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So, what’s the deal with Afghanistan?
Barack Obama has been President… about 68 days? And already, as he plans to draw down 100,000 troops in Iraq over the next 18 months, and send another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, there are already people describing the war in Afghanistan as his “Vietnam.” What is being neglected is the fact that he has inherited two horrific wars, both of which are unpopular, especially within the Democratic party. While these wars may very well suffer from a lack of public support, he is in the difficult position of having to recraft American policy so that he can safely exit both arenas, while shifting focus onto Al Qaeda… remember those guys? The ones who attacked us on 9/11?
Those who would compare President Obama and President Bush’s approach to the wars simply are not paying attention, or are hoping he fails. In Iraq, as mentioned, he is drawing down troops in preparation for an exit before 2011. Within Afghanistan, President Obama is already trying to build an international coalition so that it is not just the United States that bears the full burden. Due to the iron grip of the NeoCons in Bush’s first term, there was virtually no attempt to build a coalition beyond a few token troops from our closest allies. Also, President Bush generated so much animosity and disdain that few nations were willing to step forward and send troops to either Iraq or Afghanistan. President Obama has gone on a diplomacy offensive in order to round up support. He is very popular around the globe, a fact he hopes will gain him the support of world leaders and their troops. In addition to troop increases, President Obama is also going to send civilian experts to Afghanistan to help the fledgling nation develop its economy and political structures. They will also increase the training of Afghan security forces so they can bear responsibility for their own long-term safety.
While President Bush ignored the war in Afghanistan, assuming that the mission was accomplished, the Taliban slowly made a come-back and learned the lessons of guerrilla warfare that were being taught in Iraq. President Obama has promised to refocus our efforts into Afghanistan in order to keep the Taliban away from power, and to prevent them from recreating a safe haven for Al Qaeda. The central strategy will be one of divide and conquer. The Taliban is fractured, with two-thirds of Taliban forces more concerned with local issues, while the other third, led by former Afghan leader Mullah Omar, want to fully regain their control of power. The President hopes that by taking a political, rather than military, approach with the Taliban forces focused on local issues, he can pit the Taliban against itself and against Al Qaeda allies. This strategy also won glowing praise from Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai.
Another fact, which was ignored by President Bush, was that the Taliban have found a safe haven along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. This is where counter-insurgency operations will have to be conducted, and there is already evidence that President Obama is using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, known as Predator Drones, to strike at Taliban and Al Qaeda militants hiding along that porous Pakistan/Afghanistan border. The strikes, which have increased dramatically since August 2008, have sown distrust and division within the Al Qaeda ranks, an effect that they hope will be replicated within the Taliban. A major concern, however, is that there have been numerous drone attacks that have killed civilians. These attacks have been condemned by President Hamid Karzai, who has insisted that attacks on civilians must come to an end. The attacks have had the effect of adding to anti-America sentiment in some areas, which is not helpful in the long-run.
But it is not just the fact that the Taliban and Al Qaeda enjoy protection along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border: the Pakistani military also needs to do more to root out these terrorist elements, which requires counter-insurgency training. Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, made a trip to those countries in early February in order to demonstrate the Obama administration’s desire to focus on that region’s woes. Appearing on the Charlie Rose show, Holbrooke spoke about the need for Pakistan’s military to evolve away from being India-centric and to focus on counter-insurgency training. He also indicated that he would like to see more Pakistani troops along the border. “There is no way,
Charlie, that the international effort in Afghanistan can succeed unless
Pakistan can get its western tribal areas under control,” Holbrooke said. The Pakistan government needs to rein in terrorist organizations within, or there can be disastrous consequences. As was seen in December, with the attacks in Mumbai, these terrorist elements want to spark a larger war between India and Pakistan so they can continue their operations along the western border of Pakistan. The Taliban and Al Qaeda represent a threat to their own continuance as a nation, a threat they need to better understand. President Zardani’s wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by the Taliban, a prefect and personal example of the Taliban threat. Therefore, it becomes a necessity for the U.S. to train the Pakistani military and to provide support for the Pakistani government. This is a regional problem, which President Obama will work hard to resolve.
Though it is important to refocus on Afghanistan, President Obama needs to understand that the continued presence of U.S. troops in the middle-east is a factor in increasing animosity towards our nation. For instance, one of Osama bin Laden’s main grievances against the U.S., pre-9-11, was the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. This sentiment was felt across the Arab region, and it is felt even more powerfully as the U.S. is engaged in two wars in the region. However, despite this reality, President Obama has inherited Bush’s mistakes, and now he has to make decisions that were forced upon him by his predecessor. His choices range from bad to worse. In the short-term, it is necessary to drive back the Taliban in militarily, but in the long-term it is necessary to provide economic support and to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure. The seeds of this strategy have been planted already, as the civilian diplomats en route to Afghanistan are going to focus more on local development and governance, as well as security training. The political solution to the war in Afghanistan is ultimately what will bring us “victory”… which, for many Americans, is defined as bringing our troops home safely.
For President Obama, this the top priority, in terms of foreign policy. After his first National Security Council meeting, Obama was “calm and cool,” while others (such as Rahm Emmanuel) were stunned. “The general feeling was expressed by one person who said at the end, ‘Holy shit.'” There are a multitude of problems, including reining in the production of opium, curbing government corruption, and forging unity among the differing regions and warlords, and creating a sustainable and responsible government. These are some tough challenges and President Obama seems eager to take the challenge. He must, however, keep in mind his history: the Soviet Union deployed over 100,000 troops into Afghanistan and they were ultimately defeated. If he wants to avoid a quagmire, then he needs to split the civilian populations from the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents through positive developments in their society. He also needs to make sure that, in the long run, there is an Afghan face on both their government and military. This is a dangerous time for Afghanistan. There can be virtually no mistakes.
AAAAnd on a completely different note, just for the sake of levity, some hilarious pictures I found.
I quite enjoy the first one…
Remember her? How could we forget?
This was a landslide, bottom line.
According to CNN, Barack Obama won 349 Electoral Votes to John McCain’s 163. Barack Obama also came away with 52% of the popular vote to McCain’s 48% (roughly 58 million to 52 million, respectively). Last night’s victory was not only a victory for Barack Obama, or the Democratic party, but it was a victory for America. It was also a victory for the world. Finally, the American people have repudiated the Bush administration and have embraced Obama’s message of change. We will see in the next few months how that change will look.
As President-Elect Obama begins his transition into the White House, he faces tremendous challenges. In his acceptance speech last night, he acknowledged that it will take time to overcome all the challenges– it will take more than one year, and more than one term, to overcome all the challenges that he will face as President. The premier challenge, no doubt, will be the failing economy. He will also have to move quickly to meet his promise of resolving the Iraq war within the first 18 months of his term. In addition to that, he will need to tackle the Afghanistan war, which will require more troops, more money, and more co-operation from Pakistan. The biggest challenge, and most important challenge in that region, will be the Middle-East peace process, which has suffered greatly due to a non-existent U.S. role during the last eight years. Of course, there are a whole host of other domestic issues he has to face: health care, education reform, energy independence, and more. Those might have to be placed on the back-burner, unfortunately, until the economy levels off.
But Obama is off to a great start.
He’s already offered the job of Chief of staff to former Clinton aide and Illinois Rep. Rahm Emmanuel. Robert Kennedy Jr., a leading environmental activist, has offered his help to the President-Elect, as has John McCain and a whole host of former and current government officials, including former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, Colin Powell (who has already said he would not serve in an Obama administration), John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and many more. Obama has a whole range of people to choose from when he starts to appoint cabinet members. One thing is for sure: if he is serious about reaching across party lines, then he needs to include Republicans in his cabinet. Otherwise, those promises will be just as hollow as when President-Elect George W. Bush made them.
As Obama gears up for January 20, 2009, the GOP and John McCain are gearing up for civil war.
This election was a repudiation of President Bush, but it was also a repudiation of the GOP brand. Now that the election is over, the party needs to turn inwards and reflect upon its mistakes. It has to change and adapt to the new political environment if it wants to survive. If it does not, then the GOP will find itself in exile for years and years to come. The new task is to find a new leader and to find the courage to work with Democrats in congress. Otherwise, they will find themselves in the role of obstructionists without a direction.
One such leader might very well be Sarah Palin. Many GOP insiders reject the notion out of hand, but there are party members who love the idea of Palin being the new voice of the party.
Of those who reject Palin are George Will and Kathleen Parker. They view her as unready, unknowledgeable, and unpopular. The basis for these claims stems from her less than stellar interviews and her performance on the campaign trail. Others, such as Laura Ingram and Sean Hannity, think that she is a person who can run in 2012, effectively putting her at the head of the party as John McCain’s defeat (and the defeat of several GOP Senators and Representatives) has created a power vacuum.
In the last day or so the quiet grumblings between Palin and McCain aides has exploded onto the national stage. McCain aides have already begun the process of scapegoating Palin. Before the election, anonymous McCain aides described Palin as a “rogue” and “diva”, who was not absorbing the complex policy issues. Palin, for her part, has been complaining that the McCain camp was keeping her from being herself and keeping her from participating in interviews. The McCain camp simply responded, essentially, the few interviews she had were horrific enough– imagine dozens of those kinds of interviews. Their argument basically came down to damage control. Which begs the question– Well, then why the hell did you pick her?
John McCain now has the chance to spend more time with his family, as Sarah Palin begins to prepare for a possible 2012 run, America, and the world, prepares for an Obama administration.
The world over has been celebrating the Obama win. It signals to the world that the U.S. is back. We’re ready to be that beacon of hope, that shining city on a hill, once again. Iran has expressed it’s congratulations and hope that Obama will engage them in direct diplomacy, adding “The president-elect has promised changes in policies. There is a capacity for the improvement of ties between America and Iran if Obama pursues his campaign promises, including not confronting other countries as Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also concentrating on America’s state matters and removing the American people’s concerns”; French PM Sarkozy spoke glowingly of President-Elect Obama: “With the world in turmoil and doubt, the American people, faithful to the values that have always defined America’s identity, have expressed with force their faith in progress and the future. At a time when we must face huge challenges together, your election has raised enormous hope in France, in Europe and beyond”; Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai applauded Obama’s vitory, yet added that he would like to see the killing of Afghanistan’s civilians halted; Britain’s PM said, “Barack Obama ran an inspirational campaign, energising politics with his progressive values and his vision for the future. I know Barack Obama and we share many values. We both have determination to show that government can act to help people fairly through these difficult times facing the global economy”; Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “I offer you my heartfelt congratulations on your historic victory in the presidential election. The world faces significant challenges at the start of your term. I am convinced that Europe and the United States will work closely and in a spirit of mutual trust together to confront new dangers and risks and will seize the opportunities presented by our global world”; Kevin Rudd, Australia’s PM, added that “Senator Obama’s message of hope is not just for America’s future, it is also a message of hope for the world as well. A world which is now in many respects fearful for its future”; Israel’s FM Tzip Livni said, cautiously, “Israel expects the close strategic cooperation with the new administration, president and Congress will continue along with the continued strengthening of the special and unshakeable special relationship between the two countries”; and an aide to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s President, said, “We hope the president-elect in the United States will stay the course and would continue the U.S. engagement in the peace process without delay. We hope the two-state vision would be transferred from a vision to a realistic track immediately.”
Obama’s got a huge mess before him and he’s going to act fast, in a manner reminiscent of FDR’s first 100 days. For those people who claim Obama is a radical, or is dangerous for our country, think about this: He has inherited Bush’s mess and does not want to be stuck with the blame by making it worse, so he will do everything in his power to solve these problems. Another factor to keep in mind is the fact that he is this nation’s first African-American President. If he fails to provide effective leadership, or is too radical, then he will have effectively ruined any possible hope for another African-American president, or any other minority, for that minority. He has the eyes of the world upon him, but he also has the burden of history on his back. He cannot fail and he cannot do anything to compromise his legacy as the first African-American President.
Expect him to find his way towards unity and compromise. Also, expect him to use restraint and caution in his decisions– he is not impetuous or spontaneous. He will be deliberate and thoughtful with every decision. As Colin Powell said today in an interview, we have no reason to be worried about an Obama administration.
The Election is tomorrow!
In other news…
On highway 101, in Santa Barbara, California (just an hour south from where I live in Santa Maria), there is an Iraq war vet waving a gun and flag, wearing his camouflage uniform, and screaming anti-Obama slurs. He has caused the whole highway to be shut down, as SWAT teams are in place, and apparently are trying to negotiate with a clearly delusional and suicidal individual.
I’m very disturbed by this. I’m worried about the state of our country.
Just the other day, a friend was telling me about a pick-up truck with a horrible anti-Obama sign on it. It read:
<center><i>What’s the difference between Kennedy and Obama?
This racist bullshit is very upsetting to me. I am so ashamed of my country every time I see this. How can we be the beacon of hope for the rest of the world when we still have subversive and fringe elements that cannot even tolerate an African American as President. We’ll have to be constantly on guard against an assassination attempt. It’s very disappointing.
Why can’t these people disagree with him on substance and issues (as I have, as many of you might recall from the Primary season), instead of race? This is the sort of feelings that have been encouraged, implicitly, by McCain and Palin over the last few months.
I really feel bad for the vet. I am guessing that the war had a serious impact on his mental health. He needs to see a professional and get some help… then he needs to be locked up for the duration of Obama’s presidency. That’s one less psycho on the streets.
The whole election is really getting to me.
I’m constantly thinking about, talking about it, writing about it, and reading about it. I dream about it! I’ll be awake for the next three days I’m sure!
I am of two minds on the election: my rational and irrational mind.
The rational side of my brain thinks he will win in a landslide. The polls, I believe, do not take into account the huge number of people that have registered (overwhelmingly as democrats) during this election, especially among African Americans and the youth. I also think there might be a reverse Bradley-effect.
The irrational side of my brain thinks John McCain still has hope. The polls show a tight race, with Obama about 5% ahead. Polls also show that about 5-7% of voters are undecided. If McCain can win the bulk of those voters, he can win this thing. Also, if the youth voters continue their tradition of not voting, then Obama is screwed. He needs them to vote, not to stay home and smoke weed while playing Guitar Hero.
I’m very worried, but not as worried as Larry David, the co-creator of <i>Seinfeld</i> and the creator of <i>Curb Your Enthusiasm</i>. Here’s what he wrote on the Huffington Post:
<i>I can’t take much more of this. Two weeks to go, and I’m at the end of my rope. I can’t work. I can eat, but mostly standing up. I’m anxious all the time and taking it out on my ex-wife, which, ironically, I’m finding enjoyable. This is like waiting for the results of a biopsy. Actually, it’s worse. Biopsies only take a few days, maybe a week at the most, and if the biopsy comes back positive, there’s still a potential cure. With this, there’s no cure. The result is final. Like death.
Five times a day I’ll still say to someone, “I don’t know what I’m going to do if McCain wins.” Of course, the reality is I’m probably not going to do anything. What can I do? I’m not going to kill myself. If I didn’t kill myself when I became impotent for two months in 1979, I’m certainly not going to do it if McCain and Palin are elected, even if it’s by nefarious means. If Obama loses, it would be easier to live with it if it’s due to racism rather than if it’s stolen. If it’s racism, I can say, “Okay, we lost, but at least it’s a democracy. Sure, it’s a democracy inhabited by a majority of disgusting, reprehensible turds, but at least it’s a democracy.” If he loses because it’s stolen, that will be much worse. Call me crazy, but I’d rather live in a democratic racist country than a non-democratic non-racist one. (It’s not exactly a Hobson’s choice, but it’s close, and I think Hobson would compliment me on how close I’ve actually come to giving him no choice. He’d love that!)
The one concession I’ve made to maintain some form of sanity is that I’ve taken to censoring my news, just like the old Soviet Union. The citizenry (me) only gets to read and listen to what I deem appropriate for its health and well-being. Sure, there are times when the system breaks down. Michele Bachmann got through my radar this week, right before bedtime. That’s not supposed to happen. That was a lapse in security, and I’ve had to make some adjustments. The debates were particularly challenging for me to monitor. First I tried running in and out of the room so I would only hear my guy. This worked until I knocked over a tray of hors d’oeuvres. “Sit down or get out!” my host demanded. “Okay,” I said, and took a seat, but I was more fidgety than a ten-year-old at temple. I just couldn’t watch without saying anything, and my running commentary, which mostly consisted of “Shut up, you prick!” or “You’re a fucking liar!!!” or “Go to hell, you cocksucker!” was way too distracting for the attendees, and finally I was asked to leave.
Assuming November 4th ever comes, my big decision won’t be where I’ll be watching the returns, but if I’ll be watching. I believe I have big jinx potential and may have actually cost the Dems the last two elections. I know I’ve jinxed sporting events. When my teams are losing and I want them to make a comeback, all I have to do is leave the room. Works every time. So if I do watch, I’ll do it alone. I can’t subject other people to me in my current condition. I just don’t like what I’ve turned into — and frankly I wasn’t that crazy about me even before the turn. This election is having the same effect on me as marijuana. All of my worst qualities have been exacerbated. I’m paranoid, obsessive, nervous, and totally mental. It’s one long, intense, bad trip. I need to come down. Soon. </i>
I feel his pain.
Senator Barack Obama (D- Ill) might be gaining momentum, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- NY) is the most qualified candidate. Here are some of the people that are endorsing Senator Clinton.
Robert Kennedy jr. and Caesar L. Chavez
Brilliant interview with Saddam’s interrogator. He reveals a lot about Saddam’s frame of mind before the war. What we see is a much more vulnerable and open Saddam than the Western world thought was possible. He also admits to miscalculations of the current Bush administration that fueled their drive for war. YOU MUST WATCH THIS!