Saturday, March 28, 2015

Obama's big moment

First thoughts....if Pres. Obama is going to commit more troops why not give what Gen. McChrystal asked for? The general conducted detailed studies of what was needed, and felt 40,000 was the minimum needed to secure and stabilize key regions. So why withhold 25 per cent of the request?

Obama's big moment

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First thoughts....if Pres. Obama is going to commit more troops why not give what Gen. McChrystal asked for? The general conducted detailed studies of what was needed, and felt 40,000 was the minimum needed to secure and stabilize key regions. So why withhold 25 per cent of the request?

And why give a deadline of 30 months before withdrawal?. Putting this out there at the beginning hands a card to the Taliban, whose motto is "you've got the watches, we've got the time." He says we'l take into account conditions on the ground, but why show our hand now?

The president says he is asking for more contributions from allies, but they aren't likely to add more troops.

Right to put forward new civilian strategy. Says "days of blank check are over" which is right. Also says will support effective officials, which also is correct approach.

Also good to say we support opening to Taliban who reject violence. In the end there will have to be a political solutions. 

More....An important point

A key point: Links with Pakistan strategy - this is crucial. Here's where the biggest danger lies - militants taking over a country with nukes.

Important point. Afghanistan is not Vietnam. UN supported our entry here. To abandon this country would limit our ability to target al Qaeda. Can't do it from offshore.

Obama says a lack of time frame would fail to convey the urgency of turning over this effort to Afghans. But shouldn't this be a card we hold in reserve as leverage with the Afghan government?

Cost? $30 billion this year. Obama pledges to make the cost transparent. Says commitment can't be open-ended because we need to build our own nation. This is true. Yet if we can't convey conviction in the Afghan effort, the troops and expense will be wasted. 

cont'd....This was a strange speech. If the American public needed to know why we were in Afghanistan, and what they might hope for as a result, I'm not certain they learned the necessary. "Our cause is just" the president said, but will people understand what is the cause? I don't think Obama answered the questions most Americans are asking about goals, means, and ends.

Soaring rhetoric, very short on detail. And I think people need detail. Need to know where troops will go, how they will operate. And why is he confident there will be commitments from the allies? Obviously, there have been no commitments so far. 

cont'd. I had the feeling that the president was trying to bury the key portions...that talked about the troops surge...in broader rhetoric about national unity and a just cause. Was not a strategy speech, more a series of meditations.

Who are winners and losrs? Biden lost. But if you can give Gen. McChrystal 30,000, why not 40,000? And why specify 18 months? As I recall, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gave Gen. Gromov 18 months when he came to power? We are not the Soviets, but why raise this parallel?

Cont'd...I fear that this speech does not convey a clear strategy, nor give the U.S. public a clear sense of where we are headed, except for the pledge that whatever we are doing we will start winding down in 18 months.

The purpose of this excercise is to reverse Taliban momentum so that Afghans can negotiate a political solution. I'm not sure that this speech sets the stage for such a reversal.

As for the pledge to commit to a long term relationship with Pakistan, in principle this is crucial, but I hope the president doesn't really believe Pakistan can be a reliable ally. The Pakistani military is still playing a double game. We must continually regard them with a skeptical eye. 

Last thought: if Obama feels under such domestic pressure that he had to put an 18 month deadline, this does not bode well for his commitment to this strategy. I fear this is the message that the Taliban, the Afghan people, and the Pakistani military, will take from this speech.,

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. Over the past decade she has made multiple trips to Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and the West Bank and also written from Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, South Korea and China. She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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