December 1, 2009

The Harvard General

Octopus Mountain’s intention was to compile the pros and cons of President Obama’s highly anticipated speech. Because of this buildup, political emotions are prone to take over, which is why we intended to objectively score his strategy as it occurred like a boxing fight.

As pundits competed to spit out their words first and argue their agendas, we realized there was no need to compile lists or mince words. Everyone seemed to like some of what Obama said and were confused by other parts. Our list ended without a pro and about 20 cons. We give the speech an F.

Because this may sound subjective, we must clarify our position applies to those who follow the region. Obama’s speech was an introduction to Afghanistan rather than a total strategy. Those who know nothing of the region might have learned something.

Those who know anything learned nothing.

Obama gave a college lecture, not a presidential address or a military speech. It was also a boring lecture, like the first week of class. More an outline of a report, on three occasions he vocalized points - 1, 2, 3 - to explain himself. But like an outline, only a few sentences explained unwritten chapters.

His objectives of denying al-Qaeda safe haven and the Taliban’s ability to overthrow government are the beginning and ending sentences of a book with nothing in between. Only by defeating the Taliban can al-Qaeda being denied, but al-Qaeda is the target. Obama has not-so-cleverly disguised defeating the Taliban within defeating al-Qaeda.

The war isn’t about al-Qaeda though. Obama said so himself - al-Qaeda and its “extremist allies.” When people wonder why America isn't attacking in Pakistan, it's because the enemy is the Taliban.

So how is he going to defeat the Taliban? In typical fashion, Obama is deploying a simplistic approach with three points:

1. pursue military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum in the next 18 months
2. more effective civilian strategy
3. “we are inextricable linked to Pakistan”

With the primary battle set as American vs. Taliban, with al-Qaeda putting in the occasional appearance, 108,000 total US troops - aren’t going to be enough to win this fight in the conventional term. Obama said nothing of more troops, but he’s likely to need them to complete to defeat the Taliban.

Possibly the 60,000 that would boost troop levels to the Iraq's peak of 160,000. Possibly more.

The civilian strategy is especially confusing. Obama spent great effort on denying nation-building, yet this is exactly what civilians are needed for in Afghanistan. He claims, “the nation I’m most interested in building is our own,” but inwardly knows Afghanistan needs nation-building to stabilize.

He emphasized nation-building in Pakistan. All the spots America wants cleared must be built up by Pakistan with US dollars; the Kerry-Lugar bill was meant to build the Pakistani state where it's not. But if America and Pakistan share a common enemy, why is the ISI hiding Mullah Omar in Quetta, Karachi, or wherever he actually is?

Attempting to appear as rational as possible, Obama even listed opposing arguments before coolly dismissing them. Afghanistan isn’t Vietnam, because of 9/11, and there will be no rapid withdrawal. What Obama apparently fails to understand is Afghanistan would be a strategic, not rapid, withdrawal.

The war can be continued in ways other than the stereotypical last man off the roof. A redeployment could make more sense than deployments.

Obviously the status quo isn’t sustainable, at least Obama understands this much. Freeze troop levels for a year or two and freeze the war, freeze his own domestic agenda. It makes no sense on any level. At the same time, will Obama freeze if 30,000 more aren’t enough troops? Again, no answers from the professor.

The final argument has been addressed. Nation-building is officially rejected even though America is likely to do exactly that over the following years. Obama realistically calculates that nation-building “sets goals beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost,” yet escalation remains his solution anyway.

He’ll soon learn the difference between school, business, and guerrilla war.

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