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Obama, Wikileaks and Afghanistan: The Grand Fudge

3 years ago
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Afghanistan has been much in the news this week. Not because the war there is costing the country $100 billion a year and a national discussion has broken out about its prosecution. Not because the House was voting on a $59 billion bill to fund the war. (The measure passed on a 308-114 vote, with 102 Democrats voting nay.) What nudged the under-cover, under-debated, under-discussed war onto the national radar screen was the news that the Wikileaks website had posted 92,000 classified U.S. military reports from Afghanistan that overall presented a grim picture of the war. And this was bad for the White House, for any high-profile discussion of Afghanistan risks casting light on a fundamental reality: The Obama administration's war policy is based on a contradiction.

At the daily White House press conference on Monday, the first questions to press secretary Robert Gibbs were about the Wikileaks leak. He said the obvious: The White House was upset about the leak; there is an ongoing investigation; the leaked material was nothing new. Not surprisingly, the conversation shifted toward the overall issue. Gibbs noted that during the 2008 presidential campaign, "we had a fairly grand debate about whether or not the central front in this war [against extremists] was Iraq or Afghanistan. We weighed in pretty heavily on Afghanistan." When he was asked if the United States is "really safer" because of the war, he replied:
I believe America is safer, because if we were not to be in this area, if we were to -- if the Taliban were to come and overthrow a government and create a safe haven that allowed al-Qaeda and its extremist allies to not have to plot in a cave but sit in the open and plot the next September 11th, our country would be much, much more dangerous, a much greater target.
This is President Obama's justification for the war: Without it, al-Qaeda will be able to use Afghanistan as a launching pad for the next 9/11. This is an arguable proposition. It's possible that in the absence of the war the Karzai government would reach an accommodation with the Taliban that would freeze out al-Qaeda. It's possible that if Taliban forces were to regain control, al-Qaeda could still be kept on the defensive (with counterterrorist operations) and not have the run of the place. (By the way, CIA chief Leon Panetta recently noted that there are 50 to 100 al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and that most of its terrorist network is based in the virtually ungoverned areas of western tribal Pakistan.)

Obama's problem is not that his justification for the war might be wrong -- which it may well be -- but that his policy has a built-in contradiction. He says the war is utterly necessary to prevent another 9/11. Yet, at the same time, he says there is a deadline for the start of a withdrawal: July 2011. If the war must be fought to prevent Afghanistan from becoming HQ for Osama bin Laden, why this deadline? A Taliban takeover in 2012 would presumably be just as threatening as one in 2011. Still, Obama is telling the public that this war cannot be avoided, but we aim to cut back in a year.

That's what you call a mixed message. The politics are plain: Few voters like a quagmire. Talking about a pullout start date is reassuring. Obama and his aides have repeatedly emphasized that the pace of the withdrawal will be determined at the time, which offers them plenty of wiggle room. At his Senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday, Marine Gen. James Mattis, Obama's choice to head U.S. Central Command, referred to a "conditions-based withdrawal" in July 2011 -- meaning, we'll withdraw if we think we can withdraw.

It's not much of a promise. But Obama in a few months will have to begin addressing the withdrawal issue. (A review of his Afghanistan policy is due for the end of this year.) He has, though, placed himself in a corner: The war must be won to thwart al-Qaeda; the war must not go on forever. Those two sentiments are at war with each other.

So far, Obama has fudged this tension. Like all wartime presidents, he claims progress is being made -- whether or not that is the real story. And he sells the war's justification in dramatic terms (to gin up whatever public support he can) while maintaining the United States won't get stuck there (to prevent further popular unease about the war). We have to win; we won't stay -- I've never seen him pressed on this. Not in any interview, not at any press conference. Yet the time might come when he can't have it both ways.

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jwsoc

Seems like the time to withdraw is about right now. Let's not lose anymore people and take the money and use it to secure the border and fix the immigration problem. Then take the aid we send to pakistan and others who hate us and use it to create jobs here in this country.

July 28 2010 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mrkruss

I respect our President of the United States for going to Harvard Law School. I respect that President Obamma made it to the Presidency in a “White Dominated Society”. I respect that our Leader of the United States has authored many books and cares about his beliefs very deeply.

The Muslims and the Jews are Cousins going back many thousand’s of year ago to Abraham in the Bible---Ishmael and Isaac. Abraham had two Son’s---Isaac was the Nation of the Jews and Ishmael was the nation of the Muslims. Has President Obamma consulted Benjamin Netanyahu the Prime Minister of Israel a fellow Harvard Graduate about the crisis in Afghanistan or the Mid East and how he would deal with it? The Suicide rate in our Military is off the scales and 1 in 10 Soldiers are being airlifted home with nervous breakdowns.

Maybe our President is a Lawyer and has never had to deal with Real Global Business or the Mid East Politics before----No Disrespect. I say this because I don’t see people like Lee Iacooca around him that built the Mustang and that turned around Chrysler. I don’t see people like Barry Diller the President of Expedia and the former President of HSN, Paramount Pictures, and QVC advising the President. I don’t see people like H. Ross Perot an Annapolis Naval Graduate and a Former Partner of GM advising the President. I don’t see people like John Bryson the formed President of Edison Company that is currently building 14,000 acres of Solar Fields with Sterling Solar. Sterling uses a Hydrogen Engine along with Solar to produce Electricity. I don’t see people like Ted Turner that built CNN---Then set up the Turner Network with his own library of Films---Then merged with Time Warner---Then became one of the largest Land Owners in the US advising our President. Where are any of these people?

Being a Lawyer doesn’t teach you how to Pour Metals and how the Teamsters Union works or how the Mid East Politics work. Lee Iocacca has axel grease in his veins and has dealt in every country around the world while at Ford and Chrysler. John Bryson the former President of So. California Edison spent Billions since 1982 to perfect alternative energies and as President of Edison and Mission Energy dealt Globally. Ted Turner started his own TV Studio---Then Film Studio---Then went on to be one of our Largest Land Owners in America---Then went on to be a Partner with time Warner. I want Loyal American’s with real axel grease in their veins consulting our President---We are at a time of War. I want people that built America to be strong around our President and that know how to deal in a Global World.

I feel that the person that leaked these tapes should be tried for Treason during a time of War and maybe this is a wakeup call for all of us---We need to grow up and restructure our Country.

July 28 2010 at 2:46 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
sdavidc9

We have been following a policy in Afghanistan (and Iraq, for that matter) based on wishful thinking, long shots, and denial of unpleasant realities. We get these policies because many of us citizens are not prepared to seek, accept, or deal with facts that we do not think ought to be the case, such as the possibility that we can lose wars or fight wars that we do not need to fight. We fought in Vietnam because of the Domino Theory. We lost, and the rest of Southeast Asia did not fall to Communism as a result. So the Domino Theory was proven wrong and we should have looked at other ways to deal with Vietnam, such as trying to develop Ho Chi Minh into an Asian Tito.

July 28 2010 at 1:06 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sdavidc9's comment
Paul

"such as trying to develop Ho Chi Minh into an Asian Tito."

Interesting that you should mention that. Ho Chi Minh originally came to the US to seek support for their independence from France. But since France and the US were close allies at the time, the US denied Ho CHi Minh his request. As a result, Ho Chi Minh sought backing from the Chinese. The rest is history.

July 28 2010 at 3:28 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
rldmls

Or perhaps it is time to just do the American thing, and get a truly independent 9/11 Grand Jury together, and actually investigate the massive number of evidenciary items which completely stand in opposition to what the American people were told happened on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. That day is what the government used as it's pretext for war in Afghanistan against al quieda/bin Laden. How did bin and his boys get control of bunker-buster guilded missiles, such as was used at the Pentagon?? Huh?

July 28 2010 at 12:09 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rldmls's comment
dc walker

bin Laden has been at war since the 80s attacking Egypt, Lebanon, etc. When Saddam went into Kuwait he stole much of the $40 billion in military hardware the Kuwaiti's purchased including 140 surface to air missiles. Saudi Arabia then allowed us to build an air base; this was the final straw for bin Laden he did not want the US in Saudi Arabia. We had a chance at him in 1998 but clinton felt we didn't have enough to try him.

July 28 2010 at 9:19 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
mineolakandb

the answer is simple, stop letting muslims into the america. until this happens, attacks on american soil will continue. we are at war with religious extremists, its time we started acting like it.

July 28 2010 at 11:09 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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