat-ready reinforcements, mainly for patrolling and training, to beef up its existing 2,000-strong contingent.

    Albania pledged to increase its 250-member unit by 85 troops, army trainers and medical workers, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said.

    Spain’s El Pais daily said the defense ministry was considering adding 200 soldiers to its 1,000 contingent. Italy declared it would do its part and Finland confirmed that it had been asked to consider sending more troops and would do so next week. […]

    Britain announced before Obama’s speech it is sending 500 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing its numbers there to 10,000.”

    France and Germany are holding off on any troop decision until an international conference in January, though French President Nicolas Sarkozy has previously pledged that he “won’t send an additional soldier.”

    The other big question is the Netherlands, whose parliament voted for a non-binding resolution in favor of withdrawal when the Dutch mission ends next August. If the Dutch government follows through and pulls out its 2,160 troops, that would more than negate the 1,385 troops already pledged by Britain, Spain, Poland and Albania. Canada has already passed a withdrawal plan for 2011 as well and seems unlikely to add more troops.

    Even in a best-case scenario in which the Dutch keep current troop levels and the countries mentioned are able to follow through through on their commitments, NATO will still need get more than 3,500 troops from the Italians, the Australians, the deeply ambivalent Germans and a hodge-podge of smaller nations, none of whom currently have more than 1,000 troops in the country.

    It doesn’t seem too likely.

  8. Stephen M. Walt of ForeignPolicy.com said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Here’s my first reaction to Obama’s speech, as of 9:30 EST. I may change my mind after I read what others had to say, but we’ll see.

    The good news in President Obama’s West Point speech on Afghanistan is that he displayed an awareness of costs and benefits. Obama clearly understands that external events may impinge on U.S. power, but our safety and security ultimately depends on prosperity here at home. That prosperity ultimately depends on education, infrastructure, financial soundness, and domestic tranquility — not on who happens to be in power in Central Asia — and Obama realizes that endless warfare is threatening these essential foundations of national power. He left little doubt that his real goal is to “nation-build” here in the United States, while letting the inhabitants of Central Asia take primary responsibility for their own affairs. That is a wise judgment, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to put it into practice.

    The bad news is that Obama’s explanation of his short-term decision was neither coherent nor convincing. With no good options before him, he went for the middle ground: We will escalate by sending 30,000 more troops but in eighteen months he’ll start bringing them home. The logic here is hard to discern: if the stakes are as important as he maintained, then setting a firm time limit makes little sense. Obama correctly refused to grant the corrupt Afghan government a “blank check,” but no serious analyst thinks we can train an Afghan army or create a strong Afghan state in a year and a half. And if he is willing to cut Karzai & Co. off later, then success isn’t really a “vital national interest” after all. If that’s the case, why invest another $30 billion now? Nor did he explain how dispatching 30,000 more troops for eighteen months would eliminate al Qaeda’s safe havens or prevent them from making a comeback later on.

    In short, Obama is betting that escalation will improve conditions enough to permit a rapid U.S. withdrawal in June 2011. He is rolling the “iron dice of war,” and the incoherence of his position suggests that the decision was driven more by domestic politics than by strategic necessity. In any case, whether one opposes this decision (as I do) or not, we should all hope that his gamble succeeds.

  9. Marc Lynch of ForeignPolicy.com said, on December 2, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    I watched Obama’s speech last night with a heavy heart. The President impressed, as always — from the lofty rhetoric to the detailed, logical analysis (and the direct talk to the Afghan people, a nice touch also used in his big Iraq speech so many months ago). There were few surprises after all the leaks and pre-game briefings, but it was a defining moment nonetheless. He made the case as best as he could for the least bad of a terrible set of options. I remain unconvinced by each stage of the logic – the urgency of action, the connection to al-Qaeda, the likely impact of the increased troops, the mechanisms of leverage, the proposed 2011 inflection point towards drawdown. And yet, now that the decision has made, I want the President’s strategy to succeed. The best way to do that is to make sure that he follows through on his promises to keep the goals tightly focused and to avoid stumbling into open-ended occupation and an endless cycle of escalation.

    Obama needed to demonstrate that Afghanistan matters enough to American vital national interests to justify the escalation. He settled upon al-Qaeda as the reason. This makes sense for an American audience, I suppose, though when he began talking my first tweet was “President Bush is talking about 9/11 again.” But it’s not satisfying analyticvally. Al-Qaeda is not really active in Afghanistan anymore, and it is not equivalent with the Taliban (either the Afghan or Pakistani variants). Al-Qaeda Central still matters, but the decentralized network and ideological narrative around the world no longer depends on it. Nothing the U.S. does or does not do in Afghanistan will defeat al-Qaeda — the failure of that movement will happen for its own reasons, if it happens (as it already largely has in the Arab world).

    The moment where Obama recognized this reality was both reassuring and terrifying: when he mentioned Somalia and Yemen. He understands that Afghanistan is not the only, or even the primary, location where those motivated by al-Qaeda’s ideas can operate. But if the next move is to bring governance and stability, and counter-terrorism and COIN, to every ungoverned space on Earth — or even every Muslim-majority ungoverned space on Earth — then we are truly facing bankruptcy. Intellectually, financially, militarily, and politically. We can’t afford to do this in Afghanistan. We certainly can’t afford to do it in Somalia and Yemen… even if we should, which I strongly doubt.

    As for the strategy itself, well, we will see. The best parts of his presentation were in his keen recognition of the need to prevent this from becoming the first (well, second) of an insatiable demand for more escalations down the road. He spoke well about limiting the mission to realistic objectives, scaling back grand state-building aspirations and recognizing the limits of American resources. He talked a good game about the era of the blank check being over, about leverage, about accountability — but how exactly is he going to get such leverage? The logic makes sense, increased resourcing now with a clearly demarcated time limit, but will this really galvanize a sense of urgency among the key actors? And even if it did, do they really have the capacity or desire to act in any constructive way?

    Most importantly, he spoke effectively about the logic of a clear time horizon, generating political accountability, and converting a brief military respite into lasting political gains through a clear commitment to ultimately withdraw troops. His direct vow that the U.S. did not seek occupation or endless escalation was well said. But the problem is that such commitments are inherently non-credible. To quote that great IR theorist Drake, we hear you talking boo but we just don’t believe you. I haven’t heard anybody yet say that they believed that Obama would really start drawing down in June 2011, no matter what he says. And yet the strategy depends upon that commitment being credible, because that is what is supposed to generate the urgency for local actors to change.

    I believe that Obama and his team really want things to work out this way, and have carefully thought through how to work it. But when things don’t go their way, will they really follow through on their promises to draw down? Few people believe that. And if they don’t believe it, then the mechanism of pressure doesn’t operate. So it seems to me that the best way for skeptics such as myself to help this strategy to succeed is to keep a sharp focus on the proposed mechanisms of change, demanding evidence that they are actually happening, and to hold the administration to its pledges to maintaining a clear time horizon and to avoiding the iron logic of serial escalations of a failing enterprise.

    More later.
    UPDATE: President Obama anticipated my argument today in his lunch with columnists yesterday:

    “If it doesn’t work, said Obama: “I think there is going to be enormous interest on the part of the American people and on the part of Congress in keeping me to my word that this is not a constant escalation.”

    Generating domestic pressure to make his commitments on a time horizon and this not becoming an endless series of futile escalations credible will be one of the most important things which Obama’s skeptical supporters can do over the next year. And Obama clearly understands that. Also reassuring is Secretary of Defense Gates today, telling Senators that Afghanistan and Pakistan is unique — i.e. we aren’t heading into Somalia or Yemen. One of the great benefits of the long, transparent review process is that all of these arguments have been fully thrashed out and considered. Even if I don’t agree with every decision made on strategy, I at least am confident that they thought about all of these objections and reservations in advance.

  10. Dan said, on December 2, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    It is hilarious to me that the President expects concrete changes in Afghanistan’s political and security environment in the next 18 months. What a joke! The United States has not been able to perform this task in the last eight years, so how can we as Americans honestly believe that the Afghan mission will succeed before the July 2011 pullout? If you talk to any military leader or discuss the situation with an academic, virtually all of them will tell you that a successful counterinsurgency typically takes 5-10 years time. Improving governmental institutions, diminishing corruption, providing economic opportunity and the local level, and “winning hearts and minds” is a tall order nonetheless. Add an 18 month timeline to the mix and the chances for improvement are anything but realistic.

    I am also puzzled as to why President Obama mentioned Al’Qaeda fifty times in his address last night. Yes, the original mission in Afghanistan was to drive Al’Qaeda and the Taliban out. And sure, Al’Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans on September 11, prompting U.S. Military action. But lets assess the situation. AQ is hardly in Afghanistan. If the President was serious in fighting the capabilities of AQ, he would order bombing raids in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia within the next few hours. These are the places where AQ exhibits a strong base, not in Afghanistan.

    Again, I support the troop surge in general terms. But his rational for escalation was downright laughable. If you want to severely diminish Al’Qaeda’s capabilities, follow General Wesley Clark’s advice: go into Pakistan.

    • janbekster said, on December 2, 2009 at 8:39 pm

      I humbly think that, it will boil down to this eventually. Presidnet Zardari will be in adifficult position then, between the anvil and the hammer so to speak. Once the Amercian request is forwarded to conduct active operations on Pakistani soil, Mr. Zardari can accept it and then risk a coup d’etat, or reject it and risk the American wrath; which translates also as a possible coup d’etat. Therefore, my hunch is that, once such a request is made, President Zardari will comply in the hope that he can prolongue his presidnecy a little longer, with his compliance.

      khairi janbek.paris/france

      • Dan said, on December 2, 2009 at 8:48 pm

        I am not so sure that Zardari would conform with American views. As you probably know, Pakistan is one of the most anti-American countries in the world; despite the billions upon billions of dollars that our government gives to Islamabad on an annual basis. Zardari is in such a weakened position that he may not want to risk U.S. troops on Pakistani soil. There would certainly be opposition to the deal by the Pakistani public, who are still enraged over U.S. drone strikes in the tribal frontier. If Zardari truly wants to retain the little power he has left, distancing himself from a U.S. ground operation would be the best option.

        Plus, we have to distinguish between the Pakistani Government and the Pakistani Military. When it comes down to the big picture, the Pakistani Military basically runs the show. In fact, U.S. objectives in Afghanistan are contingent upon the Pakistani Military’s cooperation; not just Zardari and his weak and fractious coalition. Therefore, the U.S. Military should probably make its case directly to Pakistan’s armed-forces, rather than the civilian leadership. This would cut out the unnecessary middle-man, and show Pakistan’s military establishment that we respect the partnership they have given us thus far. It is sad to say, but without Pakistan’s military cracking down on militant groups within its own borders, we might as well withdraw all of our troops today.

    • smci60652 said, on December 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm

      Your analysis reminds me of John Madden’s mantra on 4th and goal situations. “You couldn’t punch it in the first three times, what makes you think you’ll get there on the fourth?”

      I think the President sees that we’re down by 5 and only have 2 seconds left.

      As for Pakistan, you guys do realize that it has like 6 times the population of Afghanistan, has nuclear weapons, and over a million active duty personnel (not to mention another half a million reservists)?

      So yes, it makes complete sense that an American President who grudingly agreed to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan on the condition of a fixed withdrawl will seriously entertain the possibility of opening yet another front for warfare.

      As Joe Biden would say, that’s mularky.

      On the other hand it should be noted that we’re already doing some operations in the border regions on the hush hush. And the intel for those operations is coming from the Pakistanis. So if anything significantly different happens, it’ll be something that’s mutually beneficial for the Pakis and the US, and jointly conducted.

      These things don’t get discussed with civilian politicians over there. We always talk about foreign affairs and intelligence operations with their Chief of Army Staff.

      • Dan said, on December 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm

        Yes, but there is a huge difference between hush-hush operations led by U.S. Special Forces and a publicly-disclosed U.S. offensive inside Pakistani territory. Does anyone ever consider why the Pakistani Government has approved U.S. operations in private, rather than in a public forum? I am sure everyone has, but here is a refresher; a Pakistani willingness to go along with Washington would be severely detrimental to the survival of the civilian leadership. Like I said before, the ordinary Pakistani on the street paints the United States as the greatest threat to their security…not bin-Laden or the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. With this being the case, anything other than hush-hush Special Forces would be met with widespread resistance among the Pakistani people. Not a very good development for the mission across the border.

      • smci60652 said, on December 2, 2009 at 9:55 pm

        I thought you were saying the opposite.

        We agree on the dangers in Pakistan.

        And the Army has the same fears that the civilians have.

        No one is immune from public discontent. That’s why it was so easy to oust Musharraf.

        Even the military is held hostage by an increasingly angry public.

  11. janbekster said, on December 2, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    If an American request is made for joint operations with the Pakistani Army, President Zardari would be doomed either way; whether he says yes or no.

    If he says no, then indeed the US would go over his head and appeal directly to the army, which has more than one general in the ISI and the army whom see themselves as viable alternatives to the current president, and if he says yes, he will be able to prolongue his presidency just a little while longer until he is overthrown by another general, with public support this time, and most probably, with American neutrality.

    I have no doubt at all, that there is popular hostility towards the US in Pakistan, but no Pakistani politician can ever play hard to get when it comes to the USA and survive on popular support only. At least up till now, and since Pakistan was founded.
    khairi janbek.paris/france

  12. boom shaka said, on December 3, 2009 at 5:38 pm


    The benchmarks were for Democrats. The President knew he would piss them off with this decision so he had to outline an “exit strategy” (talk about your misnomers!).

    Of course, he also gave himself an out with the “events on the ground” disclaimer. The President isn’t stupid, neither are his advisors. They know we’re looking at another 10-15 years minium of heavy influence (not necessarily military).

    It was also for Karzai. The President essentially said, “you can stay in power for 18 months. If you don’t do SOMETHING we’ll hang you out to dry.” Having already survived multiple assassination atempts, Karzai got the message.

    Good points on India and Afghanistan. India is a relatively homogenous society while Afganistan is a loose confederation of ethnic clans and tribes. There’s also cultural differences too: Indians had lived with the “caste” system for so long they learned to respect (or fear) those in position of power and/influence. Afghans, on the other hand, have a deep-seeded distrust of central governments and place far more value on the more traditional “handshake and marry-a-daughter” affiliations (yes, that’s an oversimplification, but I think you get the idea).

    I don’t know if I agree that the Afghanis will flock back to the Taliban. Not saying they won’t, but I’m guessing we’re more likely to see a “Somalia”-type scenario, where local warlords wield all the power and the government is virtually non-existent. Wait a minute…it’s like that now!

    Regardless, you’re right, this is a very murky situation that won’t be going away anytime soon.


  13. audiq7 said, on December 3, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Wow. Quite a bit of BS below (no misnomer this time). I can’t even begin to count the thousands of casteist factions in AfPak. Karzai belongs to the Durrani clan of the Popalzai caste within the Pashtun tribe. It is well known that these castes and factions are infamous for killing each other randomly. Their bitter rivalries span generations and dominate the politics of the lawless regions. The ‘castes’ of India have never been in a state of war with each other. What does he mean by ”low caste fear those in power”? So-called ‘low castes’ were never enslaved by ‘high class’ priests. ‘Low caste’ politicians are ruling majority ‘high caste’ states within India very peacefully. Ironically this system came about just to organize society into classes of professions – lawyers, engineers, janitors. And only 62 yrs of Independence, these divisions are getting blurred, each passing year.


    Actually democracy could never really take root in AfPak. ‘Islam’ is the only type of democracy they are able to identify with. And we know what that means. At this point this whole thing has become a charade. Obama came in as a reformer. I had great hopes, unfortunately he has succumbed to the system, just like every politician does. I don’t believe we will see any success unless we quit playing games.

    In fact, I am confident that the the Taliban would probably still be in power absent World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Lets also remember that the war in Afghanistan was going quite well before the U.S. diversion into Iraq. It was during that transition phase when the Taliban started streaming back into Southern Afghanistan, in and around Kandahar. ”

    Yes, agree. It is exactly what he needed to say in March when he ordered the first batch of troops for AfPak. That the war in Iraq was a mistake, it is now our responsibility to take care of it, as well as get back to focusing on AfPak with renewed vigor because our survival depends on it. And it does. Americans are not very good at fulfilling their obligations. Obama wants to give money independently to the provinces in Af, why is he using a different strategy in Pak? US will regret giving money to Pak, like it feels sorry for creating bin Laden. Karzai has no influence outside Kabul, but what can he do? Warlords control individual fiefdoms.

    • boom shaka said, on December 3, 2009 at 5:43 pm

      “Karzai belongs to the Durrani clan of the Popalzai caste within the Pashtun tribe. It is well known that these castes and factions are infamous for killing each other randomly. Their bitter rivalries span generations and dominate the politics of the lawless regions. The ‘castes’ of India have never been in a state of war with each other.”

      LOL. You just proved my point. The afghanis are tied together by tribal relationships (ie Pashtun) that are “infamous for killing each other randomly”. The Indians, as you so correctly state “have never been in a state of war with each other.”

      That’s why a central government can’t (or has a bad chance) of working in Afghanistan – it’s just not in their culture OR their history.

      Thanks again for proving my point. I appreciate it.


  14. audiq7 said, on December 3, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    We are up against a very lucrative business with consumers who have voracious appetites. If we are able to secure a win, their addiction may start wearing off. Even hard-core addicts in Saudi will be convinced to try different less addictive products. If not, you will inevitably find new consumers who will want to manufacture the product indigenously. Success always guarantees imitation. Loose terrorists will wreck havoc in India and many parts of the world. In the event of a war between India and AfPak, the world will remain unaffected? Unlike Vietnam this is a fight for our survival. Obama thinks it’s a ‘cancer’…he has not told us how he plans to cure the ‘sick’. His medication is more of the same.

  15. audiq7 said, on December 3, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    All I can say is that if things do not change on the ground- if economic opportunity is still a distant fantasy in the next 18 months- then we should expect Afghans to join the Taliban Movement in increasing numbers.

    Agree again. I’m not sure if this will happen after 18 months or 6 yrs. We will begin to see a gradual and systematic breakdown of civilian life if the US does not remain engaged. Most probably civil war between Taliban, the Warlords, Pakistani army, and various jihadi groups. I believe jihadi groups like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (all with roots in Afghanistan) will join the Taliban, the Pakistani army will disintegrate in the midst of the chaos. Half the ISI supports Taliban. They will emerge triumphant as they did in 1990s for the simple reason of providing stability due to clearly defined laws.

  16. OMG!Harley!sBack said, on December 3, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    It was the LAST Administration’s “Viet Nam”! you know the forgotten war, abandoned for Iraq, and WMD…oh yeah there were none. anyone questioning why Bin Laden was allowed, BY BUSH, to escape? If he was killed in 2001, there would have been NO IRAQ 2003, as we were after Bin Laden, that was the ABSOLUTE PURPOSE FOR ATTACKING AFGHANISTAN, he gets caught or killed, how does BUSH/CHENNEY/HALIBURTON/KBR validate invading Iraq? no al qaeda, no connection, no bin laden…oh yeah and NO MONEY, not WAR FOR PROFIT! Bin Laden (also last name of long time bush family friends, yep same family) lives and the rest is history!

    Afghansitan is BUSH’s VIET NAM…Obama is actually trying to get something done or get the F out! it was BUSH who ignored it for nearly 8 years, Bush’s FAILURE, one of many…

  17. Dredd said, on December 3, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Good story Mr. Isikoff.

    Even the hawks can see that the wars are preventing “the largest public works legislation in US history” from preventing the recession and job recovery.


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