Belmont Club

Obama hints at his Afghan strategy

President Barack Obama revealed part of his thinking on the US commitment to Afghanistan in an interview on 60 Minutes. (For background, see the previous post “The Crucial Year”.)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama insisted on Sunday that military force alone would not end the war in Afghanistan and suggested a U.S. “exit strategy” could be part of a new comprehensive policy he is expected to unveil soon. …

He made clear his new approach would call for a greater emphasis on economic development in Afghanistan, diplomacy with neighboring Pakistan and better coordination with international partners than under his predecessor George W. Bush. …

Obama is shifting the U.S. focus from the unpopular war in Iraq to the conflict in Afghanistan, where violence has increased to its highest level since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

He blamed his predecessor for the situation there now. An AP article quotes him as saying,

“You are often confronted with bad choices that flow from less than optimal decisions made a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, when you weren’t here,” Obama said. “A lot of times, when things land at my desk, it’s a choice between bad and worse.”

The article also says that Obama’s strategy will be anchored on the following elements: building economic capacity in Afghanistan; improving diplomatic efforts in Pakistan; bringing a more regional diplomatic approach to bear; and coordinating more effectively with allies. Obama described how difficult it was for him to decide to send reinforcements to the theater. “When I make a decision to send 17,000 young Americans to Afghanistan, you can understand that intellectually, but understanding what that means for those families, for those young people when you end up sitting at your desk, signing a condolence letter to one of the family members of a fallen hero, you’re reminded each and every day at every moment that the decisions you make count.”

Absent from the President’s message was what the US strategic goals in Afghanistan were, apart from the exit strategy. What does President Obama define as ‘winning’? What does victory look like? Without some kind of goal to shoot for, then in crass business terms the return on investment for the 17,000 additional men he sending in is undefined. They are being asked to risk their lives. But in exchange for what? Perhaps more details will emerge after BHO consults with the NATO allies. But for the moment, the enemy has been told that the US is looking for a way out. Before or after their ‘defeat’ — however that may be defined — that is what we wait to learn.