What Obama Said and Didn't 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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