Wednesday, December 02, 2009

On the President's speech

Overall, I think the President is doing what needs to be done in Afghanistan. I applaud his finally following General McChrystal's recommendatin for a surge. I like that he enunciated once again that the United States has been a force for good in the world's history.
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions – from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank – that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades – a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. 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.
It's nice to hear President Obama make that statement. He might consider making it again next time he travels abroad.

There are a couple of questions I'd like him to have to answer. Given that he opposed the surge in Iraq and pronounced it a failure during the campaign, why does he support a surge now in Afghanistan? Was he perhaps, gasp, wrong before?

And secondly, what has changed in the plan he's endorsing now from the plan that General McChrystal gave him back in August? He was sure to defend himself against criticisms that he was dithering. Fine. I'm just wondering what was lacking in the proposal before that he is satisfied to have now. Is the only difference that he added a deadline for leaving?

He still seems to use the first person pronoun quite a lot.

I'm not the audience for this speech, because I already support the policy. I don't know that someone who was undecided or even opposed to the speech would find this convincing. As I heard Stephen Hayes point out, in one sentence he tells us that the security of the world depends on our success and in the next he tells us that we'll be pulling out in 18 months.
For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility – what’s at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world.

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.
In fact, the announcement of sending the troops is in the exact same paragraph as the announcement that they're going to be coming home.
And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.
I can't think of any other president who sent troops to fight a war in such a "Push Me Pull You" manner." I'm glad that it wasn't a hard time limit, but still there is something disheartening about saying that this is a crucial mission and then immediately announcing we'll leave in a year and a half. What if our goals aren't achieved by then? The same argument about why we wouldn't name a date certain for pulling out of Iraq holds now for Afghanistan. You don't let the enemy that they just have to lay low for a year and a half and then we'll leave. What do we do if we aren't done in 18 months? Won't it still be crucial to our national security a year and a half from now? Or will it just not matter then?

When the President spends so much time in the speech talking about when we're going to get out, it just comes out as sounding so very defensive rather than a vigorous rallying cry for the country.

Would this speech convince someone opposed to the war there? I have no idea. What do you guys think?

Jennifer Rubin at Contentions didn't think that it worked for Obama to go to West Point for the speech. I disagree. These are some of the young men and women who will be risking their lives to follow this President's orders. It was fitting that he should address his remarks to them.

UPDATE: I see from Powerline that Chris Matthews referred to the President going to West Point as his going to the "enemy camp." Geez. They might not be enthusiastic about Barack Obama as their Commander-in-Chief, but they are not his enemies. They're willing to go fight and die when he orders them into battle. Hint to Chris: the President's enemies are not Americans but those we're going over to fight.

I have two former students at West Point. One is a senior and knows that he may well be deployed to Afghanistan when he graduates. That is what he signed up for and he says he's ready. I kept wondering if he were in the audience there tonight and what he was thinking. Those young men plus another student who's in the Marines ROTC and another who is applying for the service academies for next year are on my mind a lot these days. I've always thought that it takes a special person to sign on to the military in a time of war. Bless them.


tfhr said...


I'm sure your students have given a fine account of themselves at West Point and in ROTC and in serving their country by following this particular path, they have brought great honor not only to themselves but also to those that have helped them all along the way.

There can be no doubt that as a country, we all benefit from their accomplishments and owe them our gratitude. I think it is also fair to say that much is owed to the families, teachers, mentors, and friends that instilled in them the qualities that make us all proud and that keep us all free.

The Military Academy senior will probably have at least another year in training after graduation before that first deployment. First he or she will attend a basic course for their respective branch. Depending on the branch, such as armor, infantry, quartermaster, military police, military intelligence, etc., it will take six months or more. Army aviators will also go to flight school, which will take considerably longer. There are a few follow-on schools such as airborne, Ranger, Defense Language Institute, etc, that can add weeks or months. Couple the time in training with some well deserved leave and your former student turned Army Second Lieutenant isn't likely to deploy before the end of the summer of the year following graduation.

That said, I believe all of your students, not just the ones that have chosen to serve, will be faced with a war for most of their lives. This war has been going on in one form or another for the last 30 years and is not likely to end any time soon, regardless of any President's proposed time line.

I cannot speak for anyone that is opposed to the war. I cannot speak for anyone that is opposed to fighting it in Afghanistan. I can only say that it is one war fought on many fronts and choosing to deny it or ignore it won't make it go away.

President Obama has relented and given the order to deploy more troops. The number is not as important as how they are used and that remains to be seen, particularly with regard to rules of engagement and in coordination with ISAF/NATO troops. We shall see.

The one thing I think can be said with some degree of certainty is that it won't matter how many troops are put on the ground unless Pakistan can gain control over the safe havens within the northern autonomous tribal areas. If Obama had 200,000 troops to send and the means to sustain them in Afghanistan, the Taliban would go to ground in Pakistan until the troops were withdrawn. Both al Qaeda and the Taliban must be kept under constant pressure inside Pakistan. This is a challenge Obama could meet with discreet diplomacy directed at key figures in Pakistan in order to support his overt military effort.

We'll see if he can pull that off. I hope he tries and succeeds but I really have the feeling that his speech at West Point was intended to maintain the support of his base during the health care debate. I worry that this was a half-hearted measure meant to buy time at home instead of a commitment to win what he once called a "war of necessity". Again, we shall see.

It was hard not to notice that the speech Obama gave tonight lacked the certainty that was central to his campaign rhetoric about Afghanistan. But I think he has come to a crossroad and has decided that he can no longer afford to ignore his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief. Once those troops are on the ground and the winter weather has given way, we'll see how Obama reacts to the inevitable rise in casualties as the tempo of the war increases.

Remember that few plans, if any, remain unchanged once contact with the enemy is made. He will be pressed for more resources once again and his fortitude will be tested. I do believe that his failure or success in Afghanistan will define him more so than any of this social programs. I hope he can see that.

Timothy said...

I am underwhelmed by the President's approach. While his decision to send more troops will anger his base, his attempt to mollify them by simultaneously announcing an exit date means that the surge in Afghanistan will be doomed to failure. Obama is not committed to victory there, and our enemies will know that. If you are not committed to victory, it would be better to pull the troops out than to get many killed in a half-hearted cause.

Ken Ashford said...

"There are a couple of questions I'd like him to have to answer. Given that he opposed the surge in Iraq and pronounced it a failure during the campaign, why does he support a surge now in Afghanistan? Was he perhaps, gasp, wrong before?"

In poker, you don't play every hand the same way. Sometimes you go all in, sometimes you fold.

There's no inconsistency because, quite simply, we're talking about two entirely different wars. Obama didn't support the surge in Iraq because he didn't support the war in Iraq in the first place. He does (and always did) support to the war in Afghanistan.

tfhr said...

Ken Ashford,

The fight in Iraq and the fight in Afghanistan have a common thread: Islamic Jihadists. We can even be more specific by identifying al Qaeda in both venues as well as the influential hand of Iran. This surge just announced by Obama and the surge in Iraq instituted under Bush's hand make or made al Qaeda a target along with local insurgents threatening the respective governments of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Identifying Iraq and Afghanistan as two different wars is a mistake. Once Saddam was removed from power and the fight devolved into an ever increasing struggle with al Qaeda and local insurgents, Iraq was essentially one more front in a global war that embroils regional and international actors all the way around the table.

To carry out your poker analogy to the next level, I would tell you that unless you intend to win the hand you don't throw 30,000 chips on that table. I don't care much for game analogies when it comes to lives of Americans so I'll dispense with that to add just one more point. Losing Afghanistan means that Pakistan would be further endangered by a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda. Nuclear Pakistan would be quite a prize for radical Islam and don't believe for a second that it is out of reach. Coups and assassinations are a more common form of regime change in Pakistan than elections. Meanwhile Iran, with it's own nuclear designs and desire to dominate the region, is watching for signs of weakness that will signal a new opportunity.

Iran must sense the deja vu. After all, this is Jimmy Carter’s second term, in my opinion, and the issues that first arose during his original tenure, namely Iran’s revolution and Afghanistan’s descent into Islam’s hell, have now festered to the point that America can no longer ignore them despite an ebbing economy at home.

I look forward to seeing less and less of Barack Obama’s face on magazine covers but the fight that his ahead will be grim even if Pakistan’s government can be made to carry on an effective fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
I won’t dare use the term “tar baby” but now that Obama has signed off on an increase in troop strength in Afghanistan, he is going to either win or lose. He cannot walk away from the fight despite the unseemly suggestion that many on the left believe that it is still possible to do so.

Pat Patterson said...

Why not? The Democratic controlled Congress, except for a few years of the Senate being Republican controlled in 80's, did just that and walked away from its treaty obligations with the South Vietnamese? The House remained Democratic for the next twenty years.

mark said...

Obama finally relented? He spoke during the presidential race about putting more troops in Afghanistan. The fact that he gave careful thought before putting more troops in harm's way might be novel to you, but it's something to admire, not mock.
If Bush had listened to Obama in 2003 before he abandoned the troops along with his vow to bring OBL to justice: "I have no idea (about OBL's location) and I really don't care", this decision probably wouldn't have been necessary. Thousands of people have needlessly died (including our soldiers) and billions of dollars wasted.
Make no mistake; it is Obama's war (it became his war on Jan. 20), but it is due to Bush's fateful decision to pull attention and resources from that country, just as the surge in Iraq was necessary because he, Cheney and Rumsfeld (who you still defend) botched that operations so badly.
Your pontificating about what Obama should do is almost amusing. Despite your arrogance and bluster, you have a dismal track record. And do you really think he made this decision to "maintain the support of his base"? You really are clueless.

tfhr said...


You're so sensitive and oh so bitter.

My use of the word "relented" has provoked another spasm of liberal indignation. Conjure up that last shred of objectivity within yourself and ask "What has changed that made it necessary to delay the decision into the month of December?" I rather think his mind was made up many months ago but he sat on the announcement for this long. Why is that?

Nothing on the ground in Afghanistan is different since 01 November, 01 October, 01 September,....
What has changed is the domestic political climate. Obama's poll numbers have slid dramatically due to the health care "reform" debacle and the resulting disenchantment of independent voters. I believe the President has been worried that if he committed more troops to the fight in Afghanistan the base (and they really are base) of his party could turn against him at a time when he is already having such a struggle keeping his majorities in both houses on track. Cap and Trade and Obamacare have not been passed, they missed their promised deadlines, and you know damned well that the Republicans are not the reason why.

Just look at members of Congress like David Obey and Russel Feingold. Both of these men have issued public threats to intervene by cutting funds needed to support the deployment. Obama's latest move has quite possibly lit the flames of a very uncivil war amongst the left.

As long as we're talking about war and politicians, I would remind you that candidate Obama once advocated sending troops into Pakistan. Do you support that concept of operations, mark? So if you want to recount glorious campaign speeches as proof of Obama's long held intent or of a particular strategy, don't forget that one.

What I did suggest was that Obama needs to get Pakistan moving in the right direction. Rather than criticizing the actual numbers of troops deployed, I stated that Pakistan's cooperation was even more important. An effective diplomatic initiative with Pakistan is essential to success. I think diplomatic pressure or incentives would be most effective if kept as discreet as possible. It could very well be that Obama's delay was caused by behind the scenes diplomatic efforts designed to prod Pakistan and garner more troops from NATO countries but deluding yourself into believing that Obama has used these many months to imagine new options for fighting in Afghanistan through "careful thought" is just wishful thinking on your part. I have to say it also reveals a new level of naivete in you that we've not seen before.

If you have a better idea about how to win in Afghanistan, by all means, reveal it here. What I'm not hearing from you or Obama is the idea that America can win and must win. Instead we get an embarrassing moment for America when President Obama acted very un-Presidential by errantly blaming his predecessor and you having another tragic grand mal BDS seizure. Can you explain that? I'll make it simple for you by asking if you think America can win in Afghanistan. Well?

Pat Patterson said...

That was great advice from the then still obscure Obama except it was a year late. Pres Bush made his remarks in 2002 in a press conference where he also argued that the goal in Afghanistan was still to capture Bin Laden and to eliminate al Qaeda bases of operation there. Advice a year after the even is simply hindsight which as we all know is perfect.

"I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him. ... I truly am not that concerned about him."

As to tfhr's judegment I can only say that I distinctly remember that he, and a few more of us, had argued for a "surge" well before Petraeus was widely known and many of the tactics developed by the USMC in the Phillipines and Nicaragua were recycled into the current Counter-insurgency operations of the military. And many of which were used pedantically to argue against the surge through a complete misunderstanding of force multipliers.

Look how many inept commanders Lincoln and even FDR had to go through before finding men who could win with the tools they had. All war time presidents eventually face a decision that will cost lives and Obama has chosen, against his instincts, half-measures. He has chosen acceptable casualties over victory and in so doing so has created a rift between the military and the executive branch that will fester for years.

tfhr said...

Nothing from mark yet. I think he's still sulking.