December 3, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Speech

I'd rather spend a day working on my book than picking apart President Obama's speech where he announced a "surge" of troops in Afghanistan, so let me just say I agree with both John Podhoretz and Tom Ricks, two men who often don't see eye-to-eye on foreign policy and the military.

Here's John Podhoretz in Commentary:

Whatever the flaws in the speech itself — and they were considerable — Obama’s announcement and the details of the plan together represent a landmark moment. After spending a few months desperately looking for another choice, a third choice, a cute choice, Obama did in fact surrender to the logic of the presidency. Having called the conflict in Afghanistan a “war of necessity,” he has committed the nation to it, and himself to it.


He is clearly acting against his own gut instincts and those within the ideological tendency that is his natural and longtime home, and that does take courage. Indeed, that is what accounts for the unsatisfying quality of the speech he delivered. He was trying to find language with which he could make his decision explicable to people like him — indeed, perhaps even to an alternate-universe Barack Obama who hadn’t won the presidency and would almost certainly have viewed the notion of committing more troops to Afghanistan in a Bush-like “surge” an awful proposition. That mollification isn’t really possible, and so the speech didn’t work as a matter of rhetoric or suasion.
But that is a missed opportunity for him. It doesn’t really matter. It’s the policy that matters.

And here is Tom Ricks in Foreign Policy, basically seeing things the same way, yet from the other side of the political spectrum:

This speech was an ode to ambivalence, an aria of ambiguity, a rasher of reluctance. It was addressed to those who, like him, really didn't want to send more troops to Afghanistan. It was for those who care more about rebuilding New Orleans than Kandahar or Mosul. He was explaining to them why he was breaking with them. He had after great deliberation concluded that it was necessary to escalate.

To really get this speech, I think you had to be someone who voted for Obama, who believed he was elected to end our wars, and was feeling terribly and personally disappointed with the president over the possibility of a surge in Afghanistan -- and the failure to close Guantanamo, and the lift the ban on gays in the military, not to mention the bailout of Wall Street fatcats. Hence the explicit discussion of the Vietnam analogy, and the review of the folly of invading Iraq in 2003.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 3, 2009 1:04 AM

OK, OK. Let's go. Let's do it.

(But, for the record, THEY made me do it. As for me, my heart's not in it, so don't blame me if it fails.... Blame THEM.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin Author Profile Page at December 3, 2009 1:49 AM

I really wish he would have done a better job of cheerleading the war effort. I'm on the fence about Afghanistan, and I didn't hear a single thing that made me feel more optimistic about it. Is there any chance he's TRYING to turn public opinion against the war!?

Seriously, I would have rather he just issued the deployment orders and skipped the speech. I doubt he changed the mind of anyone who was anti-war, seeing as how he didn't even make an effort to explain why the fight was worth fighting, and he certainly didn't offer any inspiration to people who support the Afghanistan mission. What was his point?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at December 3, 2009 3:45 AM

Well, I, for one am waiting for the book, so good luck with focus and all that.


Posted by: jdwill Author Profile Page at December 3, 2009 5:04 AM

I note that while some Americans are getting excited, thinking "We're gonna win this!" the Afghans and Pakistanis are concentrating on the U.S. pull-out and making deals with the Taliban. The thinking is that if after 7 years the U.S. couldn't win, why would a mere extra 30,000 troops for a year make a difference? Rather than pay attention to the threat to Pakistan's sovereignty contained in Big O's speech ("we will not tolerate -") the Pakistani foreign minister is trying to get details on the Obama plan to make sure it doesn't leave Pakistan up the creek with a paddle.

Posted by: Solomon2 Author Profile Page at December 3, 2009 8:14 AM

What he said was: We can afford this for two years, and then were more or less out of money, soldiers, logistics and equipment. Hes giving Petraeus/McChrystal his 18 months +, and then hope to have built some sort of international handoverplan by then. Playing it as it goes along, wich he has to.

Gates is running the military show, btw, and doing it pretty freaking well, but he also has to bow to the budget monkey in the end. And a unilateral massive surge is not sustainable personelwise for a long tme, not to mention the wear and tear on the logistic airwings for sustaining Afghanistan.

Posted by: fnord Author Profile Page at December 3, 2009 11:05 AM

fnord, central to Obama's strategy is the change the regional balance of power by rapidly increasing ANSF capacity. Increased ANSF capacity by itself is a major strategic defeat for the Taliban and AQ. The ANA rank and file hate the Taliban and AQ. That is a major reason they joined the ANA in the first place.

What really concerns me is that Obama isn't working on long term funding for the ANSF. This is what really demonstrates a lack of resolve. If Obama hadn't increased the number of US troops but requested Congress for $150 billion in Afghan grants over 20 years; that would have been a demonstration of resolve; and substantially boosted the morale of the ANSF rank and file.

Remember that the ANSF has very limited funding for officer training. An ANA 2nd lieutenant only gets 20 weeks of education, including literacy training. ANA privates only get 8 weeks of training (inclusive of literacy training), although the most recent batch that graduated 3 companies (800 troops in total)only got 5 weeks of training.

ANP only get 6 weeks of training, inclusive of literacy training.

It was explicitly stated by NTM-A that a major reason 2nd lieutenant school, ANA private training (was 12 weeks), ANP training (was 10 weeks) were reduced in length was to reduce the expense of training by 12.5% per soldier. This is beyond stupid. Penny wise and pound foolish.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at December 3, 2009 12:42 PM


You can't be serious thinking THIS administration is driven by budget considerations.

So, be patient over there; we'll be pulling out soon. And, if you had a fleeting thought about working with us in the meantime, we'll be wishing you well---from a distance--- in the future.

For once anand and I share a similar thought: beyond stupid.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at December 3, 2009 7:31 PM

What he said was: We can afford this for two years, and then were more or less out of money, soldiers, logistics and equipment. Hes giving Petraeus/McChrystal his 18 months +, and then hope to have built some sort of international handoverplan by then.

I disagree, fnord. What he did was put a time limit on how long we are willing to wait for the people of Afghanistan/Pakistan to decide that they don't want to continue being insane. It doesn't matter how many troops the US sends, as long as people want to be insane the situation will not improve. As far as an "international handover plan" - is that what passes for humor up there in the frozen wastes?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at December 7, 2009 11:25 AM

I am more worried about rules of engagement than the numbers. This is the administration that is planning to prosecute CIA agents for "torture" and has SEALs facing court martial for a terrorist's bloody lip. I don't want another Marine barracks situation.

Posted by: Mike K Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 3:52 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Read my blog on Kindle


Recommended Reading