Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obamas Speech (updated)

Watch Obamas crucial speech from West Point military academy last night.

OK, I though this speech was a bit odd. My main issue with this speech is as follows. By dramatically escalating this war while simultaneously establishing a timetable for withdrawal the President is trying to please everybody. To put it simply, the hawks love troop increases and the doves love time tables for withdrawals. One thing I know about politics is that you can't please everybody so don't even try, you will just look foolish. Obama is a liberal. He was elected as a liberal and he has a mandate from the American people. I understand American politics and the need to build up coalitions and alliances but if he has a liberal agenda then he is entitled to implement it just as Ronald Regan was his conservative agenda. If he believes that there is too much of a risk of America getting bogged down in an unwinnable then he should withdraw the troops, focus on counter terrorism and ride the inevitable wave of criticism from the republicans who will call him weak. For now though, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he genuinely believes defeating the Taliban is vital for American security.

I, like Obama always believed that Iraq was the wrong war and Afghanistan the right one. But now I'm not so sure. Truthfully I'm becoming less and less convinced that defeating an uprising by Afghan peasants is vital to western security. Apparently there are less that 100 Al Quaeda members in the whole of the country. The Taliban to me appear to have a local agenda that goes no further than toppling the Karzai government. The truth is, right now I don't know where I stand on Afghanistan. I don't know if I'm for or against the war. I suppose I'll have to think about it for a while and get back to you all. In the meantime, here are a few random thoughts I have on Obamas speech and its fall out.

1. I don't buy the republican argument that a time table emboldens the enemy. The truth is you can never outlast an insurgency in their own country so why not set a time table, give it your best shot and leave.

2. I don't buy the argument that "Bush was committed to his surge", so Obama should committed to his. I'm not in the mood for spin today. The surge did work. But it was a change in strategy that chased Al Quaeda out of Iraq. It was not a case of the US increasing troop levels and militarily crushing the enemy.

3. I have more random thoughts, but I'm tired and I'm having an early night. Random thoughts 3 & 4 coming tomorrow.


Paul said...

Good points as always Ted. However if I may offer a few counters to some of your opinions (I share your overall reservations Re AFG).

'1. I don't buy the republican argument that a time table emboldens the enemy. The truth is you can never outlast an insurgency in their own country so why not set a time table, give it your best shot and leave.' I think a timetable risks that, however a quick look at military history in the 20th century shows that most nearly all insurgencies were defeated. Of course there is a difference between a military victory and a political solution to a conflict. Ireland and Britain have themselves demonstrated this latter point at least twice in recent history. But insurgencies that were defeated include Malaya, Mau Mau Kenya and arguably Rhodesia and even Vietnam (the south fell after being abandoned a conventional invasion). The key to defeating local insurgents is to use locals for intelligence and even employing them so they are no longer potential or actual insurgents. The US had some success with this in Iraq but it was not the only reason the Sunni Arab insurgency was quelled. NATO in AFG will need to increase troop strength to actually hold and control areas before anything else can happen.

Then again my concerns with any of this is what is the point in securing at great cost a defeat of a Taleban insurgency. The latter is a Pashtun cross border revolt that has occurred numerous times before. The enemy is Al Qaeda, but we are not in Afghanistan fighting them. We are locked head to head with the beast that Al Qaeda was riding on in 2001. A good example of an operation that hurts Al Qaeda to an extent; is the use of UAVs in Pakistan. Controversial yes, but arguably a succinct response to an asymmetrical threat.

Paul said...

I meant to say Re Vietnam that the South fell after being abandoned to a conventional invasion by the north. It was not lost to an uprising.

Ted Leddy said...


Thanks for your articulate comments as always.

You say that "The key to defeating local insurgents is to use locals for intelligence and even employing them so they are no longer potential or actual insurgents". I agree, as far as I'm concerned you will never defeat an insurgency unless you have support from the locals (that is unless you are prepared to use exceptionally brutal force).

However, I'm concerned whether that will ever be possible long term in Afghanistan. Its such a vast country with so many levels to it. Can we ever fully understand the local complexities regarding tribalism and ethnicity. All things considered I believe it is possibly the worst country on earth to be occupying when things are going wrong.

My instincts are similar to yours. I favour UAV's and counter terrorism. I worry that Obama is aiming too high in Afghanistan. Reagan "cut and run" out of Beirut in 82 because he didn't want to get bogged down in the Lebanon, he wanted to win the cold war. I hope Obama is not sending 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, against his instincts, just to look tough in front of republicans. I fear a war without end in Afghanistan and thats why I was somewhat pleased by talk of withdrawal.

GW said...

Ted - think of Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single unit from the standpoint of terrorism - as the threat facing both countries is precisely the same. Indeed, 9-11 came from the hinterlands of both countries. The Taliban in either country are natural allies of al Qaeda, and their focus is not merely local. If the Taliban are given free run in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, they will pose an ever growing threat to the other - and ultimately to every Western nation.

As to the speech itself, let me ask you from a historian's standpoint, have you ever heard or read of a single instance, in all of recorded history, of soldiers being sent into a war under an arbitrary time constraint? It is insane, really. And as to the enemy not making much of it, you have to be kidding. Go back and reread the assorted speaches of Zawahiri over the past 8 years where he exhorts al Qaeda to continue the fight in Afghanistan, promising the people of Iraq that the U.S. would cut and run just as they did in Vietnam. There is no need to even use that analogy anymore. Now al Zawahiri or Mullah whoever needs do is quote from Obama's speech to the citizenry of Afghanistan. Indeed, Gen McChrystal, in his assessment of Afghanistan, noted as possibly the single biggest road block the average Afghani's perception that they were unsure of our committment. That question has now been asked and answered with a date by Obama.

Bottom line, Obama adequately assessed the threat. He gave McChrystal 30k troops which was good. McChrystal himself is aware of the need for aggression and speed as it was he that told Obama that we have a 12 month window in which we set the table for victory or the war becomes unwinnable. Yet Obama felt the need to articulate an 18 month time table. I do not think he could have done much more to screw this up than had Zawahiri written his speech for him. The bottom line, more Americans - and Brits, and all else who are over there - will pay for his playing of political games.

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks GW and its great to have you back in the blogosphere.

I take your points about Pakistan and Afghanistan as I do your description of the Al Quaeda alliance.

However I am sticking to my original concerns. No matter what happens, the Taliban will be in Afghanistan longer than NATO forces. That's why my instincts continue to tell me that that US forces should take them on, weaken them big time, hand over to the Afghans, let them deal with them and then get out.

The President and conservative Americans like your good self must realise that there are bigger concerns. This is a crucial time in world history. With China and India rising there is potential to be a huge geopolitical shift in the next few decades. If America were to get bogged down for another ten years fighting in Afghanistan it could really drain the US economically and militarily. I for one prefer to see American, not China as the most powerful country in the world. Its time to ask the question, how important is Afghanistan ? I have heard Churchill quoted much this week, "When Churchill was asked how long it would take to win the war he replied as long as it takes". However that war was a fight to the death that was going to end with either the destruction of Germany or England. This is not the case here. Its simply not as important as previous wars, Vietnam and Korea included.

I share your concern on the timeline. As I said in the post I find it odd and politically motivated. But I think its wise to have an exit strategy. Imagine Regan had of said, we will stay in the Lebanon to hunt down the terrorists who bombed the marine barracks no matter how long it takes". If he had of done so, and got stuck there, central Europe might still be communist. Its also worth pointing out that the time line refers to the 30,000 troops sent as part of the surge, not the 60,000 already there.

I understand McChrystal's point that many Afghans question Americas commitment and are reluctant to cooperate as they fear Taliban reprisals in the long term. But that will always be a concern unless you are advocating that the US keep a permanent presence in the country.

As I said above GW, I'm just not sure yet. I will have to read a bit more and come to a conclusion soon because right now I'm fence sitting which is too easy.

Hope all is well GW