Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Speech Response

I'm going to disagree with my friend Justin a bit about Obama's Afghanistan speech. Not that I'm sold that the plan for Afghanistan is a good plan; it isn't. But it may be the 'least bad' plan that can realistically be implemented at this time.
Obama inherited a complete disaster in Afghanistan. The original goal of destroying Al Qaeda was abandoned in favor of a war in Iraq, and our forces in Afghanistan were left floundering for years without a strategy or the resources to carry out a plan. The puppet government is both corrupt and impotent, and the history of regional tribalism limits the potential for local allies. In short, we're in a hell of a mess.
But simply leaving Afghanistan would be even more dangerous. Aside from the humanitarian disaster that would follow, there is the very real threat of a terrorist haven on the border of a nuclear state that is itself unstable. Abandoning the Af/Pak chaos would greatly increase the risk of future attacks around the world.
So the situation is simply: damned if you leave, damned if you stay, damned if you escalate, damned if you draw down. Obama's plan has some of each; an escalation followed by a draw down, an increased focus on Pakistan, and an attempt to create a working government in Afghanistan. Stabilization, followed by a transition out of Afghanistan.
The speech itself was classic Obama. The tone was clear and somber, with a somewhat intellectual emphasis. While there were the requisite platitudes and rhetoric, Obama articulated his plans and goals with a level of clarity and honesty that the previous president was incapable of. As speeches go, it was strong and effective, and it probably pleased no one. Criticism is already pouring in from both the left and the right.
Will the strategy work? We'll see, but what we had been doing clearly wasn't working. Given the options currently available, Obama's choice is quite plausible. We'll see if it's workable.

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