Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest:
‘So then what’s wrong with this picture of presidential remarks on Libya, Syria, and Iraq? What’s wrong is that the President is apparently unable or unwilling to connect his own damned dots.’
‘Far be it for me to advocate the use of U.S. force in any of these places. We cannot put these states back together at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure. As I have stressed in earlier posts (for example, here), what is happening, at base, is historio-structural in nature and no mere policy nipping and tucking can restore the status quo ante. I am no more in a mood to move chess pieces around on a table than the President is, especially if I have to do it with bombers, APCs, and Aegis cruisers loaded up with SLCMs. But to pontificate about the need for Arab self-help in these three cases, as though U.S. policy had nothing whatsoever to do with their present plights, very nearly surpasses credulity. It reminds me of a three-year old not yet well experienced at hide-and-go-seek who covers his face and thereby imagines that others cannot see him. Who in the region does the President think he’s fooling?’
I don’t think Obama’s speaking to the region per se, so much as a group of like-minded, internationalist semi-radical democratic peace protestors bending the arc of history towards justice. I’ve heard the crew meets every third Tuesday at the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public library (kidding, kidding).
As for Iran, we’re still doing business with a bad, generally untrustworthy lot, though the options have never been good (there are many people we could potentially do business with in Iran, but as in Cuba, they’re indisposed at the moment).
At what cost? Garfinkle:
‘It’s clear—actually a little too clear—that President Obama is trying to flatter the Supreme Leader and other assorted higher ups in Tehran. Someone no doubt explained to the President in another, earlier drive-by incident that these guys believe they deserve more respect for their sovereignty, history, and culture than they get. He wants to assure them, insofar as he can, that regime change is not high up on the U.S. want list with regard to Iran, though he cannot explicitly rule it out without cutting the knees out from future U.S. policy options. He wants to let them know he’s sensitive to how the world looks from their perspective.’
Transcript of Obama’s interview with NPR here.
As for Afghanistan (and Pakistan, the FATA, and Waziristan, and our limited influence there, too), we’re scheduled for troop withdrawal, but not so fast:
From accounts I’ve heard, what doesn’t often reach the American public is how fierce the fighting in Afghanistan has been, how much we’ve asked of our troops in fulfilling such a broad mission, and how we still haven’t reached our objective, which is to prevent further attacks on our soil.
Corruption runs rampant, illiteracy remains high, and decades of war have ruined the infrastructure. Under such conditions, and with so many different ethnic and linguistic groups, it’s tough to provide basic security and incentivize the good in people, allowing interested local village elders, farmers and decent folks have a shot at stability. Afghanistan was most recently headed by a thuggish gang of religious purists, warlords and opium-traffickers, and will probably soon be again.
Truly brutal people.
Many of these guys, whose ancestors likely fought against the British, and a few elders who fought against the Soviets, are now aiding or abetting the enemy, and/or are fighting our troops. It’s their backyard, after all, but it’d be much better not to have these local and tribal grievances become the fuel for an international fire, and the opening for the Taliban to fill back in. If so, this opens the door to the global ambitions of Islamist franchises.
Which means we could be right back where we started.
Interestingly, the concerns of Western secular humanists and global peace-workers actually line-up pretty well with traditional, conservative, pro-military supporters: We’ve got to keep thinking about solutions and a larger strategy when it comes to this region.
It’s not really over, even though this is the longest war we’ve ever had:
Vice had some coverage:
From Walter Russell Mead: ‘Hastily Leaving Afghanistan Won’t Encourage Taliban To Make Concessions:’
‘And there are still lots of countries in the region that don’t want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again: Iran, Russia, China, and India all think this would be a terrible outcome. We shouldn’t assume that Mullah Omar is going to get everything he wants’
Sarah Chayes’ Essay From 03/01/2007: ‘Days Of Lies & Roses‘
Canadian documentarian Louie Palu covered the Kandahar region of southwest Afghanistan, where much of the fiercest fighting has occurred, and where the British, Soviets and coalition forces have fought.
Related On This Site: From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And Pakistan…Stephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’
Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’…Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”…Monday Quotations-Henry Kissinger…Tom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation