Foreign Policy

Stuck in Afghanistan

What happened to Obama's Afghan strategy?

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There is good news about Afghanistan.

No, really. It comes from Jonathan Alter, Newsweek columnist and author of the book The Promise: President Obama, Year One. He thinks the president is firmly resolved to end our involvement there. Based on his sources inside the administration, he says one thing is certain: "We ain't stayin' long."

Anyone who thinks nine years of stalemate is enough would like to believe Alter, whose reporting skills are not in doubt. But it may be more prudent to believe Gen. David Petraeus.

Reminded of Obama's commitment to begin withdrawing a year from now, the new commander in Afghanistan carved out four lanes of wiggle room. "There will be an assessment at the end of this year after which undoubtedly we'll make certain tweaks, refinements, perhaps some significant changes," he told senators.

So we may be leaving even sooner than planned? Um, no. "We'll need to provide assistance to Afghanistan for a long time to come," he said.

That's a recurring theme. Obama himself recently ridiculed the "obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave." The plan for next summer, he said, is not to leave but only to "begin a process of transition."

The Rockies may crumble and Gibraltar may tumble in the time it takes to complete a "process of transition." But Alter says his reporting gives him confidence "a significant withdrawal will begin within, at the most, 18 months to two years."

Not staying long? That would put off Obama's original drawdown by as much as a year. If Obama is willing to push back his deadline by a year, why not two years? Or five?

Harvard international relations scholar Stephen Walt notes that Obama has had three chances to begin our extrication—"right after his election, then following his strategic review in the fall of 2009, and most recently with the McChrystal firing." But he passed them up. "In each case," Walt told me, "he's chosen either to deepen U.S. involvement or he's publicly committed to 'staying the course.'"

It's possible that Obama will break that pattern next summer, just as it's possible that Adam Sandler will go for his doctorate. But there is no reason to bet on it.

He came into office opposed to the Iraq war, unlike the Afghanistan war—and yet his schedule for withdrawal is no different from what President Bush planned. Why should anyone expect him to show more nerve in Afghanistan?

The political incentives are pushing him to go along with extending our presence because no president wants to be blamed for losing a war (see: Iraq, Vietnam). It's politically safer to muddle along hoping for something that can be portrayed as success than to admit failure.

To think Obama will take the risk of a major withdrawal as he's running for re-election assumes him to have more backbone on national security matters than he has yet demonstrated.

Time after time, forced to choose between sticking to his commitments and appeasing Republicans, he has opted for the latter—keeping Guantanamo open, giving up the idea of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, abandoning his campaign pledge to leave Iraq in 16 months.

The only thing that would spur Obama to start a pullout would be major progress in Afghanistan, which is about as likely as a Hard Rock Cafe in Kandahar. June was the most lethal month for American and NATO troops in the entire war, and this may just be the beginning.

A UN report says the number of roadside bombings by our enemies nearly doubled in the first three months of this year. So did the number of "complex suicide attacks."

Meanwhile, our allies are failing us. Corruption has proliferated, and President Hamid Karzai has not captured the hearts of his countrymen since winning a rigged election last year.

The Afghan army suffers from ethnic divisions, weak leadership, and an epidemic of desertion. The national police are plagued by illiteracy as well as graft. These developments do not spell "victory."

Getting out of Afghanistan would be easy for Obama if things were to go well. But to get out when things are going badly would let Republicans blame him and his party ever after for what happens next. Democrats learned that lesson from Vietnam.

In the end, Obama is likely to follow a well-known rule of American politics: Fighting a futile war is excusable. Ending one is not.

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  1. Good morning reason!

    1. Good Morning Suki!

    2. Good Morning, Suki and everyone else

      1. Good morning, you Type A lot.

      2. Hi Almanian!

        RS, why such a grumpis this morning?

  2. Time after time, forced to choose between sticking to his commitments and appeasing Republicans, he has opted for the latter…

    I don’t see the same Republican-appeaser-in-chief that you see.

    At first, I thought Obama the candidate had painted Obama the president into a corner with his very vocal support during the political campaign of increasing efforts in Afghanistan. However, seeing his penchant for breaking clearcut promises once in office, it seems that’s not what is keeping him there. But I guess since, regardless of what he actually says, Obama’s motives are pure, we can only assume he is continuing the Afghan effort because he wants victory there, and not because he sees some other personal gain from it.

    Democrats learned that lesson from Vietnam.

    Couldn’t you say they helped teach that lesson?

    1. “Time after time, forced to choose between sticking to his commitments and appeasing Republicans, he has opted for the latter…”

      This quote confused me as well. While it is true that Republicans have made noise about these issues, they had very little sway with the public when these decisions were first made.

      As opposed to a RED/BLUE issue these seem to be issues where one of two things happened:

      1) The realities of the situations before him altered his overly idealistic plans.

      or (more likely in my opinion)

      2) Trying to quickly change the direction of the huge bureaucratic US Government on these issues proved to be more difficult than first thought.

      The President’s thickheaded and obtuse reaction to public opposition to his plans leads me to believe that he really hasn’t been the “Republican-appeaser”-in-chief.

      1. Trying to quickly change the direction of the huge bureaucratic US Government on these issues proved to be more difficult than first thought.

        I understand this argument until somebody uses it with respect to the President. I mean, seriously, the guy can just fire heads of departments until things change and order the troops to get on planes tomorrow, if he so chose.

        1. If it were only that easy. If you have ever dealt with the inside functions of Government you will quickly find that the people who really run the show are the second and third level bureaucrats. The people at the top are often political appointments who change every 2-4 years and the only consistency in these organizations is provided by the managers who run below the radar.

          Even a large company often takes several years at minimum to implement large changes in policy. Overcoming the built-in inertia of a large organization is a huge undertaking and unfortunately is never quick.

          This is especially true of groups like the Military.

          As for just ordering “everyone home tomorrow”…I would imagine that process would take months at a minimum. Our forces are so deeply embedded into these countries that extracting our people and equipment in an orderly fashion would be a tremendous undertaking.

          Now if the President was willing to withdraw by simply snatching away all the troops the process could be done quickly…but I would imagine the negative consequences for that would keep him from doing something so rash.

  3. China has a better victory plan. Finance the US into the fourth dimension.

  4. Photo caption: We’re making this up as we go along.

    1. Good morning sunshine.

  5. Today’s question is: What is the REAL reason the U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan?

    Hint: It is not because Al Qaeda is there. It was admitted over the weekend on Judge Nap’s show there are only 100 members of Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan, more than the number of WMDs in Iraq, but not enough to justify current troop levels.

    1. because al-qaeda was there, your ridiculous, irrelevant “hint” aside.

      1. Wrong. It’s called a cover story.

        1. Care to enlighten us as to the conspiracy du jour? Ooh, let me guess – it has to do with a natural gas pipeline.

          1. Think harder.

            1. No. Make a point or go away – I am not a mind-reader and I am not your entertainment.

              1. Either use logic and reason to find the truth or buzz off. I can’t take you seriously if you don’t.

                1. al-Qaeda it is then. Keep in mind that you said this:

                  What is the REAL reason the U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan?

                  you are talking about a 2001 event. And then you said:

                  It is not because Al Qaeda is there. It was admitted over the weekend on Judge Nap’s show there are only 100 members of Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan

                  Talking about present conditions.

                  Hence why your “hint” is irrelevant nonsense.

                  So, why did we invade? al-Qaeda
                  Why do we stay? Some sort of misguided feeling of “moral duty”, combined with the fear that the Taliban will take over and make Afghanistan into a haven for al-Qaeda once again.

                  Now, if you aren’t going to respond with anything but deliberate and esoteric vagaries, fuck off.

                  1. You should change your handle to the Angry Child.

                    A problem in logic like this cannot and should be answered in an offhand way. You have already made up your mind.

                    I want to give every reader of this article a chance to figure out this problem on their own.

                    Who the hell do you think you are anyway?

            2. “”Think harder.””

              Someone found a time machine in 2001 and learned about the future discovery of vast resources?

              1. The Russians are the ones who discovered the vast resources. The U.S. is not there because of those vast resources. They will never be extracted from the ground. Their is no infrastructure their to handle such an undertaking, nor will enough foreigners be allow there. I believe the reason the U.S. is there is because of politics, plain and simple, just like the Vietnam “War”.

                Why do you think that the U.S. Congress is suppose to Declare War, before going to War? No President should have that power.

                Also, have you ever heard of “blowback”? A perfect example is 9/11. A few present examples are Somalia, Yemen and Iraq had no “Al-Qaeda” until the U.S. became involved.
                There was no TTP (“Pakistani Taliban”), who are becoming Wahhabis now, and being indoctrinated with Al Qaeda’s world view, did not exist until 2007. They are another example of “blowback”.

                The more you try to contain “it”, the more “it” will spread.

                Put yourself in the “shoes” of anyone in those countries I named.

                What if what is happening to their countries happened to the U.S.?? Just imagine it for a few moments. How would you feel? Think about it and you will realize that all the “wars” are b.s. The U.S. has 5000 nuclear weapons and a populace who are educated and have 200 million guns throughout society.

                No other country is a real threat to the U.S. The U.S.’s only threat is “terrorism” which is caused by the U.S.’s foreign policy. Look into it.

                The first half or so of my post is directed at the above poster, the second half is to everyone else who reads it.

        2. You are an idiot.

          1. Ad hominem fallacy.

    2. It’s because they are smuggling lupins. Stand and deliver.

      1. Hmm Hmm Hmm, Hmm hmm Hmm,
        Hmm Hmm Hmm, Hmm Hmm!

      2. There are many Banditos along the Beltway Senior, pero no es la raison.

        1. I prefer Fujiko’s myself

          1. html fail…
            Fujiko

            1. I’d smuggle it.

  6. His Afghan policy will get all the repubs to vote for him. Just like all the Dems voted for Bush because of his medicate plan.

  7. President Barack Obama recently ridiculed the “obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave.”

    Wasn’t this the guy who was constantly on about setting deadlines for withdrawal back in the dim mists of 2008?

    1. that was then, this is now.

  8. Either use logic and reason to find the truth or buzz off. I can’t take you seriously if you don’t.

    But for god’s sake, don’t rely on Van to give you even a hint of what The Truth is.

    1. It’s more instructive to the student, if they arrive at the answer on their own.

      1. Wow you sound just like half of my college professors. Well actually you sound like the T.A. explaining why he/she was teaching the class instead of the prof.

        1. I learned the Socratic method from my Math professors. I don’t agree with Adam Curtis completely, but is that necessary?

          Here is a link for those with open minds:
          http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/

  9. Tell us, Chapman, why the anger at Adam Sandler? Did he once kick your dog? Or was it Little Nicky?

  10. Van, condescension and ignorance are an ugly combination.

    1. Condescension? I am relying on people’s abilities to think for themselves and to perform a little investigative journalism. That’s much harder than just arguing your opinion.

      The facts are not debatable, they are waiting to be discovered.

  11. “”perform a little investigative journalism.””

    How about this?

    http://articles.latimes.com/2001/sep/22/news/mn-48537

    1. “How about this?”

      That is a great elaboration of the conventional explanation. But is it the whole truth?

      For a contrary point of view, take a look at the following documentary series: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T…..Nightmares

      Watching the documentary will not provide the full answer, but it discredits the conventional explanation.

      1. Where have I heard this before? Shouldn’t you be carrying signs with that Eichmann quote or something?

        1. It’s you who are making emotional, propaganda inspired statements. You don’t know what my point of view is, but you pretend to.

          Exactly what is it you are trying to convince me of?

          1. You don’t know what my point of view is, but you pretend to.

            Oh, we know what the Truth about your point of view is. Anyone who does a little investigative reporting can find out the Truth. It is out there if you look for it. I am not going to make any specific claims because I want to give every reader of this post a chance to figure out this problem on their own.

            1. Why such an emotional reaction?

              We know that no WMDs were found in Iraq and that no members of al-Qaeda have been found in Afghanistan.

              Let’s assume that Presidents Bush and Obama are rational actors. What is their true agenda in the Middle East?

              1. I am in Afghanistan as we speak and I know for a fact that members of AQ have been caught here. Do you know how far away Quetta and Chaman are from Pakistan. It’s a very short drive. Van stop being a truther retard. Good god. Dementia appears to be rampant. Conspiracies are a funny thing. I believe there is an article in the Hit and Run section that shows how if you believe in a conspiracy enough you can find the evidence to prove it. Van have you heard this conspiracy. The Bush regime actually started the Truther movement. They made sure to make it looks as incompetent and insane as they could. There by discrediting the very truth they were revealing.

                1. I’m not a truther and neither is Adam Curtis. Try again.

      2. OMG the holy writ that is Wikipedia. I went on wikipedia and wrote a bogus article about dinosaurs just to prove a friend wrong.

        1. Then there is no reason to believe your posts here on reason either.

          Try watching the documentaries for yourself.

          1. Try watching the documentaries for yourself.

            Why bother? The authors of the “documentaries” are complete historical idiots, like yourself, apparently.

            Islam didn’t exactly start killing people in the last century. Qutb is over a millennium from the beginning of violent Jihad. It is simply amazing how many human beings are completely unaware that anything happened before the last century.

            Does the “documentary” insist on calling people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld “neocons”? More historical idiocy. Why on Earth would I waste time listening to someone about something political when that person cannot even discern between a neocon and a life long conservative like Cheney? I wouldn’t.

            I do enjoy your posts though Van. The boards other trolls don’t touch “reality” like you do.

            1. More ad hominem.

              The emotional reactions I am getting here are not very persuasive. Continue to believe in Santa if you must.

              Why be afraid to view a documentary if it is not factual? With your wit you could totally deconstruct it. I would be disproven and so would Adam Curtis if someone would just watch “The Power of Nightmares” and then point out each and every historical flaw and factual error.

  12. “Based on his sources inside the administration, he says one thing is certain: “We ain’t stayin’ long.”

    “Anyone who thinks nine years of stalemate is enough would like to believe Alter, whose reporting skills are not in doubt.”

    OBAMA: Obama himself recently ridiculed the “obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave.” The plan for next summer, he said, is not to leave but only to “begin a process of transition.”

    I doubt Alter’s reporting skill, or more accurately his grip on reality. Maybe out of the hundreds of people who are “in” the White Hous, Alter found someone who actually said that. But the problem with unnamed sources is – whithout knowing who they are, one cannot evaluate their motives or their power to actually acheive what they say will happen.

    It seems obvious from what the President say himself, that his intention is that we remain in Afghanistan a long, long time.

  13. just as it’s possible that Adam Sandler will go for his doctorate

    1) you are terribly underestimating Adam Sandler’s intelligence. Just because he’s in dumb movies doesn’t mean he’s dumb.

    2) you are terribly overestimating the significance of a PhD.

  14. I doubt Alter’s reporting skill, or more accurately his grip on reality. Maybe out of the hundreds of people who are “in” the White Hous, Alter someone who actually said that. But the problem with unnamed sources is – whithout knowing who they are, one cannot evaluate their motives or their power to actually acheive what they say will happen.Faydal? Hayat

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  19. The only thing that would spur Obama to start a pullout would be major progress in Afghanistan, which is about as likely as a Hard Rock Cafe in Kandahar. June was the most lethal month for American and NATO troops in the entire war, and this may just be the beginning.

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