Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama Speaks on Afghanistan at West Point Dec. 1

Update Dec. 1: Speech over. Watch the video here.
At 8 pm eastern, from West Point, Obama will address the nation for about 30 minutes in prime time on Dec. 1. Here is a good outline from the Center for American Progress of what Obama needs to explain:
The international community has a stake in fostering stability in Afghanistan and South Asia, and the United States is playing an important leadership role in addressing the security threats. The region is host to two nuclear powers and several terrorist networks with a global reach, and addressing these threats to global stability is vital. U.S. objectives should be to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a launching pad for international terrorism and to prevent a power vacuum in Afghanistan that would further destabilize Pakistan and the region. We believe that any strategy moving forward requires these five critical elements:

1. Set a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Ultimately, Afghans must take control of their own destiny. A flexible timeframe for U.S. military engagement is necessary; the United States and NATO should aim to turnover security in certain areas to the Afghan Security Forces beginning in 2011 and have all Afghan forces in the lead within four years, or the 12-year mark of our engagement. Throughout this time period, the United States must continue to prioritize the training of Afghan National Army and Police.

2. Maintain the international nature of the mission. The United States cannot advance stability in Afghanistan alone, nor should it have to. Instability in Afghanistan and the region affects the globe, and all countries must take responsibility for the mission. Currently, more than 40 countries are contributing to the NATO mission, but support for the mission in NATO countries is deteriorating. Canada and the Netherlands have decided to withdraw within the next two years, and attacks on United Nations employees have caused them to relocate hundreds of personnel outside of the country. The U.S. administration must reassure allies through consultation and concrete steps that it has a viable strategy to address their concerns, especially corrupt Afghan leadership and the sustainability of Afghan security forces. It must also highlight the shifts in strategy that have already occurred, which were major points of disagreement with our European partners, related to civilian casualties and the absence of a regional strategy.

3. Insist that the Pakistani government battle extremists within its borders. Pakistan has served as a partner in the hunt for Al Qaeda and has recently undertaken some effective military actions against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. However, it has not yet taken sufficient steps to counter those militant actors within their territory that threaten regional security but do not directly target the Pakistani state. Its concern about threat posed by its neighbor India and the short-term nature of U.S. interests in the region have prevented it from undertaking any full-scale divestiture of ties to groups attacking coalition and Afghan troops like Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura in Balochistan or the network of Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani. The United States should work with international allies to have a coordinated effort to shape Pakistan’s calculations and actions in order to reduce official support that it extends to militant groups, while playing a behind-the-scenes role in decreasing tensions between India and Pakistan.

4. Press reform and require good governance in the Afghan government. The United States cannot defend an Afghan government that has little support from the Afghan people and continues to pursue policies of cronyism and self-enrichment. The majority of the Afghan people see their government as corrupt and predatory, and they possess few levers with which to hold these officials accountable. The Afghan constitution—which was developed in late 2001—created a strong central government in the form of the presidency and a weak parliament, and local governing structures have been weak and neglected. By supporting the re-entrenchment of former warlords in government positions and pouring aid money into Afghanistan with inadequate monitoring, the international community has played a critical role in enabling this corruption. Moreover, the absence of effective local and national-level justice systems has ultimately allowed for a “culture of impunity” in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency has taken advantage of this situation by offering quick arbitration where none exists, thereby increasing their support in certain communities. The international community needs to pressure its Afghan partners to follow through on recent commitments to tackle corruption, and reform its own practices in order to provide the Afghan government with the political support necessary to confront well-entrenched figures. Ultimately the justice vacuum will only be solved when the Afghan government and its international supporters show the political will to demand and enforce its provision.

5. Pay for the mission. The United States currently spends more than $3.6 billion a month in Afghanistan, and these troop increases will raise monthly costs to at least $6 billion. The Bush administration hid the costs of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq by hiding the expenses in congressional supplementals, outside of the normal budgeting process. The nation’s debt is now approximately $12 trillion. The United States cannot push the cost of the war to future generations, and should not use the deficit to finance the conflict.
Stanley McChrystal and others are expected to testify before Congress on Afghanistan right after Obama's address. Apparently, the smug McChrystal would be satisfied with 30,000 troops. Afghanistan's defense minister recently mocked Obama's "over elaborated" decision on Afghanistan while announcing that Afghanistan was beefing up Afghani troops. I find it interesting that the defense minister would be mocking Obama when adding more Afghanistan forces is what Afghanistan should've been doing a long time ago. It's their country.

Ultimately, I think all the Afghanistan hoopla has been another attempt by the rightwing to discredit Obama. McChrystal may be a party to that if he leaked his report to the media. Robert Gates warned against further media leaks.

Al Jazeera has a report on the leaks, including one on Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry's viewpoint (no troop escalation), which it attributes to the Obama administration:

Escalating troops will be a tough sell for Obama: