Obama's Surprise Afghanistan Trip: The Takeaways

Diplomacy, outreach, and maybe his best speech yet

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President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan this weekend, where he visited with President Hamid Karzai as well as other Afghan and American officials. He also made an address to the troops. The trip's mission is seen as twofold: Publicly pressure Karzai on Afghanistan's widespread corruption and demonstrate American focus on the war. This is Obama's second trip to Afghanistan, the first since his election. Here's the commentary.

  • Shows Renewed Focus on Afghanistan  The Washington Post's Greg Sargent says, "It signals a pivot to a more direct focus on national security issues and international affairs, now that he’s successfully put behind him a major domestic accomplishment that consumed a year of presidential energy and political capital."
  • Why Afghan Corruption So Complicated  The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung explores "The likelihood that U.S. money is finding its way to the enemy as well as lining officials' pockets." She writes that the many contracts and sub-contracts with Afghans are near-impossible to fully police, making it highly possible that money could be finding its way to the Taliban. She says senior officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have raised the issue and made it a priority.
  • Reminds Us of Mission's Importance  The Daily Beast's Bruce Riedel uses the trip as an opportunity to explore several planned but foiled terrorist attacks against the United States in recent months. "Indeed, the stakes are huge in this war. If any one of those al Qaeda plots last year had succeeded in New York, Detroit, or Copenhagen, Obama’s presidency and our nation’s history would have been transformed," he writes. "Obama’s visit is a reminder of how important—and difficult—this mission is."
  • Obama's 'Clear Intent'  Newsweek's Daniel Stone sums it up, "Having vowed last fall that combat troops would begin coming home next summer, the president knows his reputation – and his standing with conservatives who think he’s too soft on national security – relies on him making good on that promise. To do that requires hefty motivation for Karzai and his government to get things moving. For Obama, there are few better ways to show you’re serious than showing up at someone’s door."
  • Obama Gave His Best Speech  Commentary's Abe Greenwald, usually a vicious critic of Obama's every move, conceded that his speech in Afghanistan was "excellent — even inspiring." Greenwald writes, "This was a contender for the best speech of Obama’s presidency thus far. May he continue to inspire on Afghanistan. And may some of that inspiration leak into other foreign policy areas, where notions of America’s commitment and the protection of human dignity have been found disgracefully absent."
  • Obama and Karzai Working Together  The Swamp's Mark Silva reports, "In the meeting, described as 'businesslike' and 'very productive,' the main topics discussed included governance, merit-based appointments of Afghan officials, and corruption. They also talked about recent trips which Karzai took to China and Pakstan - and the Afghan leader is planning another trip to Washington on May 12."
  • Subtle Threat to Karzai?  The Wall Street Journal's Peter Speigel thinks so. "The trip puts the president’s credibility firmly behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but at the same time underscores the message the U.S. has been sending him for some time:  U.S. support does not come without conditions."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.