Obama’s Dilemma: He can’t please the Doves nor the Hawks. But seeks a middle course and keeps his word

President Obama has a difficult set of options to choose from in his effort to draw down our troops in Afghanistan and at the same time leave that country in a responsible way — but as soon as can be managed. He needs to provide for regional stability and security which is a vital interest of this nation given the nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The latter is the elephant in the room that only a few commentators are talking about or addressing seriously.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of pure right-wing hawks are wrong in their criticism of Obama’s “moderate” decision and their push for an “endless war.”   They have shown blindness to the difficult situation in Afghanistan and the need for an “end point” in our present strategy.  But a lot of doves are wrong in not dealing honestly with alternative policies and consequences to address the realistic threats to our regional and global security. 

Obama’s speech was short and, frankly, a bit vague on specifics and broad policy.  I suspect that the administration is still now trying to assess their options and work the diplomatic front. They want to keep, for a time, some of their leverage in the region. They fear, rightly, a form of high instability, chaos, and dangers in the region.  They fear what has been described as “precipitous withdrawal,” as opposed to a steady withdrawal related to “facts on the ground,” which is a phrase that the military uses, and leaving with some hope that a kind of stable governance and security can be created. Some silliness has recently been written about the Nixon withdrawal or retreat – choose your own words – in Vietnam as a model.  But the main concern remains that Pakistan does not fall into a terrorist playground and worse.

My judgment is that Obama chose the least worst option while keeping his promise to make a significant drawdown and was firm about the next stages of that action. The military wanted just 3,000 to leave at the end of the year and the doves wanted an almost impossible 30,000. They got that and a bit more for the end of 2012.

That gives America time to continue to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al -Qaeda.  The military can continue to try to establish areas of security and perhaps a bit of local government and still train a poor yet slightly more effective army and police. Those who think that will never occur reasonably want out, but they fail to acknowledge the price of that simple withdrawal option on our larger interests in the region, which go far beyond Afghanistan itself. 

The hawks are making an impossible case with their idea that we can keep largely 100,000 combat troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. They are either crazy or they are playing politics and especially trying to bring Obama down on the war issue with our national security and the lives of our soldiers at stake. There is little doubt that we do not need that number on the ground if we are seeking reasonable stability and preventing terrorists to freely attack us or our allies from Afghanistan. Obama, I believe, understands that but is looking at what can only be described as a most complex and dangerous region still at a crossroad and wants to act with great care. His approach has shown great caution against acting hastily and keeping his options open.

That may not be a bad approach, but it remains for the moment still inadequate until a strategy and consequent policies and actions are taken to implement a wider resolution to the region’s dangers. This means a “full court press” on establishing a regional settlement that addresses the conflicting motivations and concerns of the regional actors.

The critics are right, however, that the present Afghanistan government is corrupt and is probably the largest stumbling block to some kind of national reconciliation and reasonable government authority. It is not likely to be better than what we see today without some radical “re-engendering.” And I am not sure that we can create this by 2014. But the reality is we need a strategy that gets us to some measure of security in the region and has us withdraw our combat forces in a deliberate but steady way as we set in place our creative diplomacy to create some reasonable security and political order.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

3 thoughts on “Obama’s Dilemma: He can’t please the Doves nor the Hawks. But seeks a middle course and keeps his word

  1. Harry Blaney July 1, 2011 / 10:23 PM

    As the military and our civilian leadership starts to really look at our strategy and how to make it work in the real world, there will be over time “adjustment” made. Clearly however the aim is to reduce the “boots on the ground” and increase the diplomatic efforts to find a reasonable regional settlement. But that will be difficult. President Obama in his press conference however made it a bit more clear than he did in his speech about what he is looking for as an “end game.”

    What was not said is how to deal with Pakistan which seems to be ever wishing to self-destruct and the corrupt Afghanistan government which is playing also several games at the same time. Until we get a strategy that deal with both of these “problems” we will not have a clear path forward.

    You can be assured that in DOD and the Department of State as well as in the NSC they are looking hard at specific actions and efforts which will get the president to where he wants to be by 2014. The problem also is that with the Republican induced “debt” crisis, the focus of the man at the top will be hard to get his full focus for several weeks.

    I think the reason for the generality of statements is that they know where they want to go but are not fully sure of how to do it with the realities they face..

  2. President Obama held a news conference the day after Mr. Blaney posted his take on Obama’s tough position regarding the Afghanistan troop drawdown. While the news conference spanned many topics, Obama did discuss Afghanistan. Here’s what the President had to say in response to a question from Mike Emanuel, a reporter from FOX:

    Mike Emanuel, FOX: Thank you, Mr. President. Last week when you gave your Afghanistan drawdown speech, the word “victory,” in terms of the overall war in Afghanistan, was not in your speech. So I’m wondering, sir, if you can define for the 100,000 troops you have in harm’s way in Afghanistan “victory” in the war, and for their families, as well, sir.

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, I didn’t use “victory” in my West Point speech, either. What I said was we can be successful in our mission, which is narrowly drawn, and that is to make sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the United States of America or our allies or our interests overseas, and to make sure that we have an Afghan government that — and an Afghan people that can provide for their own security.

    We are being successful in those missions. And the reason that we’re in a position to draw down 10,000 troops this year and a total of 33,000 troops by the end of next summer is precisely because of the extraordinary work of our men and women in uniform. What they’ve been able to do is to severely cripple al Qaeda’s capacities.

    Obviously bin Laden got the most attention, but even before the bin Laden operation we had decimated the middle ranks and some of the upper ranks of al Qaeda. They’re having a great deal of difficulty operating, a great deal of difficulty communicating and financing themselves, and we are going to keep the pressure on. And in part that’s because of the extraordinary sacrifices that have been made by our men and women in uniform in Afghanistan.

    What we’ve also been able to do is to ramp up the training of Afghan forces. So we’ve got an additional 100,000 Afghan troops, both Army and police, that have been trained as a consequence of this surge. And that is going to give the Afghans more capacity to defend themselves because it is in our national interest to make sure that you did not have a collapse of Afghanistan in which extremist elements could flood the zone once again, and over time al Qaeda might be in a position to rebuild itself
    So what I laid out was a plan in which we are going to be drawing down our troops from Afghanistan after 10 very long years and an enormous sacrifice by our troops. But we will draw them in a — draw them down in a responsible way that will allow Afghanistan to defend itself and will give us the operational capacity to continue to put pressure on al Qaeda until that network is entirely defeated.

    (If you’d like to read the transcript of the full news conference, click http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2011/06/29/transcript-of-obama-news-conference/)

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