Close, But No Success (Yet)

On Commentary: 'Obama's Close: Goals Must Be More Clearly Defined'

President Obama at West Point i i

President Barack Obama speaks about the war in Afghanistan at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP
President Obama at West Point

President Barack Obama speaks about the war in Afghanistan at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Charles Dharapak/AP

Post-Speech Analysis:

As whole, in his speech on Tuesday, President Obama showed considerable leadership in tackling his most complex undertaking. In particular, I have to give the president credit for raising two issues I view as critically important: one, the need to seek more than a military solution to the challenges encountered; and the other, to say that success in Afghanistan is linked to partnership with Pakistan. Unfortunately, in my view, the president came significantly short on both counts. It is not sufficient to just say that we need a civilian surge and that a stronger partnership is needed with Pakistan. The president had an opportunity to convince us how these goals can be achieved. In fact, the only way to bring troops back home is to have a substantial and effective surge in economic aid in Afghanistan, and a strong and sustained focus on governance. On Pakistan, the president needed much more clarity on how to convince the Pakistani army to stop supporting extremist groups — a task without which U.S. national security will remain at considerable risk. In the weeks ahead, if President Obama finds his way in actually resourcing these two goals, we might yet see success in Afghanistan.

Be sure to check out other top opinion at our Inside Insight: President Obama And Afghanistan page.

Original Commentary:

President Obama's highly anticipated speech on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will have enough rhetoric in it to satisfy most of us. However, it will be just that: a speech. Although the president is an extremely capable leader in explaining intricate notions, he is faced with the most complex foreign policy engagement since World War II. Beyond the speech, it is high time for action in Afghanistan, as eight years of dithering has produced the most serious national security situation for the U.S.

The president's address will undoubtedly detail the number of new troops needed, the fact that the U.S. has a stake in a stable Afghanistan, training for the Afghan army and an urgent need for a much more effective partner in the Afghan government. The president will also speak about the need to have U.S. troops come back home.

There are those who say that President Obama is caught in a dilemma, as he has to both comfort his domestic audience that U.S. troops will eventually exit Afghanistan, and at the same time, assure those in the region of Afghanistan that the U.S. is committed to a long-term partnership for stability. I, on the other hand, would contend that these two goals are not contradictory, and I would strongly caution against a simplistic "exit strategy." These two goals seem unachievable if one relies solely on a military solution. In fact, no true stability can be achieved in Afghanistan with any number of troops.

Masood Aziz i i

Masood Aziz is a former diplomat, foreign policy analyst and the founder of the Afghan Policy Council. Courtesy of Masood Aziz hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Masood Aziz
Masood Aziz

Masood Aziz is a former diplomat, foreign policy analyst and the founder of the Afghan Policy Council.

Courtesy of Masood Aziz

Instead, I believe President Obama needs to focus on a number of broader objectives and endeavor not to define down his goals:

Speeches Vs. Resources: Simply speaking about goals will not achieve the stability needed in Afghanistan. Key to the failures in Afghanistan was a lack of focus by the previous administration. While President Obama will spell out a new grand strategy, the hard part will come after the speech, when it would be time to actually resource the goals outlined. At this stage, any hesitation here will lead to inevitable failure.

The Limitations Of A Military Solution: Despite a shared consensus that we need more than a military solution, we have done nothing but debate the number of troops and its related military approaches. The president needs to clearly outline: A) a much broader regional strategy, and seek to engage and cooperate with regional players such as China, Russia, key Gulf states, the Central Asian countries and Iran; and B) a strong push on governance, and a massive economic development program putting NATO countries in the lead, focusing on the agriculture sector, opening trade routes in the region, and restructuring the international aid delivery process to eliminate the appalling waste in the system.

Pakistan At The Core Of The Problem, And Kashmir As A Solution: No amount of troops or economic aid will clear the path for an exit strategy from Afghanistan if conditions remain such that the Taliban and al-Qaida continue to find refuge in Pakistan. The leadership of both the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban, not to speak of al-Qaida's, are all in Pakistan. The powerful Pakistani army is not about to turn itself on groups it has supported in the past to wage asymmetric warfare against India — the Indian threat being its source of justification for its strong hold on the country. Thus, without directly addressing the Indian-Pakistani rift and therefore without attempting to remove the need to sustain an asymmetric warfare capability by the Pakistani army, the U.S. and NATO can never hope to achieve stability in Afghanistan and its region.

Masood Aziz is a former diplomat, foreign policy analyst and the founder of the Afghanistan Policy Council.

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