Juan Cole: Obama is saying the wrong things about Afghanistan
Barack Obama's Afghanistan and Iraq policies are mirror images of each other. Obama wants to send 10,000 extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but wants to withdraw all American soldiers and Marines from Iraq on a short timetable. In contrast to the kid gloves with which he treated the Iraqi government, Obama repeated his threat to hit at al-Qaida in neighboring Pakistan unilaterally, drawing howls of outrage from Islamabad.
But Obama's pledge to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan will not be easy to fulfill. While coalition troop deaths have declined significantly in Iraq, NATO casualties in Afghanistan are way up. By shifting emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan, would a President Obama be jumping from the frying pan into the fire?...
Obama's determination to put down the tribal insurgencies in northwestern Pakistan and in southern Afghanistan reveals basic contradictions in his announced policies. His plans certainly have the potential to ruffle Afghan and Pakistani feathers, and have already done so in Pakistan.
On July 13, Obama criticized Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on CNN, saying, "I think the Karzai government has not gotten out of the bunker and helped organize Afghanistan and [the] government, the judiciary, police forces, in ways that would give people confidence." Although the remark had the potential to make for awkward moments between Karzai and Obama during their meeting Sunday, it was welcomed by the independent Afghan press, which applauded the senator for bucking the "self-centered" policies of Bush and his knee-jerk support of Karzai.
After Obama met with Karzai, reporters asked his aide, Humayun Hamidzada, if the criticism had come up. He tried to put the best face on issue, saying the Afghan government did not see the comment as critical, but as a fair observation, since it had in fact been tied down fighting terrorism.
Less forgiving were the politicians in Pakistan, who reacted angrily to Obama's comments on unilaterally attacking targets inside that country. The Democratic presidential hopeful told CBS on Sunday, "What I've said is that if we had actionable intelligence against high-value al-Qaida targets, and the Pakistani government was unwilling to go after those targets, that we should." He added that he would put pressure on Islamabad to move aggressively against terrorist training camps in the country's northwestern tribal areas.
Pakistan, a country of 165 million people, is composed of six major ethnic groups, one of them the Pashtuns of the northwest. The Pakistani Taliban are largely drawn from this group. The more settled Pashtun population is centered in the North-West Frontier province, with its capital at Peshawar. Between the NWFP and Afghanistan are badlands administered rather as Native American reservations are in the U.S., called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, with a population of some 3 million. These areas abut Pashtun provinces of Afghanistan, also a multiethnic society, but one in which Pashtuns are a plurality....
The governor of the North-West Frontier province, Owais Ghani, immediately spoke out against Obama, saying that the senator's remarks had the effect of undermining the new civilian government elected last February. Ghani warned that a U.S. incursion into the northwestern tribal areas would have "disastrous" consequences for the globe....
In Iraq, he is listening to what the Iraqis want. In Pakistan, he is simply dictating policy in a somewhat bellicose fashion, and ignoring the wishes of those moderate parties whose election he lauded last February.
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Randll Reese Besch - 7/26/2008
Even larger numbers of Afghanis are killed by the bombs and missiles fired their way. Though many of them are reclassified as 'insurgents.'
Jules R. Benjamin - 7/25/2008
Juan gives good advice to Obama. The Democratic Party candidate has apparently been advised to be tough on Afghanistan to counter McKain charges that he is not enough of a warrior to be president of the USA. This is a great way to run an election campaign! A great way to determine a foreign policy! There are fundamental reason why we cannot "win" in Afghanistan: a tribaly based guerilla war in inacessible territory; safe bases in Pakistan; a government in Kabul that is weak and corrupt; enough opium to bankroll several resistance groups; the drain of Iraq on U.S. forces and monies; the weakness of the U.S. economy; the absence of Muslim allies; the foolishness of using airpower over "enemy" villages; the divisions within NATO; etc. (If all you have are weapons, every problem looks like a target.) The situation in Iraq improved only when we realized that WE were a big part of the problem. More Westerners (troops, advisors, heavy weapons, and armored SUVs carrying all these people in and out of bunkered compounds, don't make friends in Afghanistan. The fact that these forces kill large numbers of insurgents does not solve the problem.