Escalating the war

30,000 more troops and promises: Obama’s promise to begin a withdrawal in eighteen months, Karzai’s promise to stop the corruption. So, if Afghanistan is desert and mountains, does that mean it can’t be the Big Muddy?

Here are the links and a few quotes:
• The full text of the speech, as released by the White House
Video of the speech
• Quotes from MN Congress members on MinnPost
Juan Cole – “Obama partnering with Afghan gov’t – but is there any there there?”

President Barack Obama’s commitment to “finish the job” in Afghanistan by sending 55,000 US troops to that country (counting the 21,000 he dispatched last winter shortly after being inaugurated) depends heavily on a hope of building up an Afghan government and army over to which the US can eventually turn control. But one of the questions we seldom hear any detail about concerns the country’s governmental capacity. Does the government function? Can it deliver services?
depends heavily on a hope of building up an Afghan government and army over to which the US can eventually turn control. But one of the questions we seldom hear any detail about concerns the country’s governmental capacity. Does the government function? Can it deliver services?

As might be expected, governmental capacity is low, but here are some specifics. Months after the controversial presidential election that many Afghans consider stolen, there is no cabinet, and parliament is threatening to go on recess before confirming a new one because the president is unconstitutionally late in presenting the names. There are grave suspicions that some past and present cabinet members have engaged in the embezzlement of substantial sums of money. There is little parliamentary oversight. Almost no one bothers to attend the parliamentary sessions. The cabinet ministries are unable to spend the money allocated to them on things like education and rural development, and actually spent less in absolute terms last year than they did in the previous two years. Only half of the development projects for which money was allotted were even begun last year, and none was completed.

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:

I can’t agree with President Obama’s decision to escalate in Afghanistan. I’d prefer a minimalist approach, working with tribal leaders the way we did to overthrow the Taliban regime in the first place. Given our need for nation-building at home right now, I am ready to live with a little less security and a little-less-perfect Afghanistan.

New York Times analysis of the speech and of Pakistan policy implications:

If the contrasting messages seemed jarring at first, they reflect the obstacles Mr. Obama faces in rallying an increasingly polarized country that itself is of two minds about what to do in Afghanistan. For those who still support the war, he is sending more troops. For those against it, he is offering the assurance of the exit ramp.

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