In Afghanistan, I dont think we have a clue of what were after. Michael Scheuer, author of Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq, quoted by Michael Hastings in GQ.
We are four months into the Obama administration and it should be clear by now that, while American foreign policy might be changing course, we shouldnt expect the sea change that many of us on the left had hoped for.
Yes, American troops will be leaving Iraq over the next two yearsat least some troops, anywaybut more American troops will be heading to central Asia as we increase our involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The president has sent additional troops to the region, which is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires, he said in February. It is part of a larger reconsideration of the nations policy, which he has placed under review. He says his goal is to offer a more comprehensive strategy and the necessary resources to meet clear and achievable objectives in Afghanistan and the region.
This troop increase, he added, does not pre-determine the outcome of that strategic review. Instead, it will further enable our team to put together a comprehensive strategy that will employ all elements of our national power to fulfill achievable goals in Afghanistan.
Translation: Expect a long war that, ultimately, will have the opposite effect than Obama seeks.
But thats not what were seeing in the media, which has tended to treat Obamas policy review as the first step in a necessary expansion of American and NATO presence in the region. Essentially, as Michael Hastings pointed out on MSNBCs Rachel Maddow Show in April, the debate over Afghanistan has been one-sided.
I think, what I would say about this entire thing, the entire Afghan strategy debate, whats actually been missing is the debate, he said.
Hastings, a contributing writer for GQ who recently spent time in Afghanistan, said the debate has been about numbers and not about the larger policy goals.
No one is really questioning the assumption of should we be in Afghanistan now in the first place, he said. Should we be willing to spend $2 billion a year at least? Should we be willing to spend thousands of more American lives to try to fix Afghanistan? To create a democracy there? Because thats whatthats what were really talking about here.
Thats why he disputes the notion that the Obama administrations goals differ significantly from those of his predecessor. Obama, he says, still appears to be planning for a 10-, 25-year commitmentnot only to reshaping Afghanistans government, but now we plan on reshaping Pakistans government as well.
So, the Obama administration has said we have much more modest goals than the Bush administration, thats actually not true, he told Maddow. The goals of the Obama administration for Afghanistan are in fact as high as the goals that the Bush administration had set.
Achieving those goalsstabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan and fighting terrorismby force, however, seems fairly suspect. A large military presence in the region, even one draped in the cloth of humanitarian aims, is not likely to be seen as anything more than a military occupation, inflaming passions on both sides of the border and making it look an awful lot like our misadventure in Iraqwhich is not in danger of ending anytime soon.
True, about 90,000 troops will be coming home over the next year or so, but a residual force of between 35,000 and 50,000 will remain to train, equip, and advise the Iraqi Security Forces; conduct targeted counter-terrorism operations; and provide force protection for military and civilian personnel, according to the White House Web site.
Plus, as Eric Margolis, a columnist for the Toronto Sun, wrote after Obamas late-February announcement on Iraq, the Pentagon continues to expand bases in Iraq, with a total of 58 permanent bases, and wants total control of its air space and immunity from Iraqi law for all US troops. And that doesnt include Obamas plan for major bases in neighbouring Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Diego Garcia.
Obamas actions on Iraq and Afghanistan unfortunately confirm something that many of us were concerned with during the campaignthat he had no plans to make a real break with the foreign policy establishment and that his professed commitment to diplomacy was just a course correction bringing us back to the kind of muscular liberalism that was the hallmark of earlier Democratic presidencies.
There is still time to alter this coursebut only if we keep the pressure on the new president.
Hank Kalet is a poet and the online editor for the Princeton Packet newspaper group. Email email@example.com; blog www.kaletblog.com; Twitter www.twitter.com/newspoet41.
From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2009
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