President Obama's sitcky-outy ears are getting a fair bashing for his perceived dithering over what to do next in Afghanistan. But maybe we'll be better off for his serious evaluation of the situation as opposed to what happened with Vietnam... and then Iraq
Not even one year into his presidency and Barack Obama is at a moment which could define him as a refreshing intellectual or an intellectual ditherer. Given the make-up of the man it is the first description that should be his note in history. Given the hideous nature of the decision he is anguishing over with his predecessor’s wars, it is the latter that stalks him.
On his plate sit tasks of such magnitude and import they’d have made Odysseus consider ditching any thought of making it home alive, but Obama's Poseidon will pursue him to China—a.k.a. America's economy—and anywhere else he goes until he's made up his mind.
In one sense the very public airing—albeit leaked—of the issues under consideration with the continued war in Afghanistan has opened the debate to those usually barred from such secretive and prized diplomatic baubles as defence and foreign policy.
That has to be a refreshing change from the ‘decider’ having been told by God to, amongst other challenges, go topple the Iraqi regime. For that reason alone, weighing the pros and cons in front of the people who will be expected to send their children off to possibly die, depending on the decision, must be good for democracy—hopefully both Western and Karzai style democracy.
Thanks to leaked reports and cables we now know that Obama’s chief military man General McChrystal wants about 40,000 more troops on the ground. However Obama’s ambassador to Afghanistan and former chief military guy Eikenberry says don’t send any more soldiers into Karzai-stan until the government proves it has cleaned up its corruption act to a degree that it is worth fighting to defend.
Already Obama’s sticky-outy ears are being bashed by the minute with Republicans baying for more troops at a million bucks a soldier per year, but screaming louder about his audacity to spend anything to stop people in America dying daily because they have no access to health insurance and therefore no medical treatment.
Obama is being pressed by his own party to stop the flow of blood and treasure and accept that no-one knows what they are now fighting for in Afghanistan. After all, just because Karzai wasn’t forced into a second round of elections does not negate the breathtakingly blatant and widespread corruption which marks him as a leader without legitimacy.
There’s something that really bugs about Karzai, and Max Boot of the Los Angeles Times put his finger on it—the guy just doesn’t act like a wartime president, which is what he most definitely is. As Boot says, Karzai is “oddly disengaged from the war raging around him”. So much so he doesn’t bother visiting his troops in the field, clearly preferring the security of his palace. He doesn’t even give speeches to Afghans to encourage them to resist the Taliban. If Karzai goes public it is more than likely to condemn the allies for civilian casualties they’ve caused, or parade on television the warlord members of his cabinet whom he knows are objectionable to the governments of those fighting in Afghanistan. And this is the guy at the centre of a presidentially defining time for Obama. Way to go.
For a glimpse of what the mood is amongst Afghans themselves, a survey on the Asia Foundation site (asia-foundation.org) shows amongst many other things that Afghans have not given up on democracy, but their hope is fading at the same time their sympathy levels for those armed opposition groups who promise an end to corruption is rising. That does not bode well for a ‘war of necessity’ that is supposedly weeding out such armed militias as the Taliban.
I quite like the fact Obama is deliberating because frankly the possible outcomes he’s facing are somewhere between catastrophe and quagmire vs. at best limited corruption and unstable democracy. Between his generals and his civilian advisers he’s been given a Goldilocks array of options, some too hot, some too cold, and as yet nothing just quite right.
Whatever the decision he makes must be unambiguous and it must come pretty quickly before Afghanistan reaches that tipping point of no return.
So President Obama is not yet a ditherer but he is certainly at crunch time. He needs to engage that undeniably capable brain and in the reasoned rhetoric the world has proven itself open to, announce what America’s next play will be. The nations of NATO are waiting along with the Afghans and the families of those in uniform. After all as the saying goes, that’s what he’s paid the big bucks for.