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|Afghanistan will change presidency|
Barak Obama's presidency will change over the next few weeks. Until now, he has had the luxury of being able to point to former President George W. Bush and simply charge him with ruining America's prestige abroad through his unilateralism in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not anymore.
Obama must make a decision about the war in Afghanistan that will give his administration full ownership of this issue.
Americans understood that when elected Obama would push for universal health care, greener energy along with hope and change and other vague promises about Iraq and Guantanamo. Most had no idea that he would be at the helm when a decision would be required regarding Afghanistan.
Top military leaders are demanding that the White House act quickly by increasing the number of troops from the present 68,000-troop level by as many as 40,000. Earlier this year, Obama stated that he planned to send more than 20,000 additional troops to the country to provide security for a national election. Unfortunately, President Hamid Karzai did little this summer to improve his position internally or externally by "winning" an election marred with fraud and corruption. The European Union, for example, has claimed that as many as 1.5 million votes in Afghanistan may have been cast illegally; where more than one million of those were for Karzai.
In fact, Karzai's failure to win decisively and fairly began again the call for more troops. But, with the health care debate spinning out of control in town hall meetings across the country, Obama may see his legacy tied more to Afghanistan than anything else. This he cannot afford.
Recently, General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, wanted to cede remote outposts and consolidate troops in more populated areas to better protect Afghan civilians. This too has prompted a shift for Obama.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently that the Taliban, the terrorist organization that supported al-Qaeda on 9-11, currently has the "momentum in the country." He further warned that a Taliban takeover of the country would "empower the al-Qaeda terrorist network" and could empower Taliban forces in Pakistan.
According to a CBS Report, "President Obama told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general."
So, would it be possible to negotiate a truce of sorts? Maybe meet with Taliban leaders to discuss how to make Afghanistan a stable country with a functioning governance system? Or, how to better develop their infrastructure and create a real economy and not one based on heroin?
I would like to remind the reader of the following: the Taliban is not asking for a line of credit from the International Monetary fund or for favored nation status at the World Trade Organization. The Taliban is a radical religious/political movement that has taken over Afghanistan and threatened the stability of Pakistan. It still runs parts of Afghanistan, especially Islamic courts and even has its own separate tax collectors.
Taliban Leader Hakimullah Mehsud met international reporters last week in South Waziristan, according to the journalists, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the news media. Taliban commanders Wali-Ur Rehman and Qari Hussein, and spokesman Aazam Tariq, were at the meeting as well.
According to these reports, the Taliban is not interested in negotiations, disarming or withdrawing.
They simply want the U.S. and other NATO forces to leave the country and allow them to reinstate fully the regime that harbored al-Qaeda. In other words, they don't want Nike shoes, a McDonalds or Coca-Cola. They are not interested in being part of the globalized West. Further, the Taliban is committed to fighting to the last man.
That leaves President Obama in a real dilemma: if he does not act according to what his generals and his Secretary of Defense suggest, then he is making a political decision instead of a strategic/military one. If he does act, he has committed more troops to a cause that most Americans seem to have forgotten why we are there in the first place.
In either case, this $165 million-dollar-a-day war in Afghanistan becomes his issue to defend.
John W. Sutherlin, PhD, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. He also is co-director at the ULM Social Science Research Lab. He can be reached by e-mailing Sutherlin@ulm.edu.