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I dutifully watched President Obama's speech on our "surge" in Afghanistan Tuesday evening. I say dutifully because it quite frankly was hard for me to stay focused. I kept playing with my iPhone while it was on. The next day I thought I really should watch it because I know I'm going to have to discuss it. So, I brought it up on YouTube and tried again. I kept having to stop it and go back because I just kept drifting off to do other things. I hate war. I hated it when I heard that Obama had decided to send in 30,000 more troops. I was hoping after weeks of meeting with advisors and hearing all kinds of brilliant plans he'd come up with something new, something innovative. Something I could really get behind. But, alas, he did not. 30,000 more troops. $30 billion more dollars (per year- $1M per man per year) and who knows how many more lives; poured into a dysfunctional country that doesn't seem to even want peace or democracy.
The reaction to Obama's speech has been fascinating. The far left feels betrayed, is shocked and outraged. Michael Moore's open letter to the President blasted him and said if he followed through on this decision he would be the new war President. Pacificistic idealists said "war only brings more war" and insisted the only course of action is to bring all of our troops home immediately and unconditionally. Fortunately for them, it's easy to be idealistic when you don't really have responsibilty for the safety and security of a nation (or a few nations) in the balance. For them, it's all academic. If Obama were to make that move and in six months or a year another 9/11 was launched from Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, I suspect many of those on the far left would wish they had been a little more pragmatic.
As Jon Stewart pointed out, if the far left feels betrayed, then the far right should be happy. Right? No. They didn't like the "spirit" of the speech. They wanted Obama to be more upbeat, more "rah-rah". They wanted him to shake his fists and get us all fired up about going out there and kicking some butt. They complain that Obama didn't use the word "win". They say by setting a goal to begin withdrawal we show we are not really committed. We just committed about $45 billion additional dollars and the lives of 30,000 men and women for a year and half and we're not committed? Winning is important to them. Winning at all costs apparently. No deadlines. No timeframe for withdrawal. Just a blank check and an unlimited supply of young men and women is what they want. One of my conservative friends claims the end date (just before the next Presidential election) is politically motivated so that Obama can claim victory on that date. Huh? By making that date public, Obama is taking a huge risk. If he doesn't make it (actually pretty likely), his opponents will immediately say his strategy has failed.
The left hates the content. The right hates the spirit. What's a President to do?
I've got news for those who want to "win" the war. War has changed over the course of the last several decades. In the old days, you had a government who had an army. Our army fought your army and when our army kicked your army's butt, you had to concede and give us what we want. In those days we fought over land, trade routes, spices- you know, the important stuff. Now though, we are fighting an ideology, not an army. Al Qaeda doesn't represent a country. They don't really even have any specific demands. Al Qaeda represents an ideology. They have a virtually unlimited supply of recruits. Their "leaders" don't really care how many "troops" they pour into this fray. No amount of attrition is going to make them say uncle. In fact, the more oppressive they can make us out to be the more successful their recruiting becomes and the so-called leaders get to feel they are on a true jihad (as they have incorrectly defined jihad).
Obama took the middle road. He has agreed to a limited commitment with some definite goals and an end date. By doing so, he angered the hawks. However, he did not agree to begin an immediate withdrawal. By doing so, he angered the doves. When you have people on both extremes angry with you, it's just possible that you're doing the right thing. At first I thought he was compromising, trying to appease both sides and by doing so, he might be just making everyone angry. But, the more I think about it the more I think the strategy makes sense. It's not either or, in this case. It's both. We have to stay for some period of time and use some amount of force. If we're going to do that, we have to have enough force to get the job done and keep our troops safe. But, we have to make it clear to the Afghan government (and the other governments involved) that we will not be there forever.
Someone joked that it took Obama months to make a decision George Bush could have made in a few days. I'm glad Obama took his time on this decision. I'm glad he weighed all possible options. Because he took his time, I feel confident that this is probably the best course of action for us, as much as I hate to hear it. I'm glad that Obama didn't get all rah-rah in his speech. His mood was appropriate for the content. Somber, reserved, reluctant but resolved to do what needs to be done. He didn't use the word "win" because we will not "win" against Al Qaeda with guns and tanks, not even with drones. We have to win the hearts and minds of the people they are recruiting. The only way to bring lasting peace to the region is to not only carry a big stick but to recruit their recruits out from under them to convince them there is a better way. Otherwise, it's like trying to kill an army of cockroaches with a flyswatter and the cockroaches are reproducing as fast as you can take them out.
War is not a football game. No one's keeping score and there is no clock. Unfortunately, there is a time when you have to use protective force. This seems to be one of those times. We need to protect the people of Afghanistan and the people of America until Al Qaeda and the Taliban can be contained by changing the way of thinking of enough people.