Saturday, May 09, 2009

Obama's War(s)

I don't think it unfair to tag Afghanistan as Obama's War. He made it clear during the presidential campaign that this was the "good" war, the one that he would do everything possible to win in order to stamp out Al Qaeda, and, presumably, the Taliban. He hasn't changed his mind since being inaugurated and has concurred with the Pentagon leaders who think an Iraq-like surge will be needed.

I found several articles at Watching America which took a look at the Obama policies with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan. One, an op-ed piece in Germany's Die Zeit, suggests that Obama's plan is not really a plan at all, just a lot of hope backed up by military might.

While the recent joint visit of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari made it clear that President Obama at least acknowledges the war actually involves two countries, not just one, the results of the meetings are murky at best. The rather vague press conference which followed the meetings led the author of the op-ed piece to come to some very understandable conclusions:

Basically, Washington doesn’t have a clue, despite its new plan. They don’t know whether they can depend on Karzai and Zardari, nor do they know whether Karzai and Zardari even trust each other. One could only shake one’s head at their statements; they live in the same region and share the same problems, but in the final analysis, they have little to do with one another, at least on the diplomatic level.

Clinton wants to change that as quickly as possible; she dreams of bilateral border control, of new trade routes and cooperative sharing of water resources. But she's at a loss to explain how and when that will take place in the middle of a war. “We need patience, a great deal of patience,” she says. But according to the latest surveys, Americans want to get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

That’s why Obama says the main objective is security and a victory over the terrorists. The Afghan and Pakistani leaders nodded obediently, but at the same time it was evident they had different definitions of what constituted terrorism. Everybody’s against al-Qaeda, but they part ways when it comes to the Taliban. Are the Taliban really bomb throwers and allies of al-Qaeda, or are they insurgents who want a role in making policy for their nation, a group that cannot be suppressed, but must somehow be included?

As Obama entered the White House reception room with his two guests and announced a breakthrough, one got the uncomfortable feeling that America could easily drift into a new war beyond Afghanistan’s borders

I think an argument can be made that the "new war beyond Afghanistan's borders" has already begun. US drones have been active in the Pakistani tribal areas that give shelter to the Taliban for months, a policy that President Obama continued after he took office. I think it reasonable to assume that US troops of various types have also made incursions across the border in quiet, unpublicized raids.

The danger is not just that we would be asking our military to fight a war on two fronts, the danger is also that such a war would have the effect of destabilizing two countries further, one of which has nuclear weapons. President Karzai, hand-picked by the Bush administration, is nothing more than the Mayor of Kabul. President Asif Ali Zardari has proved to be nearly as weak a leader with apparently not much control over his own military, which is quite used to running the nation.

We saw how effective occupying Iraq was. It will not be any more effective in Afghanistan, and would be impossible in Pakistan. Nothing we've seen so far has shown that the Obama administration has a clue when it comes to prosecuting this war successfully, even though history has shown that military might just doesn't work.

For a lengthy, complex, and very cogent exposition on just why the current policy for "AFPAK" won't work, go read Pepe Escobar's erudite essay in Hong Kong's Asia Times. What he has designated as "the Pentagon's Long War" makes it clear that the US still doesn't take into consideration the historical and cultural realities of the two nations. In that respect, the Obama administration is no different than the Bush administration.

And that is scary.

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