Thursday, June 23, 2011

Obama on Afghanistan

I watched Obama's speech on Afghanistan last night. Contrary to my usual M.O., instead of posting my fresh impressions, I read a lot of reaction first and have been mulling my response over all day.

I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint my friend Steve Hynd. He was right. I'm not going to bitch about it as much as if I would have, had Bush made that speech.

That's not to say I'm not disappointed in the slow schedule for the drawdown. I was one of the 10% who fought bitterly to stop us from ever invading in the first place. I'm still firm in the belief that sending in an army to fight a ragtag band of outlaws was a bad mistake. But once Bush installed the occupation, the choices changed.

Sure, I want all our troops removed. Yesterday. But I'm not sure that's the right strategy at this point. Over the last ten years, the situation in the region has changed considerably. It's a mistake, I think, to look at Afghanistan in isolation. And it's useful to remember that this speech wasn't just for the U.S. The whole world was watching. Expect the Arab Street was watching more closely than most Americans.

Obama is clearly focused on the big picture. He has a regional strategy. He boldly confronted Pakistan. He admitted the U.S. is not omnipotent and unable to secure international security alone. He made clear it wasn't about empire. He deserves credit for changing the framing of the mission. He successfully rebranded it as fight against extremists instead of a war on all of Islam.

As for clarifying the mission in Afghanistan, again he inherited an 8 year old war with no real declared metrics. Sure he took possession when he ordered the surge, but that's what he said he was going to do. And really, what choice did he have but take the advice of the brass on the ground? There was this small economic meltdown happening at the same time.

Sure the metrics are still murky. But we have a declared end date. Whether or not it turns out to be true, it's more than we had before. We have admittedly vague, but still, publicly declared goals for being in Afghanistan and the greater region. And a genuine request for international cooperation. Including an already scheduled meeting. And an expressed acknowledgement that the war was costly and we needed to focus on spending at home. Feels like a whole lot more than we started with to me.

I'm not saying I didn't see some eerie similarities in the phrasing of this speech. I literally gagged on the "freedom at home" bit. But that's the language Presidents are required to use in addressing international events. In the end, Obama is simply not Bush. Not even close.

As a life-long anti-war activist, I hate this strategy. But I believe our President is as fully informed as is humanly possible and wholly engaged in the decision making process. How is that anything but a sea change for the better?

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Blogger Ruth said...

Thanks, good to read a thoughtful reaction - and agree, it's sanity which we're unused to.

7:39:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

In the end, I voted for O because I trusted him to make good choices. Never expected to agree with every single choice he made.

12:21:00 PM  

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