No Country for Old Empires: An Afghanistan Speech Digest | Bleader

No Country for Old Empires: An Afghanistan Speech Digest


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The reviews on President Obama's Afghanistan speech are in from the left blogs, and they aren't good:


One of the strangest things about Obama's strange speech last night was that it was awful. What a mess of a speech, from the person who often spoke so eloquently during the campaign that people like Garry Wills actually compared his oratory to Lincoln's!

[Yeah, pretty much - as oratory, it consisted mostly of talking points taped together with the glue of mixed metaphors.]


Is this one of those deals where they left an old speech on the teleprompter by mistake?

Paul Campos:

The plan as presented is obviously for public consumption: the real plan will have to be either:

(1) To abandon Afghanistan, as the Bush administration eventually abandoned Iraq, but only, as in Iraq, after a face-saving military triumph over the current wave of civil insurgency, aka the declare victory and leave option; or

(2) Perpetual occupation.

[See Digby above.]


Well, I guess that’s progress. I’m not sure where the Attackerman audience is on escalation (nickel version of my personal take: 30,000 troops will certainly accomplish something, however it’s still not entirely clear what it is we’re trying to accomplish and/or how valuable those accomplishments really are), but the whole point of this exercise is to get Afghanistan into a state where the US is more comfortable leaving.


The speech itself, however, was oddly weak on the feasibility point and instead lead into the weird kinda sorta promise to start winding the war down in 2011 which struck me as a promise vague enough to not reassure the left while also being concrete enough to set the right-wing piranhas in motion.

Steve Benen:

I went into last night's presidential speech on U.S. policy in Afghanistan feeling skeptical. I came out of last night's presidential speech on U.S. policy in Afghanistan feeling skeptical. That's probably not a good sign about the effectiveness of the presentation.

Juan Cole:

The biggest threat of derailment comes from an American public facing 17 percent true unemployment and a collapsing economy who are being told we need to spend an extra $30 billion to fight less than 100 al-Qaeda guys in the mountains of Afghanistan, even after the National Security Adviser admitted that they are not a security threat to the US.

More Juan Cole:

Seasoned observers find preposterous the prospect that a crash training program could double the size of both the police and the army and turn them into effective, upright and independent security forces in the space of two years or so. (Obama wants to begin drawing back down U.S. forces in only 18 months.) Nor would mere basic training address the problems of illiteracy, drug use, corruption, desertion and ethnic grievances.

Jonathan Schwarz:

The decision's been made. Now all we need is a reason!


What Obama needed to announce was not just a timeframe for troop withdrawals to begin, but a detailed timeline all the way to complete pullout. He needed to put forth unambiguous benchmarks by which to measure success. And most importantly, he needed to explain precisely what happens if the benchmarks aren't met - i.e. if things don't go according to plan. Because they won't.

In dog-bites-man news, professional baby-splitters approve of president's baby-splitting:

Chicago Tribune Editorial Board:

No speech calling for more troops by the tens of thousands can please much of Obama's political base. But he did offer compelling logic and reassurance to the millions of Americans who have seen the Afghan conflict as an effort adrift, a U.S. loss in the making. His show of resolve Tuesday night ought to impress the doubters and, more important, encourage the men and women he'll deploy.

[In other words: Representatives of non-existent center report that important non-existent voting bloc approves.]

And pre-speech important background reading

Marcy Wheeler:

We’ve long discussed that Obama’s orders regarding torture don’t apply to Bagram, as well as rules that allow the Red Cross some—but not enough—access to our prisons in Bagram. So the news reported in the NYT and WaPo today that we’ve still got black sites in Afghanistan are no surprise.

Ghosts of Alexander:

But how about the rumor that maintains that the US is directly funding and supporting the Taliban? And what crazy people to think this. Seriously? I mean just because the US has given hundreds of millions to a country that supported the Taliban from 1994-2001? And just because the US continued to give money to the country whose military continues to provide support to the Taliban? And just because the US pays the Taliban? Oh, yeah. About that. Um….those payments are, like, totally indirect and stuff. Silly Afghans and your conspiracy theories! Move along…move along…nothing to see here.


If you'd have told me that this civil war was a fight over who controls the world's opium production, and that we'd picked the losing side in this battle of criminals, I would've said your cerebellum is on an intravenous drip of LSD spiked with toad venom.


A few weeks back, Jane Mayer published an excellent and widely ignored report on the use of drone attacks in Pakistan. These are not the military drone attacks in Afghanistan (where military action is authorized by law), but the CIA drone program across the border, which is used to assassinate Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in an area where we are not legally at war. Now an assassination is merely lawless, not necessarily immoral. However, the drones and their aptly-named Hellfire missiles do not discriminate between the target of the attack and the son, wife, servant, or driver who happens to be nearby. In a legitimate war, civilian casualties must be minimized but also accepted. In an assassination attempt, civilian casualties are murder victims—someone's daughter, someone's son, someone's husband who went off to forage for scrap metal and never came back.

Gary Wills:

These are the arguments that have kept us in losing efforts before. They are the ones that made presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon pass on to their successors in the presidency the draining and self-lacerating Vietnam War. They are the arguments that made President George W. Bush pass on two wars to his successor.