Obama and Afghanistan: It’s Hard to Decide on a Move When You Have So Few Pieces Left
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Reuters (via TPM) today that it will be at least another week — in other words, after Thanksgiving — before President Obama announces his new strategy for Afghanistan (not to be confused, of course, with his previous new strategy from earlier this year).
Meanwhile, though, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wasn’t waiting to reiterate her assessment of the situation (also Reuters via TPM):
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is an “unworthy partner” who does not deserve a big boost either in U.S. troops or civilian aid, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Pelosi, a skeptic on sending more troops to Afghanistan, also said in an interview with National Public Radio aired on Friday that there was not strong support among her fellow Democrats in Congress for “any big ramp-up of troops” to oppose resurgent Taliban forces.
She told NPR she had asked fellow Democrats to give President Barack Obama room to decide his Afghan strategy, which is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Once Obama, also a Democrat, announces his decision, lawmakers would “not be shy” about responding, she said.
“The president of Afghanistan has proven to be an unworthy partner. We cannot fund a mission where we don’t have a reliable partner and where whatever civilian investments we want to make, which are so necessary, will be diverted for a corrupt purpose,” Pelosi told NPR News’ Morning Edition.
“How can we ask the American people to pay a big price in lives and limbs and also in dollars if we don’t have a connection to a reliable partner?”
Pelosi’s comments are right on target. Karzai is exactly what many observers feared Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was — a corrupt, incompetent leader who would use past American rhetoric (and a general reluctance to admit defeat) to hold U.S. troops hostage indefinitely to prop up his failing regime.
As it turned out, Maliki may be crooked and inept, but at least he had the wherewithal (and was sufficiently distrustful of U.S. motives) to sign an agreement to gradually ease us out of the picture. Karzai hasn’t been nearly as generous, leaving Obama trapped in what has become an unwinnable war on behalf of a resented foreign occupation — as described vividly by recently resigned diplomat Matthew Hoh, as well as leaked cables by U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry.
Apparently, the remaining pipe dream on the hawks’ side is that if we can just scrape up another 40,000 troops, we can somehow put the clamps on the Karzai government’s corruption and restore public trust in what we’re doing. Which, I suppose, would be great if we had the 40,000 troops to spare, if the leap from sending the troops to winning hearts and minds wasn’t so heavily based on wishful thinking, and if it wasn’t already so late in the game.
The hardest thing for many hawks to accept about Iraq was that after several years of missteps (including the initial decision to invade), there was no mission left that could be accomplished, and no opportunity for a do-over. Obama’s long pause as he ponders Afghanistan suggests that he’s struggling with the same realization there as well.