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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Afghanistan, Is President Obama Another U.S. Presidential Warlord?

How long does it take a mild-mannered, anti-war, black professor of constitutional law, trained as a community organiser on the South Side of Chicago, to become an enthusiastic sponsor of targeted assassinations, 'decapitation' strategies and remote-control bombing of mud houses at the far end of the globe? More HERE

That was a great question made by, Alexander Cockburn a number of months ago. Now we know the answer. Not long. Now after months of debate, President Barack Obama has spelled out a costly Afghanistan war expansion to a skeptical public Tuesday night, coupling an infusion of as many as 35,000 more troops with a vow that there will be no endless U.S. commitment. As reported by MSNBC, His first orders have already been made: at least one group of Marines who will be in place by Christmas. 

President Barack Obama outlines a new strategy in Afghanistan during a press conference Tuesday night. 

Obama has said that he prefers "not to hand off anything to the next president" and that his strategy will "put us on a path toward ending the war." The fact of the matter is Obama campaigned on a pledge to 'decapitate' al-Qaeda, meaning the assassination of its leaders. His course is set and his presidency already permanently stained the ever-familiar blood-red tint. There's no short-cut in counter-insurgency. More HERE

The mild-mannered professor is bidding to be as sure-footed as Bush and Cheney in trampling on constitutional rights. He's planning to restore Bush's kangaroo courts for prisoners at Guantanamo who've never even been formally charged with a crime! He's threatening to hold some prisoners indefinitely in the US without trial. Is this the change you can believe in? 

AAPP: I must be one of the 10% of black Americans not feelin' the President and his war mongering policies. One day Black america willl wake up and ask, OK, Black President, yes,  but am I better off than I was 4 years ago?

"The president's speech could have been written by George W. Bush speech writers. Like so many Americans I have grown tired of war, tired of crooked politicans, tired of crimes in American streets, tired of taser torture in America. I'm just sick and tired about being sick and tired. The President of the United States has lost major credibility with me, and probably with most black independent voters."

I guess I will be voting green Party next Presidential election.

Check out the great fact checking by The Washington Post:

President Obama addresses cadets as he speaks about the war in Afghanistan at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

8:44 p.m. -- Timeline for withdrawal
"I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011."

This is likely to be the most controversial notion in the speech -- that the president can flood the zone with troops, and that in the same breath he can talk about removing them from the country. In a superficial way, it resembles Bush's surge in Iraq, but Bush was truly limited by troop availability and thus even if he wanted to keep them longer it would have been difficult.

Obama is careful to offer a caveat -- "we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground" -- but that date is likely to linger in viewers' minds. This administration has had real trouble meeting deadlines -- witness the difficulty with closing the detainee facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- so it will be interesting to see how much of an albatross this date becomes.
--Glenn Kessler

Obama's timeline for the start of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is likely to stir some concerns in military circles, even though the pace of that eventual drawdown remains vague. Many in the military will recall how both in Iraq and Afghanistan previous predictions about the need for fewer troops proved overly optimistic and destabilizing when drawdowns were undertaken without regard for deteriorating security.
In addition, some U.S. military officers may worry that the Obama timeline, while a warning to the Karzai government, could also encourage Taliban insurgents who seek simply to outlast the military offensive.
--Ann Scott Tyson

8:40 p.m. -- Parsing the cost
"Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly 30 billion dollars for the military this year, and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit."

Administration officials say this short-term troop increase will be paid for through a supplemental appropriation--something Obama had said he would not do and a practice which Democrats had heavily criticized during the Bush years. Republicans are content to simply let it paid through deficit spending, but some leading Democrats are talking about a tax or a surcharge that would fall heavily on the most wealthy. Expect a big fight on this question.
--Glenn Kessler

8:35 p.m. -- The logistics of deployment
The president wants the 30,000 additional troops to begin deploying in early 2010 and arrive at the "fastest pace possible." But getting all those troops to Afghanistan by mid-2010 will be a huge challenge for the military.

In addition to identifying and preparing additional units for deployment, the Pentagon faces an enormous logistical challenge in moving troops and their supplies to Afghanistan. Because the country is land-locked, everything has to arrive by air or by ship and then be moved by truck through Pakistan. Shipping goods from the United States to forward-operating bases in Helmand province is a journey that can take weeks.

Then there is the challenge of housing the new troops. Unlike in Iraq, there are no unused military installations in Afghanistan into which the new forces can move. Combat engineers and contractors will have to construct and expand existing military facilities, which could take months.
--Rajiv Chandrasekaran

8:31 p.m. -- Point, counterpoint
"I recognize that there are a range of concerns about our approach. So let me briefly address a few of the prominent arguments that I have heard, which I take very seriously."

This is an effective section, laying out the case against worries that Afghanistan is another Vietnam, that the U.S. can keep going with the current troop level, and that there should be no exit strategy. The president is talking to several audiences here -- first, Democrats who want to quit the war, then doubters in his own administration (such as Vice President Biden) and finally Republicans who dislike deadlines for exiting a war.
Quoting Eisenhower is a nice touch--he doesn't often get cited in presidential speeches, but he was an ex-general skeptical of military demands and a fiscal conservative.
--Glenn Kessler

8:26 p.m. -- Does this deployment amount to a surge?
In deciding to add 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, is President Obama about to oversee a "surge"?

Based on advanced text of the speech, Obama will not use the 's' word to describe his military escalation during his speech tonight. But he did advocate a "civilian surge," and a senior administration official used the word "surge" - a loaded term that defined President Bush's escalation in Iraq, which Obama fiercely opposed - to describe the new policy in explaining it to reporters earlier today.

"The concept that he'll describe is to surge American forces to do several things," the senior official said, speaking on anonymity according to the ground rules laid by the White House. "He will also announce that this surge, if you will, will be for a defined period of time."

Obama has used Iraq as a frequent counterpoint, arguing once more that it had been a distraction from the Afghan front - and reminding the audience that he had opposed invading Iraq "precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions." But he also welcomed an Iraq comparison in one respect - saying he would oversee a withdrawal from Afghanistan as, he said, he has done in Iraq. "Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground," Obama said.
--Anne Kornblut

8:23 p.m. -- America's war?
"Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe-havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali.... Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility - what's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world. "

These are likely lines from Obama's many conversations with world leaders -- especially from NATO countries -- in recent days seeking additional troops. But so far it is not clear how much success he has had. Britain has offered up just 500 troops, but French officials have made it pretty clear no more troops are coming. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Brussels on Thursday to help make the case with NATO allies.
--Glenn Kessler

8:22 p.m. -- Fact checking Obama on 2010 deployments
"Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war."

This is technically true, but it is also the case that McChrystal's September report insisted that reinforcements were needed as quickly as possible to arrest the decline in Afghanistan and shift the momentum away from the Taliban. McChrystal has since said that he supports the policy review that the Obama administration conducted.
In addition, Gen. David McKiernan had made a request for an additional 10,000 U.S. troops that technically did not go before President Obama because it was not forwarded to him by the Pentagon -- but the request existed and was referred to by Gen. McChrystal in his report.
--Greg Jaffe and Ann Scott Tyson

8:20 p.m. -- Fact checking Obama on troop requests
"Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. That's why, shortly after taking office, I approved a long-standing request for more troops."

Both of General Stanley A. McChrystal's predecessors asked for additional troops from the Bush administration. In spring 2009, Gen. David McKiernan asked for additional troops and received about 21,000. He also wanted about 10,000 additional forces in early 2010, but the decision on those troops was deferred. McKiernan was fired from his command a few months later.
--Greg Jaffe

8:15 p.m. -- Obama's history lesson
President Obama took an unusual tack with the start of his speech -- a lengthy description of the war's history and the connection between the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the war now being waged in Afghanistan.

As is so often his custom, Obama used the moment to regret partisan divisions. He said that the debate over Iraq had "created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop," and called for the citizenry to stop being "split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse." But the very timeline he laid out seemed destined to be seen forever through a political lens, with new troops arriving just before the congressional midterms in 2010, and starting to draw down at the outset of the next presidential election cycle the following summer.

While the recollection of the start of the war is reminiscent of former president George W. Bush, Obama's recounting of the the votes in Congress and the support of the United Nations and NATO is clearly an effort to reestablish the legitimacy of the enterprise--something Bush rarely felt he needed to do.

The president skipped lightly over Iraq, and the fact that the surge he opposed as a senator helped set the stage for the drawdown of troops in Iraq that he celebrates. Instead, he faulted Bush for the situation he confronts in Afghanistan: "while we have achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated."
It's interesting the president feels the need to recount this history at such length, almost as if he is trying to escape the moniker of "Obama's war."
--Glenn Kessler and Anne Kornblut

7:35 p.m.
President Obama will culminate a months-long review of Afghanistan strategy tonight with a prime-time speech from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The president is expected to announce an accelerated deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to the region and set July 2011 as the date when he will begin withdrawing forces after nearly a decade of war.

AAPP says:  Great Job Washington Post!


Let's talk war and peace tonight on African American Political Pundit's, Political Slugfest... "If you can handle the truth."  Join The Conversation HERE

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