Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Obama Doctrine, Like It Or Not

On the banks of the Hudson River at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point the country and world heard spelled out the Obama Doctrine by the nation's commander-in-chief.

Kill al Qaeda who murdered more than 3,000 innocent civilians on Sept. 11, 2001, render the Taliban impotent by increasing our troop levels, improve the Afghan security forces and support Pakistan's government so terrorists never get their hands on that nation's nuclear arsenal.

Oh, by the way, begin withdrawing troops in 2011 and get the hell out of that country as fast as conditions on the ground allow.

Another minor detail. President Obama said the Afghan punch will cost $30 billion next year and will leave it up to Congress to find the money.

In the most anticipated wartime speech, details of which were leaked days in advance, Obama managed to placate few and certainly not his core supporters who got him elected to office.

At first blush, I think Obama is too optimistic. He's overlooking the deep-rooted corruption in the Afghan government, underplaying the increased presence of American troops as a symbol of foreign occupiers and praying the Afghan army and police can be trained to protect themselves.

In fact, he's extending the impossible role our troops must endure by being soldiers on one hand and diplomatic nation builders on the other. As for Pakistan, the least he could have asked is if they want our help then turn over Osama bin Laden.

In his prepared speech, Obama said al Qaeda is a cancer that must be crushed.

This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

In the days before his speech, administration officials were changing tactics from accusing President Hamid Karzai's government as corrupt to accentuating the positive forces undertaken in the country. They are hoping to build support from allies as well as the U.S. Congress to finance the mission.

One new approach is a "monitoring and verification" system to determine whether ministries and agencies are worthy of receiving direct U.S. aid.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a late November visit to Kabul, the capital, praised the progress of the country's agriculture sector, the growth of small business and the treatment of women. "If you are looking at social indicators, well-being of people, opportunities for women, it's not all a one-sided negative story." She apparently didn't travel to the rural areas in southern Afghanistan where none of that is happening.

She described Karzai as a "patriot" and visionary," his ministers "very impressive" and complimented anti-corruption steps, including a new system for issuing automobile licenses that eliminates government middlemen who had been skimming fees.

Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters last week that the country, which has raised its school population from 1 million to 8 million, has made "extraordinary progress" in education.

One of the keys to improving Afghanistan army security forces is Karzai's appointment of Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak as defense minister. Wardak has support of U.S. diplomatic and military advisors as he has fired poor commanders, only to see them reassigned elsewhere by Karzai for political or personal reasons.

Wardak does not control the 80,000-man Afghan National Police, the sole counterinsurgency force in much of the country. The police belong to the Interior Ministry, for years a cesspool of incompetence and corruption.

Such an assessment by Mark Moyar, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Marine Corps University and the author of "A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq," does not bode well for Obama's new strategy. He describes Karzai better fitted as a Kiwanis president then a president of a country torn apart with insurgents and government corruption.

As a general rule, I seek out the conservative opinion of New York Times columnist David Brooks on how the other guys think. In his pre-speech column today, Brooks thinks the president has done the best he can under a complex set of circumstances.

It is a hybrid approach, and as we watch the president’s speech Tuesday night, we’ll all get to judge whether he has cut and pasted the different options into a coherent whole. It’s not the troop levels that matter. What matters is how this war will be fought.

The deployment of 30,000 additional troops with the first 9,000 sent in January will add to the 68,000 now on the ground in Afghanistan. How well prepared the new troops will be or whether they will be taken from previous duty in Iraq is unclear.

Obama did not directly define what would be considered a U.S. victory other than hoping for strong security forces protecting their borders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Strange as it seems, Obama asked the American public for unity enjoyed by President Bush immediately after the 9/11 attacks but after eight years the public's patience is extremely limited.

By the way, the real fireworks on cost could come Wednesday and Thursday, when Secretaries Gates and Clinton testify to Congress about the new strategy.

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