Opinion – Michael Collins
It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united — bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot …
What Obama Said and Failed to Say About Afghanistan
It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united — bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. President Barack Obama, December 1
President Obama made this appeal for unified support of his Afghanistan policy at the very end of his speech at West Point last night. It seems awkwardly placed at the conclusion of a long and fairly cerebral oration. After reviewing the arguments for his policy, the placement may make some sense.
The president began by saying he was going to discuss “the nature of our commitment there, the scope of our interests, and the strategy that my Administration will pursue to bring this war to a successful conclusion.”
The pertinent history on our commitment, according to the president, began with the attack on 9/11 2001. He told us that “ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.” That regime served as the incubator for al Qaeda’s planning and execution of the attacks on New York City and the capitol.
Obama outlined the nearly unanimous votes in both houses of Congress to authorize the war; an authorization that he reminded us is still in effect. He moved from authorization to our quick military victory. Those efforts gave “A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope.” How? In concert with the United Nations, the United States created a government headed by Humid Karzai, who remains the president of Afghanistan today.
Obama’s narrative shifted from the initial rationale and success of the Afghanistan invasion to the reasons for action today. The Iraq War distracted from the efforts in Afghanistan and disrupted our unified post 9/11 relationships with the international community. He mentioned 160,000 troops in Iraq and 30,000 in Afghanistan to illustrate the skewed priorities but claimed that some progress in Afghanistan had been made.
Obama then hit on the rationale for continued efforts in Afghanistan and his surge of troops. “The review is now complete,” he said. The president decided that al Qaeda poses an ongoing threat to the United States and that to meet that threat; three goals had to be met.
What is the nature of the threat?
“This (Afghanistan) is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror.”
To reduce this threat requires three accomplishments. Over the next 18 months, the United States will “break the Taliban’s momentum” and increase Afghanistan’s capacity.” With increased security, U.S., NATO, and United Nations efforts will be more effective in implementing an “effective civilian strategy.” Finally, “we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.” We were told that accomplishing these objectives will achieve the security of preventing any more incursions by al Qaeda “within our borders.”
President Obama failed to mention any of the threatened “new acts of terror.” He also failed to mention bin Laden.
The president then considered and dismissed three anticipated objections to his policies and delivered his peroration at the beginning of this article.
President Obama is a gifted orator. However, in this case, he was long on style but lacking in substance. He started out with a history lesson concerning U.S. involvement with Afghanistan but he left out the most interesting parts.
From 1980 through the end of 1993, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan took the lead in creating a radical Islamist opposition to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Pakistan. This opposition was funded by U.S.- Saudi dollars and driven, to a degree, by Saudi preferences for the most extreme Muslim groups in the country. Fighters were also recruited by bin Laden, among others, to leave their homes in Arab states to volunteer for Afghanistan.
The decades of suffering mentioned by President Obama hangs there without a vital reference. U.S. policy helped create the chaos of the nation that we now occupy.
After Soviet forces left Afghanistan, there was a clear drop off in attention to the nation with little funding to aid rebuilding as the president correctly noted. Known as the Afghan Arabs, these wandering fighters appeared in various hot spots, including Kosovo, where they fought openly for the Muslim Albanian population but used the chaos, as they had elsewhere, to create a route for Afghan heroin.
Yet President Obama said, “What we have fought for — and what we continue to fight for — is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.”
What freedom and access to opportunity did the Afghanistan civil war and its aftermath provide “other peoples’ children” in view of the devastation of the U.S. supported civil war?
And what “freedom and access to opportunity” have “our children” and “other people’s” children had with the ongoing opium trade centered in Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, this accounts for 90% of the world’s total right now.
From 2001 forward, political realities have taken precedence over heroin eradication. In 2005, the governor of Helmand province, a close political ally of current president Hamid Karzai, was found with nine tons of heroin in his possession. He was removed as a regional governor only to reemerge as a member of the Afghan Senate. But now poppy eradication and an end to the heroin trade is a major priority and a justification for the troop surge.
President Obama’s eradiation of past history concerning the U.S. role in creating the original radical jihadists and the de facto tolerance of the heroin trade was matched by his failure to failure to address recent history.
The U.S. selected founding president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was widely accused of election fraud in both rounds of the recent presidential election. Peter W. Galbraith was the United Nation’s Secretary General’s special representative in Afghanistan. When his efforts to monitor the election uncovered hundreds of incidents of election fraud, he reported that Karzai’s “majority” victory was due to fraudulent votes.
The situation was so intense, U.S. Ambassador and former commander of forces in Afghanistan, General Karl M. Eikenberry, weighed in on the fraudulent election and went so far as to be seen with opposition candidates who claimed that the election would be stolen.
Karzai was forced into a runoff but opposing candidates refused to participate noting that the same elements for fraud remained. Karzai is now the president. He was mentioned last night by President Obama as a key player in the success of our “civilian efforts.”
On November 11, the contents of a cable from Ambassador Eikenberry on the situation in Afghanistan were leaked to the press. The general made a strong statement on the futility of sending further troops to that country riddled with the corruption in general and, by implication, an illegitimate recent presidential election in particular. The White House placed a hold on any commitment for more troops pending further study.
This was President Obama’s opportunity to step back and asses the value of investing in further troop commitments for a nation ruled by an election thief. He failed at the task. His response last night was a carefully constructed, self serving, and selective history of our involvement in Afghanistan with a fairy tale explanation of why we fight — for “our children and grandchildren” and “other peoples” as well.
No wonder he put the glowing words about rallying the spirit of 9/11 at the end of his speech. They were made no more meaningful by what was said before. Perhaps enough people had stopped paying attention to reduce pathos of the statement in the context of the rationale presented.
N.B. As an alternative to the president’s narrative on U.S. initiatives in Afghanistan see, Negotiating an Afghan Agreement by Brian Downing