Dr. Joseph Gerson: Obama's Afghan 'Strategy' - Another American Tragedy

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[Dr. Joseph Gerson is director of programs and director of the Peace and Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee.]

Shortly after President Obama's Afghanistan War escalation speech, I was contacted by the Voice of America's Russian Language Service. They wanted to interview me. These are the questions they asked: What do you think about Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan? Were you surprised by it? Do you think it would be possible to carry out all Obama's objectives by 2011? Would Afghanistan, you think, cease to being a failed state?

Weighted down by a sense of the tragic implications of the speech, I answered as follows: How could we be surprised? During the 2008 election campaign, candidate Obama repeatedly and unknowingly said that the Afghanistan war is a "good war." Back then, that was the politically expedient thing to do, and many of his supporters who were rightfully outraged by the damage wrought by Bush and Cheney simply ignored what he was saying. Now he's stuck with that commitment, whether he believes in it or not. Politically, given the power of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, as well as widespread cultural assumptions of US dominance, he has not been in a good position to reverse course, as Vice President Biden reportedly urged. It should, however, be noted that President Obama ruled out General McChrystal's 80,000-plus troop increase option from the beginning. Obama has sought a middle way between powerfully contending forces - including the US peace movement. It won't work.

Obama's so-called "strategy" means years of tragedy and lost opportunities for generations of Afghans, Americans and people of many other countries. It is "Bush Lite" with enormous negative consequences to follow. Think about the jobs that won’t be created here in the US, the money lost to investment in health care, our children's educations, and building the 21st century infrastructure needed for the US to complete economically with rising and less belligerent powers. President Obama's strategy, as Russians should know from prior experience, can't possibly succeed.

While the President denied comparisons to Vietnam, his approach mirrors that of Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Presidents Johnson and Nixon: "coercive diplomacy." The mistaken "logic" underlining the contradictions of massively increasing the number of US warriors sent to Afghanistan with the vague commitment to begin some withdrawals in late 2011 is to increase his bargaining leverage with the Taliban. Obama wants to augment US power and influence in Afghanistan before the US approves Karzai negotiations with the Taliban or publicly begins them on its own. In fact, back-channel US discussions with the Taliban are widely reported in Europe, and the United States' British and German allies have encouraged Karzai to enter into a process initiated by the Saudis...
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