Wednesday, December 02, 2009

President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan gets the job done, a 9 out of 10.

The Obama Afghanistan-Pakistan foreign policy nexus

It was a good speech. It did what it had to do. It communicated the broad contours of U. S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. More importantly, around the middle of the speech (P.6, if you are reading it), we learned that U. S. success in Afghanistan is, as the President said, “inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.” Actually, it is more the reverse. The U. S. needs to succeed in Afghanistan because a stable Pakistan is of major importance to U. S. national security--and a stable, non-terrorist dominated Afghanistan is a necesary but not a sufficient condition to keeping Pakistan stable and friendly toward the U. S.

Pakistan is a nuclear power. The U. S. doesn’t want to have that government in the hands of an unfriendly, erratic administration. If Afghanistan is returned to the hands of the Taliban and the Taliban proceeds to provide a safe haven for Al-Qaeda, not only does the U. S. risk a repeat of a variant of 9/11, which is bad enough, but Al-Qaeda also would then have a safe haven to work on toppling the Pakistan government and replacing it with an Al-Qaeda friendly government. Then, the U. S. would have what it fears in the next year or two in Iran, a terrorist friendly regime with the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon.

Why President Obama agreed to 30K more troops in Afghanistan

Fundamentally, this is why Obama had no choice but to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing the U. S. troop total in that country to just under 100,000. Obama’s chosen General of Choice, McChrystal, wanted 40,000 troops, but most will say, including conservative Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard and apparently, liberal Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, that 30K additional troops will do.

Importantly, President Obama wrapped an improved partnership with Pakistan and an improved civilian strategy of reduced public corruption and better services and security for the Afghanistan people around the 30K surge in military troops. This is further acknowledgment of how crucial it is that economic, military and government infrastructure improve and stabilize in both Pakistan and Afghanistan for U. S. national interests to be met.

U. S. Troops to start returning from Afghanistan in July, 2010

The military surge will proceed expeditiously at the pace of about a brigade [or 5000troops] a month, so that a total of 98,000 troops will be in place by June, 2010. Obama upset the conservatives by saying in the same breadth that one year later, summer 2011, “our troops will begin to come home.” Karl Rove commented on Bill O’Reilly’s post speech show that “that sends a very bad signal to the enemy that you can wait us out.” This is the argument that was raised about setting timetables for U. S. withdrawal in Iraq. However, if things are going well in Afghanistan, the timetable will not matter a great deal, even as the current U. S. timetable in Iraq for the removal of all troops in Iraq by the end of 2011 does not seem to present a problem.

Hayes misquotes President Obama

Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard, commenting on the Fox News Channel’s post speech segment went much further than Rove, stating:

The most important role of a President is Commander in Chief. This felt very small to me. The President said, in one sentence…’the common security of the world is at stake,’ and literally in the very next sentence, he said we’re going to get out in July of 2011. If it is the case that the common security of the world is at stake, you don’t say that we need to figure out the problem in 18 months or we’re out of here. It sends bad, mixed messages and I think it was one of the worst speeches I could imagine in support of the right policy decision.

One of the worst speeches Hayes could imagine? Well, then, Hayes must not have much of an imagination. For starters, President Obama did not say, as Hayes asserted, “We’re going to get out in July of 2011.” Obama said, “These additional… troops will allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.” Steve, that could be done over five years. It hardly promises, “We’re going to get out in July of 2011.” Moreover, the President went on to say, “Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.” Those caveats certainly give the President some wiggle room in terms of when the U. S. actually “gets out,” of Afghanistan. Even with respect to Iraq, a war the President opposed from the get go, President Obama has always said, “We have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.” Words to live by, I’d say.

President Obama: I like Ike; Apply opportunity cost theory to government programs.

Further, the justification for the above statements by Obama was a principle laid out by President Eisenhower, who had pretty good military credentials, last time this journalist looked. President Obama quoted Ike as saying, in Ike’s discussion of national security, “Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”

Actually, Eisenhower's quote essentially is saying that each government proposal, in the words of economics, has an opportunity cost. So, if we pursue government program A, we do so at the cost of program B, or at the cost, as conservatives like to argue, of taxpayers choosing how to spend their own money. A corrollary of the opportunity cost theory is that it might be worthwhile to try to stabilize Afghanistan. But, if the cost becomes too high, it might make more sense to divert the troops to assist, say, Pakistan to stabilize that country, even if it means returning to Afghanistan a few years later to blow up a new Taliban government, hopeably before it allows a terrorist organization to attack the U. S.

The concept of opportunity cost is an important one in economics. This journalist is happy to see that Presidents Eisenhower and Obama seem to have grasped it. But, I am disappointed to see that conservative Stephen Hayes has yet to learn it.

O’Reilly on President Obama’s academic tone.

Finally, FNC’s Bill O’Reilly was upset, on his show, by the “academic tone,” struck by Obama in his delivery of the speech. Bill wanted “table pounding,” with President Obama saying, “Hey, these people cut your head off; hey, these people won’t let women out of the house; they can’t go to school; these are savages.”

Hey, Bill, this was a presidential speech, not a high school pep rally. O’Reilly, who often has some thoughtful criticisms to make, was wide of the mark last night. Sometimes, academic is good. Not every Presidential speech should be a campaign rally. Even if my friends at the Fox News Channel are televising it.
More than 116 of our shows from the last two years are posted on the Public Affairs YouTube page . Our most recent shows w/ Democratic Primary U. S. Senate Candidate David Hoffman, 7th CD candidate Chicago Ald. Sharon Denise Dixon [24th Ward]and State Comptroller candidate Clint Krislov are now streaming.