NEW YORK ( NNPA) - For a little more than a half hour at the Military Academy at West Point Dec. 1, President Barack Obama put his stamp on the war in Afghanistan.
After putting the eight-year long conflict in political and historical perspective, he explained why he decided to deploy an additional 30,000 soldiers to the war-torn country over the next six months.
During his campaign, Obama said he would carefully consider and review the situations abroad, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, before making a decision.
"This review is now complete," he said, well into his speech. "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. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."
Many pundits who have tracked the president's moves over the last year or so were not surprised by the decision, since it appears to be consistent with his centrist, pragmatic judgments. His commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, had requested 40,000 troops and the president's other advisers were more comfortable with 10,000. But he went straight down the middle, with an eye toward appeasing those on the left and right.
Increasing the military presence in Afghanistan has been widely approved by Republicans, though some are clearly not pleased with the timeline as part of the exit strategy. On the other hand, several Democrats are very disappointed about the escalation, which they see as no end and eventually calling for even more troops. Many are also concerned about the cost factor—at a minimum it will require another $30 billion annually from an already ravaged economy.
Obama, in very sober terms, spelled out a few details and the overall objective of his mission. "We will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan: We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven; we must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government; and we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.
"We will meet these objectives in three ways," he continued. "First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months."
The second objective, Obama announced, would be forging a solid partnership with the United Nations and Afghan people "to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security." Thirdly, he said, "We will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan." Several critics of the plan raised questions about the number of troops earmarked for Afghanistan, where al Qaeda's presence is practically negligible since they have sought safe havens in Pakistan.
Obama anticipated some of the criticism, especially those who compare the situation in Afghanistan with Vietnam. "First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam," he began. "They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action.
"Unlike Vietnam," he added, "we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now—and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance—would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies."
And for those who contend that the U.S. cannot leave Afghanistan in its current state, but rather keep things there as they are, the president explained: "This would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there.
"It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan security forces and give them the space to take over.
"Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort—one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan."
But fighting an endless war may be the only option available if withdrawal is not on the agenda, several detractors asserted, particularly three CNN correspondents who had spent time in Afghanistan. "It is futile to think that in 18 months, the Afghanistan security forces and police will be in a position to stabilize the country," said one of the correspondents.
"The way that you win wars is you break the enemy's will, not announce when you are leaving," said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost to Obama in the last election.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio was very disturbed by Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. "The United States is going deeper and deeper into debt," he told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. "We have money for Wall Street and money for war, but we don't have money for work…for health care. We have to start asking ourselves, 'Why is it that war is a priority, but the basic needs of people in this country are not?'"
Noted activist Marvin X voiced his discontent with the president in an open letter: "Excuse me, Mr. President; the war in Afghanistan is not in the interests of the USA. There is nothing in Afghanistan that is vital to American interests, unless those interests are heroin and oil pipelines around the Caspian Sea to escape Russian hegemony. Originally, the war in Afghanistan was to deny al Qaeda a foothold and punish them for 9/11. The USA global bandits supplied and supported the Taliban as they ran the Russians out, but now they are fighting the Taliban to again deny al Qaeda, although there is no al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Thus, there is no need to have a surge of troops in Afghanistan. It is good for the militarist U.S. economy, for the generals who run the corporations, the university-corporate complex that benefits with contracts and related research."
Rev. Omar Wilks of Brooklyn was equally perturbed by Obama's plan.
He concluded, "It is immoral to put American soldiers in harm's way, with another failed strategy similar to the Bush administration, and to apparently mislead the world community into believing that the U.S military will only be there for 18 months, which is not even realistic. It appears that we are being hoodwinked and people of goodwill have to stand firm with protest and withhold their votes in the next presidential election if need be."