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Afghanistan is seen as poisoning the Obama presidency

COMMENTARY | September 08, 2009

The overseas press: Der Spiegel says it’s Obama’s war and a time for “unsparing self-criticism;” al Aribiya says any hope of military victory in Afghanistan is a pipedream. But Pakistan’s Daily Times says “retreat is not an option.”

By Lauren Drablier

PARISPessimism on the American presence in Afghanistan is widespread in the international press. Many believe that peace there is a hopeless dream threatening to “poison” Barack Obama’s presidency.
Members of the European Union are revising plans following the much criticized German-called for NATO bombing in northern Afghanistan last week and a highly disputed Afghan election with hundreds of cases of documented corruption and fraud.
Many repeat what has already been said, that Afghanistan is another Vietnam and that President Obama is running out of time at home and abroad to explain why the war is worth supporting.
In a column by Bob Ellis, the West Australia Today questions the tactics employed by the West in The battle for hearts and minds is crashing and burning:
“You wonder after this event how useful it is to bomb and burn a common commodity, killing people who gather around it. Why bomb a petrol tanker? Why bomb a poppy field? Why bomb an electricity plant that powers a hospital? Does this win hearts and minds? Whose?
“Why bomb and burn anything in a global war on an idea? Does bombing and burning make yours a better idea? How does that follow? How does that work? Old friend, you may have fallen into error on this matter.
“You may have sought the wrong advice. You may be pursuing the wrong global policy. You might be fighting the wrong war for the wrong hearts and minds and losing it.
“Might it not be a better idea to buy the entire poppy crop each year, offering each farmer a fair bit more than Karzai's gangster friends now pay for it, and give it free to the world's poorer hospices where, in the form of morphine, it will help old, dying people die more happily?
“This plan would cost less per year than two days of the war on terror in Baghdad and Kabul and make friends, not lose them. Or am I wrong? And might it not be a better idea to offer sanctuary in several Western countries - New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Germany - to any Hazara who wants to leave Afghanistan and settle there? Might this not be cheaper than pursuing and killing those that pursue and kill them for their beliefs?
“And mightn't it be a better idea if we gave each year 100,000 university scholarships to Afghan adolescents - in Cambridge, Harvard, Monash, the Sorbonne - at one-hundredth of the cost of a week of the war? They might come back with progressive ideas and improve their country, over time.”
The UK’s Independent believes that Western leaders are loosing sight of the very reasons what they are fighting for in Afghan women now face new dangers:
“One reason for the widespread public support for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was genuine revulsion at the treatment of Afghan women under the Taliban.
“Western leaders were eager too to play up the "liberation of the women" as one of the noble aims of the military engagement in Afghanistan.
“True, Afghan women can now work and become MPs, but acid is still thrown in the faces of little girls trying to go to school, violence against women is rampant and the Karzai government recently enacted a law which in effect allows men to demand sex or starve their wives..
“The Taliban are not in power, but women can still be sold out because Western-backed politicians, in hock to men whose views on women are just as conservative as the Taliban, don't consider their rights a priority.
“The fear that human rights will be even further eroded is now immense as Afghanistan moves to a phase in which the policy of "talking to the Taliban" is implemented.
‘”Reconciliation’ is the new buzzword in diplomatic and military circles as the generals try to end the insurgency. But if this means again giving fundamentalists and floggers positions of power and influence, then women will be looking on with justified horror.”
In Disillusionment over Afghanistan Grows in West, Germany’s Spiegel Online discusses the declining support of the war:
“Slightly less than eight years after the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the time has come for unsparing self-criticism. America has gone the furthest in this. No wonder: This war has now become Barack Obama's war. He has put additional troops on the ground. The military has changed its strategy and is attempting to be more careful about calling in air strikes when there is a chance that civilians could be affected as well.
“A controversy has broken out in the Obama administration over priorities in the region. Hillary Clinton has pleaded in favor of sending in more soldiers and strengthening the focus on Afghanistan, while Vice President Joseph Biden has warned against losing sight of the importance of Pakistan, an unstable nuclear power that serves as a safe haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaida.
“The Dutch and Canadian governments have announced that they intend to withdraw their contingents by the year 2011. Canadian forces stationed in Kandahar have lost 128 of their soldiers. British troops stationed in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold and center of opium poppy production, have had 212 of their men killed. The death toll appears to have brought about a significant change in the way the British view the military effort in Afghanistan.
“The United States was able to make progress in Iraq by taking this more patient approach. But will this be possible in Afghanistan?
“There are some who say it's as good as over in Afghanistan. The confidence of the general population has been lost; too many civilians have been killed… They need to have their fields cleared of mines, they need loans so that they can pay for irrigation systems, fertilizer, and seeds, they need functioning markets -- and more than anything else they need peace.”
The Netherlands’ NRC Handelsblad highlights the effects of the growing unpopularity of the war in Dutch still support soldiers, but not mission in Afghanistan:
“It looks like the chief of staff needn't worry about this support. A poll by the defense ministry shows that 57 percent of respondents is proud of the 1,650 Dutch soldiers currently in the southern Afghan province Uruzgan. A larger survey by the Veterans Institute in 2008 said 73 percent appreciated those in Uruzgan "(very) much".
“What could worry Van Uhm is the declining support for the political choice to deploy Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan in the first place. The defense ministry's own polls show that while a majority supports the soldiers, only 37 percent approves the mission as such.
“Ever since the American defeat in Vietnam military powers know a war can be lost on two fronts: on the battlefield and at home. If the public at large stops supporting the troops, the moral amongst soldiers lowers and the mission can become unsustainable. That is why it is important for the army to gain the support at home
“The question as to whether the Dutch still support the mission will become more significant when the government has to make a decision about what happens after 2010. The agreement is that the Netherlands will no longer lead the NATO troops in Uruzgan as of the end of next year. But that does not mean that every soldier will be pulled out, foreign minister Maxime Verhagen has said. The defense ministry has factored in that it could maintain a smaller force in Afghanistan.
“Will the government decide to stay if the population is against it? When the decision was made in 2008 to extend the mission until 2010, a narrow majority of parliament supported the decision, while there was no popular support.”

The UK’s Guardian discusses how international cooperation in Afghanistan is waning as Europe plans to re-evaluate their approach in Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel want new UN plan for Afghanistan:
“Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel today agreed to back a new UN conference either in London or Kabul to agree a fresh political course for Afghanistan in the wake of the controversial presidential elections.
“He (Brown) and the US are backing a rapid expansion of the Afghan army, as well as an increase in their pay. The Taliban pays families as much as $50 to a family twice the amount paid by the Afghan national army.
“Brown said tonight that he wanted the G20 to support ‘a global compact for durable growth that would start with a charter of economic principles proposed by the German chancellor, to maintain action to secure co-ordination on exit strategies’.”
In Pipedream victory in Afghanistan?, Dubai’s Al-Arabiya does not believe that one presidential term is long enough to change anything in Afghanistan:
“Why hasn’t the administration of US President Barack Obama broken away from its predecessor’s approach and ended the war in Afghanistan?
“Senior Pentagon officials are expected to ask for as many as 45,000 additional American troops this month. Currently, there are about 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
“If anything, Obama has escalated the conflict by deploying more American soldiers there. And there is every possibility that more soldiers could be sent, in the hope that the insurgency could be defeated. The common argument in favor of the US continuing the war in Afghanistan is that Al Qaeda should not be allowed to reestablish presence in Afghanistan and plot more September 11-style attacks against the US. In reality, militants do not need an entire country to huddle together and plot attacks. A small apartment anywhere in the world would more than serve the purpose.
“Obama has declared that he is determined to change that, but a four-year US presidency is too short to make a real difference. One might be able to detect a difference in a second term of Obama presidency.
“Surely there are enough brains in Washington to figure out that there could be no such thing that a military victory against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Everything is stacked against the hope that the US-led international force would overpower the Taliban, befriend the people of Afghanistan, and successfully do some nation building and institutionalization of the country. If anything, the raging dispute over the results of the August 20 presidential elections and charges of massive fraud have cast a dark cloud over the credibility of the process. That translates into a government without credibility, and no hope for the US to consolidate the central authority in Kabul. Without that foundation, there is no chance whatsoever of moving ahead towards Obama’s goal of stabilizing Afghanistan and setting the ground for military withdrawal from the country.
“It is an accomplished reality that the US has already lost the war in Afghanistan, but the neoconservatives in Washington are not willing to accept it. They condemn anyone who advocates US withdrawal and describe them as cowards ready to accept defeat. What they overlook is that even a 500,000-strong US-led force in Afghanistan would only be able to hold the lid down on the insurgency. The key to stability in Afghanistan is with the Afghan people, but the fragmentation of the population along ethnic and tribal lines preempts any effort to unify them. And external forces, including Iran, are at work in Afghanistan using proxies with varying interests. They will make sure that the US effort does not succeed.
“These are some of the realities on the ground in Afghanistan. They make any hope of winning the war there a pipedream, as those who are pursuing it will soon find out.”
In Change in Afghanistan the United Arab Emirates Gulf News argues that peace in Afghanistan rests on economic and regional security, including Iran, Pakistan and India:
“With signs of increasing public unease over a long-term commitment to Afghanistan's security becoming apparent across the Western world, the central Asian country's recent elections are unlikely to secure a more certain future. On the contrary, there are disconcerting divisions in Afghanistan at a time when the country needs to be united.
“The inevitable question for Afghanistan watchers is the extent to which security for the country can be delivered. Is it a case of simply training thousands more soldiers and policemen? To that compelling question, the answer is surely no.
“In the eyes of the Western world, Afghanistan's insecurity stems squarely from the activities of the Taliban and Al Qaida, who hold sway over large parts of its territory. In significant parts of Afghanistan, the government may have nominal control during the day, but the night certainly belongs to the militants.
“On the ground in Afghanistan, insecurity results from two equally compelling factors. On the one hand, a Western push led by the US in particular has consistently sought the political empowerment of hand-picked Afghan leaders, notably Karzai himself. It should therefore not be surprising that many ordinary Afghans see their country's politics as being driven by an external agenda, rather than an Afghan one.
“On the other hand, there has been a remarkable disregard for the need to work harder to improve the quality of life of ordinary people and this has also added to Afghanistan's security problems. Going forward, it is vital that the pace of economic development be considered central to the issue of security.
“While these internal factors hold the key to Afghanistan's future stability, the US and other Western partners of the regime in Kabul must also recognise the roles played by the countries that surround Afghanistan.
“Pakistan has long alleged that Afghan territory has been used by India's intelligence services to destabilise parts of Balochistan province. There is a possibility that India and Pakistan are trying to settle old scores with allegations and counter allegations regarding Afghanistan.
“Going forward, there will also be a need for dialogue between Iran and the Western world over the future of Afghanistan. This will be vital to ensure Iran's compliance with a new security arrangement for its neighbour.
“While such broader considerations are central to Afghanistan's future, right now there needs to be a vigorous push on two fronts. On one level, it will be vital to ensure that the controversy surrounding the recent Afghan presidential elections is resolved. A second, fresh round of voting may not be too heavy a price to pay for moving forward. On another level, it is vital to acknowledge that the fight in Afghanistan cannot be won if the strategy remains the way it is at the moment.”
Pakistan’s Kasmir Watch offers a very pessimistic view of the strategy in Afghanistan in Afghanistan: Losing Hearts, Minds and The War:
“The events in Afghanistan over the past few days clearly demonstrate that America and her allies are running out of options to extricate themselves from a hazardous quagmire that threatens to end their occupation in disgrace. The situation has rapidly deteriorated and the recent NATO air-strike which killed scores of innocent civilians not only epitomizes the callous attitude of the crusaders, but sets a new benchmark for measuring West’s sacred ideal of human rights when applied to the Muslims of Afghanistan let alone the Muslim world.
“The indiscriminate killing of civilians belittles the oft quoted mantra of winning hearts and minds; instead it has diminished West’s credibility, appalled the nations of the world and more significantly emboldened the Afghan resistance.
“The indiscriminate killing of civilians belittles the oft quoted mantra of winning hearts and minds; instead it has diminished West’s credibility, appalled the nations of the world and more significantly emboldened the Afghan resistance.
“Grandiose plans to use Afghanistan as a staging base to counter Russia, China and the resurgence of Islam seem to be wishful thinking at best.
“Even the new strategy offers very little solace in the way of fresh battlefield thinking. Proposals such as dividing the Afghan resistance, tempting moderate Taleban into the political process, improving civilian infrastructure, increasing the Afghan army and boosting the number of US/NATO troops have been tried before and have only met failure. One only has to look at Iraq and realize that similar strategies pursued are fast unraveling making a mockery of claims that the violence has subsided and the resistance defeated.
“Unless, the US and her allies are willing to substantially augment existing troop numbers and prepare their populations for a protracted counterinsurgency war, the prospects for stabilizing Afghanistan look woefully bleak. In Europe the momentum is galvanizing towards ending European involvement in fighting America’s ‘preventative war’.”
Also from Pakistan, the Daily Times highlights the difficult situation Obama has found himself in with regard to the war, especially with Karzai’s tainted election in Dwindling options in Afghanistan:
“For Obama, retreat from Afghanistan is not really an option at this time. This is his war and he is convinced that abandoning Afghanistan will mean having to contend with an even more difficult situation in Pakistan
“Returning from his first vacation, President Obama would have wanted to make health care reform his first priority but it seems now that the situation in Afghanistan is what he will have to focus on. It is a grim situation.
“The elections have clearly been rigged and despite the efforts to provide security the turnout had been low.
“The level of governance has not improved and if Hamid Karzai is proclaimed the victor as seems likely governance will probably deteriorate further as Karzai in fulfilment of pre-election deals appoints more warlords and other unsavoury characters as governors and ministers.
“Increasingly, comparisons are being drawn between Afghanistan and the Vietnam quagmire in learned pieces by commentators from the leading think tanks in Washington
“The biggest question that Obama will have to answer is how the quality of governance can be improved and how the Afghan people can be convinced that despite the tainted election they should place their trust in a Karzai administration. McChrystal obviously will try to ensure that his troop concentrations in population centres provide not only protection against Taliban attacks but also monitor the quality of governance provided by Karzai appointed officials.
“Meanwhile, America’s NATO partners are increasingly wary of continued involvement in Afghanistan. As one American commentator put it, “NATO members present militarily in Afghanistan do not believe they can placate their domestic opposition much beyond 2010”.
“For Obama, retreat from Afghanistan is not really an option at this time. This is his war and he is convinced that abandoning Afghanistan will mean having to contend with an even more difficult situation in Pakistan. He will therefore support McChrystal’s recommendations. The danger is that he will do so in limited fashion because of the strong opposition that a more whole hearted commitment would invite from his democratic base of support.”

where is Osama ?
Posted by ACitizen
09/09/2009, 01:37 PM

Not once in that article did I see any mention of the reason we went to Afghanistan. Eight hundred and twenty troopers dead and no Osama. We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build, at least that was what we were told.
I say do what we went there to do and get out. Go get Osama in Afghanistan or Pakistan and leave. I care Nothing about Afghanistan or Pakistan. They care nothing about me. They only want my money.
So Pakistan has the bomb, so what. If the wacko's in Pakistan got control of the bomb maybe India would send the whole place back to the stone age (only last week).
Maybe Pakistan would fire back a nuke at India in return and send back jobs India has that belongs back in the US. It could be all good ;)

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