Little choice for Obama on Afghanistan

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher

The announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama last week that he would send an additional 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan was met with mixed reactions.

His core supporters, liberals – Democrats and others, including, we would imagine, some independents – who voted for change including, undoubtedly, change in America’s military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, would have been very disappointed.

Instead of reducing, which many were hoping for, he is increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan just as he said he would.

One would think that the conservatives – those to the right and far right, politically, mostly Republicans – those folks who can’t seem to get enough of war, would have been ecstatic. For the most part they were pleased that Obama had agreed with the generals on the ground in Afghanistan that more troops were needed and, while he is not giving them the 40,000 or so they requested, he is close. However, they’ve used his announcement that he would begin to draw down the troop numbers in 18 months as reason to continue to criticize him as they have for the past 11 months he has been in office.

This is what is called a lose-lose situation. He has managed to displease both the liberals and the conservatives. Not an easy feat.

What is it about conservatives and war? Even here in Canada our conservatives are hell bent on “finishing the job” in Afghanistan regardless of what it takes and they label anyone who disagrees or calls for the government to bring the troops home as being soft on terror or of not supporting the troops (as if leaving them in Afghanistan where 133 have already been killed is showing support).

What does “finishing the job” mean, really? And, which job would that be? Finding al Qaeda, defeating the Taliban or providing protection for the villagers (many of whom want us gone) and building schools?

Obama has identified as a priority a focused campaign to seek out and to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, named as the ringleader behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. as well as ridding the country of the Taliban and al Qaeda – all easier said than done.

We are against that war. We believe it should never have been waged for as long as it has. The initial invasion in response to 9/11 was understandable. The world supported the U.S. and shared its pain. But, why are we still there? And, why are we involving ourselves (the U.S., Canada and the other Allies) in building or rebuilding infrastructure such as schools etc. (although some might argue that is because we destroyed much of it during the invasion)?

Obama is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. He didn’t start this war but, as president, he now owns it and must proceed in a manner that would not only suggest that progress is being made but that enough progress is being made so that he can begin to bring the troops home and not appear to have lost to “the terrorists”.

Another huge problem for the U.S. president is the upheaval in Pakistan. There is a lot of sympathy for al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, even within the ranks of the military and police.

It is well known that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. If its government was ever to be overthrown by the militants, with these weapons getting into their hands, the entire world would be at risk. We already know what they are prepared to do even without nuclear weapons.

The focus has to be on containing the threat in Pakistan. The U.S. already provides that country with an estimated $1 billion a year in aid – military and otherwise. More pressure must be brought to bear on its government to defeat the militants within their borders.

Of course, this is also easier said than done. But, Obama does not seem to have much of a choice.

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