Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

POLITICS: Obama's Afghanistan Repercussions

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Randal Serr

Randal Serr

President Barack Obama’s recent decision to increase U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan has resulted in some interesting coalitions. Democrats are split with all sorts of opinions. Some people inside and outside of the Democratic Party have abandoned all hope they had in Obama, claiming he is no different from Bush. Another group has been assuaged by his speech, giving him some breathing room to finish up in Afghanistan.

Conservatives are divided on the issue as well. Part of them agree that the U.S. should send the additional troops and leave victorious. Even Karl Rove offered President Obama a certain amount of praise, saying his speech “deserves to be cheered.” And there are all sorts of critiques in between, some less informed than others. All in all, he has somehow accomplished becoming the first liberal socialist far-right warmonger in U.S. presidential history.

This was undoubtedly a tough decision to make and the president made it clear it was not easy for him. There was inherently a lot of risk involved in this decision. If Obama was concerned purely about elections and politics, then he probably would have made plans to immediately exit Afghanistan since a majority of his party (and America) is skeptical of the war.

The July 2011 timetable for withdrawal is more of a goal than a sure exit date. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said we will not leave until the Afghans are ready to take over their own security. If the strategy fails and U.S. troops are required to remain in the country longer, Obama surely will suffer political losses. If the strategy succeeds, he will undoubtedly win back some doubters and former supporters, but not all of them.

Obama and his administration made a comprehensive analysis of the situation. He consulted with experts looking at the reality of the situation on the ground and listened to wide-ranging and differing opinions, a scenario far from the “groupthink” of the Bush administration. He reached a decision after months of consideration. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the conclusion, at least his decision process was thorough. He addressed the concerns of both Americans and Afghans, rather than trying to coerce or scare them into following him.

Having had a few days to let President Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan sink in, I’m still not convinced it was the right decision. Nor am I convinced that pulling out the troops as soon as possible would have been the right decision either. I’m not exactly sure what the best decision would be. The conclusion I have reached, however, is that this is a very complex issue and I appreciate the president treating it as such, rather than making a knee-jerk decision or just “following his gut.”

Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.

POLITICS: Vietghanistan

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Randal Serr

Randal Serr

The war in Afghanistan is not quite the Vietnam War, but there are some similarities that are worth considering, especially right now. Depending on some of the decisions that are going to be made in the near future, the Afghanistan occupation could become another long-term, unconventional conflict with no easy exit option, much like its 1970s predecessor. President Barack Obama inherited a complicated war and has now come to a fork in the road. General McChrystal, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, has all but formally called for an additional 40,000 troops, saying if we do not send them we are headed for “failure.”

Needless to say, this leaves the president in a tough situation. He can either oblige McChrystal and risk escalating a deathly war with no clear strategy, or pull out the majority of troops and be accused of being weak on foreign policy by his hawkish critics. Or he can opt for another strategy somewhere in the middle, which is essentially setting the stage for a prolonged presence in the region.

The situation on the ground is not making his decision any easier. With the delayed results from the recent presidential election, it has been that much harder to establish a clear plan. If he decides to scale back to more of a nation-building strategy, he could be seen as backing a fraudulent government. Currently, President Obama is in the middle of meetings with a myriad of people from various groups, including national security advisors, NATO leaders, members of his own administration, the secretary of defense, and General McChrystal himself, just to name a few. And you can be sure they are all pulling him different directions.

Obama is taking time to make a wise decision, stating that he does not want to be in Afghanistan “for the sake of being there or saving face.” Considering that, since taking office, Obama has already nearly doubled U.S. troop presence in the country (to around 62,000) in order to combat the surge in violence, it’s not such a bad idea to think this through thoroughly. NATO has added roughly 9,000 troops over the same amount of time. There have been over 1,500 civilians killed just since the beginning of the year, largely due to a strategy of drone attacks which I wrote about a couple months ago.

As if all of that were not enough, global opposition is growing. NATO countries are becoming more and more opposed to the war. Two-thirds of Germans oppose the troop presence, with 60 percent wanting immediate withdrawl. Rome recently dedicated a day to mourning the troops that have died in Afghanistan. In Australia, 51 percent of the population opposes our involvement and two-thirds oppose an increase in troops. Sixty-four percent of France opposes their country’s involvement. Other countries have similar views — it’s not just the “socialist” countries that are against the war. The U.S. itself now has more people opposed to increasing troop levels than are for it, with 50 percent against and only 41 percent in favor. There have been additional calls from within Congress for the presentation of a clear exit strategy.

President Obama will have a tough time dealing with any of the issues that need to be taken care of — whether they be health care, climate change or something else –  if the Afghanistan riddle becomes any more of a problem. The way things are looking, regardless of whether Obama ultimately decides to send an additional 40,000 troops, any strategy they devise won’t have the necessary backing to last very long.

Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.

COLUMN: Obama's Afghanistan Mistake

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Randal Serr

Randal Serr

When I talk with people about foreign policy issues, some of their most common concerns deal with blood and treasure.

After maintaining the conversation for awhile, I typically notice that what they are referring to are U.S. troop casualties (we just learned that July 2009 was the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the war began nearly eight years ago) and the money we spend in the effort (we have now spent over $233 billion.) These are both very important realities to consider and should definitely be in the equation when evaluating foreign policy. But something I feel is often overlooked by many, conservatives and liberals alike, is the number of civilians that are killed as a result of war.

The election of Barack Obama has many liberals excited about the progress that accompanies “The One’s” presidency. I myself approve of Obama’s decisions thus far overall. But ever since the campaign season, I have been disappointed when people brush over the issues they know deep down they cannot justify; They often refuse to follow the president’s call for critique. This is probably because they a) are so enamored with him that they do not feel that he is worthy of criticism, or b) feel they must defend him against conservatives of the Sean Hannity/Glenn Beck variety, who make outlandish arguments that amount to all emotion and no logic.

One such example, for which I personally cannot find any justification, is civilian casualties in Afghanistan. To all my liberal friends, consider some of these facts before jumping on the “Support the War in Afghanistan” bandwagon. On September 8th, 2008 (when Bush and Cheney still reigned supreme), we received reports that civilian deaths tripled in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2007, directly due to U.S. and NATO air strikes. Despite criticism from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Obama Administration decided to continue air strikes (or “drone attacks”) in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, despite knowledge of these reports.

These drone attacks are supposed to target the enemy and drive the Taliban into Pakistan, but end up killing hundreds of innocent civilians in the process. 1,103 civilians have already been killed in the first six months of 2009. Civilian deaths in the region have risen 24% in the first quarter of this year alone. Some estimates put the grand total of civilian deaths in the region at more than 7,500. No reasoning seems to justify the killing of innocent men, women and children: Not the preservation of our freedoms (vague and illogical), nor the cost-benefit analysis (cold-hearted and inhumane.)

I think Obama is making much-needed progress in the world, but let’s be honest about some of the harsh realities as well; Only then can we push for the change we truly desire. We are seeing few signs of decreasing drone attacks and plenty of indication toward a long-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Seeing as a long-term presence looks virtually inevitable at this point, I hope the drone attacks are not destined for the same fate.

Randal Serr is a brand-spankin’-new liberal political columnist for Rhombus; This is his first column. He should probably find a better picture for his editor.