June 22, 2011

Obama Skips Out On Afghanistan, Revolutions

During the White House’s final pre-briefing for President Barack Obama’s national address, one reporter asked a seemingly straightforward question: “To what extent does public opinion in the U.S. - which seems to be souring on the occupation of Afghanistan - to what extent does that play - did that play a role in your deliberations recently?”

Evidently these “background senior administration officials” need more lessons on plausible deniability.

In a weak display of non-denial denial, one official responded that Obama “looks at a range of things,” including mission objectives, resources, allies, the national and “global picture.” This official conceded, “I think he is certainly aware that the American public, after nearly a decade of war, is of course focused on making sure that we are pursuing a responsible end to these wars.”

Beyond that, public opinion “really doesn’t play a role.”

An unbelievable claim in itself, Obama would later take the stage and base his withdrawal on defeating al-Qaeda. Until he turned his speech into an economic showcase designed to appease the American people, many of which oppose the war in Afghanistan out of its financial burden and moral cost. Although Obama’s speech was as short and vague as expected, we must admit to being caught slightly off guard when Afghanistan suddenly fell of the map entirely. His overall message, however, was crystal clear.

“It is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” Obama promised - a direct shot at counterinsurgency abroad.

Despite his supposed clarity and conciseness - The New York Times praised his speech as “sensible” while "short" and “short on details” - Obama left the war in Afghanistan as muddled as ever. The professor doesn’t seem to enjoy his foreign policy tests. Anticipated through reverse psychology, we expected him to argue, “We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength.” The only reason given is the erosion of al-Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though America’s main enemy remains the Taliban and Afghanistan’s political environment. Nor has the Taliban expressed any interest in attacking the U.S. homeland or other external targets.

The U.S. is withdrawing from a stalemate, which in insurgencies equates to defeat for the government/foreign power.

At the transnational level, Obama weighed al-Qaeda’s health strictly through Afghanistan and Pakistan, ignoring the wider battlefield that exposes gapes in U.S. policy. Surely this slight is intentional as he indirectly mentions these conflicts at multiple points: “Al-Qaida remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put al-Qaida on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.”

“We must chart a more centered course,” Obama argues. “Like generations before, we must embrace America's singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force — but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.”

Translation: strictly military responses to political crises such as Yemen and Somalia. This is no "centered course" but an extremist policy.

The idea that “Biden won and Petraeus lost,” as CNN wrongfully concluded, is exposed in this paragraph. Vice President Joe Biden and his crew reportedly sought a severely reduced force that instead will remain above 60,000 through 2013. General David Petraeus never utilized true COIN, but a militarized version dressed up in softer rhetoric. Even this tone started to fade once he was forced to defend his night-raids. Now Petraeus is off to further his counter-terror operations abroad, sliding right into his 2009 Special Forces directive that authorized covert military operations in every international hotspot.

Petraeus is also the primary architect of Washington’s failed policy in Yemen, which grows militarily hotter despite widespread popular opposition and an untrustworthy government. He seems to be getting everything he wants these days.

Not surprisingly, Obama stepped into the most trouble when he journeyed outside of Afghanistan. While standing back to examine the “larger picture” of the Arab Spring is logical in the grand scheme, this particular speech should have been all Afghanistan. He had his chance during his “Moment of Opportunity” and missed. This is probably why he took another swing, but this attempt turned out even weaker than his previous try.

“In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power — it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab World. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.”

If Obama is willing to blatantly falsify the U.S. position towards the Arab Spring - particularly Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain - naturally he would exaggerate his success in Afghanistan. The consequences will be felt in time, just as U.S. troops somehow continue to die in Iraq despite their combat mission being “over.”


  1. Comprehensive take, James which I will link on my site. I think the statement was what was reasonably predictable. It's less about the 'principles' of the Founding Fathers O talks about than about the principle of getting re-elected. Public opinion is more important than generals' opinions in the next 12 months. Any other president would do the same. You have consistently drawn attention to Petraues's flawed approach to COIN and O's departure from Pertraeus and his 'methods' is welcome IMO. It's interesting that he didn't mention him at all. However, what is said now needn't be what will actually between now and 2014. The British Foreign Secretary was tying himself in knots on the BBC this morning trying to not appear to be on the US coat-tails, which we all know here that we are. What does the UK do now? 'Let's see what happens' is the stance. Pretty much the story of the last 10 years.

  2. 'what will actually HAPPEN', I meant to type.

  3. Obama wanted to challenge Petraeus without challenging him, a seemingly smart move but not when few are fooled. Petraeus still made out on his terms - if anyone didn't get his way it's Obama. Michael Mullen's line that "no one can weigh these risks except the President" was similarly absurd. Obama couldn't have appeared more overwhelmed. "Let's see what happens" sums up Afghanistan perfectly.

    The same goes for Western policy towards the Arab Spring. Adapting isn't the same as not reacting.

  4. It is all trial and error with these guys.
    Sooner or later they themselves will be on trial.
    O is following W to a tee.
    He also just extended the W sanctions on N/Korea for another year.
    The CIA will now be an arm of the Pentagon.