The President's words were disappointing. He talked about our goal to reach a force level of 134,000 Afghan soldiers and 82,000 police by 2011. This is not even in the neighborhood of being enough. Further, the increase of 21,000 U.S. troops is likely just a bucket of water on the growing bonfire. One can only expect that sometime in 2010, the President will again be forced to announce another increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
If there were not people like Gates and Petraeus up there, my gut would say to pull out. It is only my faith in the military, and what I saw them accomplish against heavy odds in Iraq, that gives me hope.
The fact that Obama is instituting Iraq-honed practices in Afghanistan refutes the assertion that the Iraq War was a fatal distraction from the war in Afghanistan. Vindicated, on the other hand, is Christopher Hitchens, who has repeatedly made the case that the Iraq War would provide invaluable instruction in fighting jihadists going forward.
Taken together, this is a sober, well-reasoned policy. I hope it works.
I don't think President Obama had any alternative to a temporary escalation in Afghanistan. If I'm not getting alarmed, it's because the way he chose to implement it leaves me reasonably convinced that he's more committed to an exit strategy than to a prolonged quagmire. Which means that even if all we get out of this is token gestures, the next Afghanistan strategy review is more likely than not going to be a withdrawal timetable.
Yesterday, Noah Shachtman asked if the United States was really at war in Pakistan. Today President Obama made it clear: yes, the war is in Pakistan, with an inextricable Afghanistan component. The goal is “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,” he said. That’s the right emphasis, given the safe havens for al-Qaeda are in Pakistan, and it’s significant that the first substantive portion of Obama’s speech spelling out the new strategy was devoted to Pakistan, not Afghanistan. But the dilemma is that the United States. can only devote so many resources economic, political and especially military into Pakistan.
(Photo: A large load of mail sent to soldiers killed or wounded in action sits awaiting transport out of the Korengal Outpost October 29, 2008 in the Kunar Province of eastern Afghanistan. U.S. Army Viper Company of the 1-26 Infantry, based in the battle-scarred Korengal Valley, has had 6 soldiers killed since the unit deployed there in mid-July. Because of the delay in transporting letters and packages to such remote outposts, mail for soldiers killed in action often arrives many months after they died. The Korengal Valley is the site of some of the heaviest fighting between American forces and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. By John Moore/Getty.)
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