Yes, we need a better plan for Afghanistan. But when I learned that more troops were headed there I thought, ‘Barack Obama may have just lost 2012.‘
I listened dutifully to the President’s speech last night, which you can see here. And there is some interesting follow-up chat on the plan for Afghanistan at “Rick’s List” — a new twitter idea from CNN’s Rick Sanchez and Eric Kuhn.
Sadly, it was pretty much what I expected — we’re sending more troops, we hope to train the Afghan military and police so they can take over, let’s encourage Afghan citizens to take on the Taliban themselves.
I understand that there are things in Pakistan we need to deal with, and we can’t do it by saying we’re sending troops there. But as President Obama spoke, I was reminded of a few of things:
1. Didn’t the Bush administration assure us that our military could train the Iraqis so their military and police could do what American troops were doing? That hasn’t worked out so well, so why should we think we will fare any better in Afghanistan?
2. At the beginning of the Iraq war, I remember reading an article that said the Pentagon was going to encourage military commanders to read up on the region they were being deployed to, including books on Iraq’s culture and history. I was shocked at the time that military leaders who were on the verge of invading Iraq didn’t have an understanding of how that region is different from other parts of the world and other conflicts. I hope someone has been brushing up on their Afghan history, at least in terms of how things went for the Soviets.
3. There was no mention how we are going to help the situation of Afghan women and girls. Increased presence of the Taliban over the last few years — the same Taliban that was supposed to have been defeated if I remember correctly — has made life pretty much a living hell for anyone there with two X chromosomes. Women and girls can’t even get medical treatment because women doctors are no longer allowed to work and men doctors are forbidden from seeing female patients. If this fundamental human rights issue isn’t addressed while we are trying to turn Afghanistan into a self-supporting society that we can leave by 2011, then I have to wonder if there’s any point to the rest of it. We can do all the training and supporting we want, but if we don’t have any influence over how a society treats women and girls, how can anything constructive be built?
There are a lot of “what ifs” in war. But when America is struggling to figure out why our economy is still in the tank, it’s going to be hard for many to get behind a request to support a war effort just one more time. That’s why I wonder what impact this decision in the first year of his presidency will have when Barack Obama announces his re-election bid in a few years.
Update: Another great column from Thomas Friedman on the plan for Afghanistan.