First Obama dithered. Then he underwhelmed

Did anyone notice the absence of garments on the body of the ruling person?

All President Barack Obama said in his speech was that he had decided to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, at a cost of US$30 billion for a duration of around 18 months. He did so using far too many euphemisms (“tools of mass destruction” takes the cake). Sure, it was a politically difficult decision for him—but, after dithering for almost half-a-year, he didn’t have anything substantially new to say about what the United States intends to do.

The main issue in Mr Obama’s just-announced strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan boils down to this: just how is the United States going to ensure that the Pakistani military establishment plays ball? The preceding sentence is from March 2009, after the first “AfPak strategy” speech. Nothing since then, and nothing in today’s speech answers that question. The United States might have warned Pakistan “with unusual bluntness that its use of insurgent groups to pursue policy goals “cannot continue””, but how does it propose to enforce this? We don’t know from Mr Obama’s speech.

With almost 100,000 troops the US-led coalition might just be able to reverse the gains that taliban have made since 2006. But unless they fix the Pakistan side of the equation, those reverses will be reversed the moment US troops get back home to vote in the 2012 presidential elections.

It’s possible that Mr Obama’s plans for Pakistan don’t make it to the lectern. But it’s also possible that they exist only in a vague sort of wishful way. We’ll know.

6 thoughts on “First Obama dithered. Then he underwhelmed”

  1. In fact, what I took away from the speech is not that there is a troop surge of 30,000, but that America is planning to leave Afghanistan

    What this means is that the terrorists and their Pakistani handlers will wait out the 18 months of surged labor by the US. That’s the slim window India has to ensure its interests will remain protected once America is gone from the scene

    America’s war in the region may be drawing to a close, but India’s is — unfortunately — just beginning. Hopefully, we’ll make this the “aar paar ki ladai” that Mr. Vajpayee thundered about but failed to deliver

    Best regards

  2. It was my understanding that the plan to increase troop strength would’ve been (and is now) slated for spring of 2010. I’m not sure if the “dithering” if it can be called that, has had any significant effect on the current operations. Sometimes you have to go to war with the “decider” you have not the one you would ideally like to have.

    Could you elaborate on the strategy/plan you would have like to have seen in regards to Pakistan? I assume this would be independent of the marshallplan-like option that you’ve discussed before?

    (btw, the last link in your post is broken.)

  3. Nitin,

    Desirability of an American presence in the Af-Pak theatre aside, please consider that the US Govt. cannot afford (in the old fashioned economic sense) to spend money there. They can’t afford to spend it at home. They cannot afford to spend money at all.

    For more than 9 months now they have been stealthily monetising their debt and it is beginning to show in the weakness seen recently in the USD. They just can’t afford to maintain existing levels of spending, leave alone any additional projects.

    The US will be hard pressed to maintain current troop levels in Af-Pak beyond the next year. An American presence on the Pak side of the Durand line will remain a pipe dream.

  4. Here are few things to keep in mind:

    1. Dithering – this blog is free to call anything what they please to the President of USA. After all it is a free world. But if this blog takes care of reading commentary of many other experts (Zakaria, Joe Klein, David Brooks, Richard Hass and many more) in this field, they would not call it dithering. It was prudent to wait for the resolution of Afghan election. It was prudent to wait until President had met Chinese and Indian counter parts. And it was necessary to get into the place to ‘chill down’ all the wild numbers which were flying in the first place -like 80K troop needed or so. Obama’s political opposition Sen. McCain criticized it as dithering too. Any takers for that in American public? In fact you look at Gallup polls after the speech, you will find that more than 50% Americans are coming around and supporting President’s surge. Kagan and many other NeoCons fell over each other to praise the President (but that in itself is no qualification or worth anything) since Obama being the first Democratic President in 40 years (after LBJ) to order troops in wars far away. Gallup said ‘effectively Obama threaded the needle’. So all in all I am not sure ‘dithering’ epithet is any right here.

    2. So I would think that ‘solving the problem of Pakistani Army’ (I presume making them to shed their connections and support of terrorist folks) is construed as the core issue here by this blog. In that case then can we say what number of troops are sent to Afghanistan, does it matter? Reality is America cannot send the troops in Pakistan. It has to use different means to control Pakistani Army. And it is kosher to argue that Americans are not doing a good job of that. But how is it linked with number of troops in Afghanistan? What linkage this blog sees in that? Are we ready to accept the primacy of Afghan Theater in itself with certain autonomy or not? Or is everything dictated by what happens in Pakistan only?

    3. Finally, does this blog agree that America cannot send troops in Pakistan or not? Or does this blog think ‘oh! these coward Americans, they are not as brave as like Indians who can take up a war with Pakistan’. What is it then? Are we talking here then means like Predator Attack, Kerry-Lugar Bill Terms and all other covert pressure / operations? If so, then what are the legitimate ways in Media, international Media including this blog, can assess the effectiveness of this strategy and hold accountable American Executive Branch for the same? As this blog rightly mentions, may be these plans cannot make to the lectern; then what is a valid and consistent framework in which all that can be examined and criticized for the benefit of all?

    The reason I am interested in the third part is, naturally American electorates will be interested in all that information and Media assessment. As this blog unfailingly points out the possibility of such plans being absent, Americans have enormous stake in knowing whether ‘any such plans are present in the first place’! With Bush, at least the impression was not much existed. With Obama, the way Hillary has been conducting the foreign relations with Pakistan, there is a hope that there is such a plan. But as we all know, we need verifiable evidence here and hope is not sufficient. Hence we are trying to turn all stones to smell the cooking. If this blog joins that hunt, it is that much favor towards average American voters too!

  5. @Umesh,
    No need to get defensive about Obama dithering. In fact, he did – whether you like other people putting it that way or not.

    For some one who used such bombastic language during the campaign about Afghanistan being the good war and announcing a new “strategy” in March 2009 (remember that ??) it seems that he took an awfully long time to decide on how best to implement that strategy.

    The public agonizing about how many troops to send has been playing all over the Sunday talk shows for the last month. It became so bad that even Democrats were begging the President to make up his mind pretty soon.

    You may want to read Mickey Kaus who was wondering if all this foot dragging was actually a “strategy” used by Obama to convey to his left wing base that he thought long and hard about sending troops before commiting to it.

    In other words, there were people who suspected that this dithering was actually DONE ON PURPOSE.

    2. So I would think that ’solving the problem of Pakistani Army’ (I presume making them to shed their connections and support of terrorist folks) is construed as the core issue here by this blog. In that case then can we say what number of troops are sent to Afghanistan, does it matter? Reality is America cannot send the troops in Pakistan.

    Here, I concur with you 1000 % – was that strong enough for you 🙂

    Quite frankly, The US cannot leverage with the Paki military jihadi complex with a weak Afghan hand. This troop increase is only ONE component of what it should be doing. But it is a pre-requisite. Without Afghanistan becoming more secure, there is no way that the US is going to apply more pressure on Pakistan.

    There is no guarantee that this troop increase will achieve security in Afghanistan or if that would be a sustainable achievement. How ever, you can be assured that without the troop increase, The US Strategy IS DOOMED.. which is essentially what McChrystal has been saying.

    You may now understand why people have called Obama out on dithering. He appointed McChrystal to do a review and implement a new strategy – when McChrystal did exactly that and reported back to Obama, he basically sat on it.

    There was a reason why McChrystal went publically with his recommendations. Obama was basically taking his own sweet time, ignoring him. McChrystal FORCED Obama to take a decision one way or the other.

    There was a reason why NOT A SINGLE Democrat Congressman wanted to call him in and ask him to testify . They were afraid that they might hear something they didnt want to.

    Finally, does this blog agree that America cannot send troops in Pakistan or not? Or does this blog think ‘oh! these coward Americans, they are not as brave as like Indians who can take up a war with Pakistan’. What is it then? Are we talking here then means like Predator Attack, Kerry-Lugar Bill Terms and all other covert pressure / operations?
    I am not sure that this blog thinks – but it surely does not think that Americans are “cowards” – i have not seen this blog resorting to ad hominem attacks.

    Predator attacks are not a long term solution or strategy. Unless you love playing whack- a -mole

    The Kerry Lugar bill is effectively counter productive.It is not going to give civilian Govt any bigger leverage with Paki military jehadi complex any more than what it already has. All that it does is to make Pakistanis even more paranoid than what they usually are – and you have no idea how paranoid they are.

    59% of the Pakistani public thinks that the US is their number one threat ,supplanting, gasp India.

    Now, you dont even have the most abused Bush basing crutch to explain this, given Obama is President… but hey, thats Pakistan for you – a country that has been continuously targeted by the Taliban in the last three months and thinks that the US is its no#1 threat !

    The reason I am interested in the third part is, naturally American electorates will be interested in all that information and Media assessment.

    Umesh, here’s the hard truth – the situation is DEADLOCKED for now. The Taliban is a part of the Pakistan military jehadi complex. The factions that are attacking Pakistan today are those which the Pakistani military has decided are dispensable.And this has happened after the intense pressure that the US has put on Pakistan to act – if you may remember Pakistan was busy signing “peace agreements” with terrorists – and only after they took over Swat and the US became ALARMED did Pakistan start fight a section of the Taliban.

    But notice, that they have kept Hafeez Saeed free, have protected Haqqani network and all other Salafists who are still in the good books of the Paki military – so that they can be used against India once the US retreats finally
    from Afghanistan.

    IN SHORT ( heh), you are the road team and the Paki military jihadists along with their terrorist comrades in Afghanistan are the home team. They have many advantages over you and you are fighting with one hand tied to your back ( you cannot go into Pakistan to clear terrorist havens)

    What you can do in the short term is to try beef up Afghan security forces – army, police etc. When you finally do retreat starting in 2011, atleast give them a fighting chance to defend against the Taliban who will descend upon them once you leave.

    In the long term you have to face the fact that your so called “ally” Pakistan is your biggest roadblock to peace and stability in Afghanistan and is not going to change any time soon, if AT ALL.

    You can decide to play ball with them, give Karzai asylum in Washington DC and allow the Taliban to come back.

    Or you can fight a long war, which you had no idea that you were getting into the morning after 9/11.

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