Although I watched President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan live, as likely many of you did, it is necessary both because of the importance of this topic and because of the rhetorical skills of the President to examine closely what he said. Line by line.
The President is an enormously gifted rhetorician (not just a speechmaker) and he uses imagery, timing and delivery as well as or better than most modern presidents (only JFK and Reagan were better in recent times at communicating ideas. Note I dislike Reagan intensely). Then too there were powerful TV images of flags, young West Point cadets, and senior White House leaders (including Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates present). All of these things are choreographed to sway one’s mind and I am seeking a more logical and dispassionate reading of the President’s speech to see what it portends for our country. I’m taking his speech line by line, paragraph by paragraph as presented on the New York Times website (which presumably got it from the Office of the President). For the speech see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/world/asia/02prexy.text.html?_r=1
I’m also a lawyer so this line-by-line analysis fits in nicely with my own training. To make it easy for other readers to follow, I’ll stipulate the pages on the New York Times website and I’ll bold or blockquote (for longer passages) the President’s words. NOTE that this is the first part of this Diary which has to be broken in other parts for this website.
It is an honor for me to do so here – at West Point – where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our security, and to represent what is finest about our country.
A nice tip of the hat to the military and of course a means to establish a foothold with his audience.
To address these issues, it is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people.
Nearly right from the start, Obama misleads and is factually wrong. None of the 19 hijackers, that I can recall, came from Afghanistan. Most of them came from Saudi Arabia and its seems the attack was planned in Hamburg, Germany, not in Afghnistan. This is an obvious effort to underscore why the escalation is needed but this kind of erroneous, 9-11 waving statement could have easily been made by George W. Bush. If this is the rationale, perhaps instead we should be invading Saudi Arabia, for that is where most of the hijackers came from.
Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.
Obama here again shamelessly used 9-11 just as Bush did: he seems to imply had we in some way had control of Afghanistan in 2001, then the attack on the Twin Towers never would have happened. The trouble is, this has no bearing to reality. This is pure demagoguery.
As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda – a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. Al Qaeda’s base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban – a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.
First, interesting use of the word "extremists" and not terrorists, something that continues throughout Obama’s speech. This ENLARGES the scope of our opposition, and could include many of Obama’s critics worldwide who are not terrorists. Second, again, factually wrong on Al Aqeda’s (AQ hereinafter) base of operations in so far as the hijackers and the planers of 9-11. Third, no mention that the U.S. for some time financed the opposition to the USSR in America and in a sense brought about the Taliban which was used by the US against the USSR. In other words, the first phase of the American role in Afghanistan (prior to October 2001) is not mentioned at all.
Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them – an authorization that continues to this day. The vote in the Senate was 98 to 0. The vote in the House was 420 to 1. For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 – the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.
Again, shameless use of 9-11 much as Bush would have used it. Obama ignores the fact this is now almost 9 years later and we know more about what happened in 2001 then back then. He offers Bush’s position almost word for word.
America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda’s terrorist network, and to protect our common security.
Not quite. Bush’s coalition "of the willing" was not the entire world but Obama wants you to believe that the entire world is behind him. It is not. Not even all of our NATO allies are united on sending more troops to Afghanistan (see Germany).
Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy – and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden – we sent our troops into Afghanistan.
Obama here seems to confuse the Taliban and AQ. Osama, if we are to believe most that has been written of him, was the leader of AQ. The Taliban is completely different so why should they hand Bin Laden over? This statement also does not square with Obama’s earlier reasons for the reason for the attack into Afghanistan which dealt with 9-11 and the hijackers (none of them based in Afghanistan).
The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope.
Places do not hope, people do so this is an inane comment. It also paints a very optimistic picture of what happened.
The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here. It is enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq War drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention – and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.
Obama wants to gloss over Iraq of course because that war undermines his "good war" hypothesis for the war in Afghanistan: there are no "good wars". This segment also ignores the fact that the US DID have a significant presence of troops in Afghanistan (for the past 8 years in fact) and spent billions of dollars there during this time. Obama makes it sound like we simply had left.
Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the character of our men and women in uniform. Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance , we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people.
This again is a "promise" to end the war but Obama has made lots of promises that he has broken. He had promised to close GITMO too (and does so again later in this speech) but that has not happened. Moreover, note the disctinction Obama uses here: he says we will remove our "combat brigades…and all of our troops…" That’s a bit vague. Is he talking about removing ALL of our troops period, or all of our combat troops? It seems to me this ambigious at best.
"… the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda’s leadership established a safe-haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it has been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient Security Forces. Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to take control over swaths of Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating acts of terrorism against the Pakistani people.
Obama skates over the problem that AQ can again "escape over the borders into Pakistan" even with this escalation. So in a sense, his actions will destablize Pakistan as Sen. Russ Feingold has been pointing out for months. Here again Obama used AQ and the Taliban almost interchangeably (but note how FEW times he really talks about the Taliban in this speech as opposed to the number of times he used AQ). ALL military analysts indicate that there are fewer than 100 AQ members in Afghanistan now.
Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. That’s why, shortly after taking office, I approved a long-standing request for more troops.
Here Obama is referring to the 21,000 troops he sent to Afghanistan in February. So he has escalated ONCE already and been holding almost continual reviews of policy there all year. The problem is, the 21,000 troops did NOTHING to stablizie Afghanistan. This number also does NOT include private contractors, estimated to be 80,000 in the country. Obama does NOT TALK at all in this speech about the private contractors or their huge cost.
High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we have stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda world-wide. In Pakistan, that nation’s Army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and – although it was marred by fraud – that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and Constitution.
Again, Obama uses AQ and Taliban almost interchangeably when they are not. To repeat, there are fewer than 100 AQ in Afghanistan. To say that Afghanistan’s presidential election was "marred by fraud" is the understatement of the century. Obama also tends to look at Afghanistan in a centralized way when it is perhaps the most decentralized country in the world for the past 30 years.
There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe-havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan Security Forces and better secure the population. Our new Commander in Afghanistan – General McChrystal – has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: the status quo is not sustainable.
A few points here. Obama doubtlessly does not want to say that there are fewer than 100 AQ in AFghanistan because it totally undermines his argument. Second, Gen. McCrystal has asked for more troops AND a different strategy: to focus on counter-insurgency. Obama does NOT address the differences between what he is proposing here and what McCrystal wants. It is clear from this speech that Obama is providing LESS than what our military command wants. That’s a built in "stab in the back" situation for the future and something the GOP will pounce on.
PAGE 2 (from N.Y. Times web site):
Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government
Again, Obama paints AQ and Taliban as virtually the same when they are not. Again, there is NO significant AQ presence in Afghanistan as said earlier by Gen. Petreus and Gen. Jack Keane, a major author of the "troop surge" in Iraq.
When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. And that’s why, shortly after taking office, I approved a longstanding request for more troops.
Obama repeats himself. He’s obviously trying to portray himself as different from the Bush administration.
After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts.
The "I set a goal" is very, very doubtful since our government and military seemed to be in a nation building mode as well as a counter insurgency mode, especially after Gen. McCrystal took over.
Since then, we’ve made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we’ve stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda worldwide.
If this is so and we have been so successful, why the escalation of 21,000 troops in February by Obama, and why this escalation? Again, Obama blurs the difference between AQ and the Taliban.
In Pakistan, that nation’s army has gone on its largest offensive in years.
In fact, Obama’s policies in Afghanistan have DESTABILIZED Pakistan even further, driving the AQ into Pakistan’s safe havens. This whole speech raises an obvious question: it appears the war will esclate next into Pakistan especially since what Obama says toward the end of his speech.
Our new commander in Afghanistan — General McChrystal — has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: The status quo is not sustainable.
For all of the bright lining seen by Obama above, he in fact sacked McCrystal’s predecessor indicating things haven’t been going well. Obama here also UNDERSTATES McCrystal’s position. He has said we pretty much have 12 months in which to turn Afghanistan around and after that it will be impossible. McCrystal’s plan focused more on counter insurgency than Obama does, a difference glossed over by the President.
Now, let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all the different options,
In this section, Obama attempts to provide cover to his own butt for the GOP claims he has been "dithering". It is likely this will be one of the most controversial sections of this speech. If the situation is so dire, and since Obama has admitted he has almost continuously weighed new policy options since March, why wait until December to make this speech? The GOP will zero in on this statement like sharks drawn to a bloodied victim. Usually when someone says, "Let me be clear" one should turn on their bull shit detectors. This argument is totally unconvincing.
And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Here Obama at last spells out the number of troops (but not the new number of contractors. Most analysist say that for each troop there is a private contractor so this likely means 30,000 more contractors too, something ignored by Obama throughout the speech). Note too that this number is low for what McCrystal had thought of as crucial: counter-insurgency. The US military will doubtlessly pressure Obama and Congress for more troops (which of course will cost more).
After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.
This is also likely to be one of the most controversial parts of Obama’s speech since John McCain (and others) has said no time frame should be discussed because it will just encourage AQ to wait us out. There’s merit to that argument. Note too that Obama uses the very vague term "our troops will begin to come home". Does he mean ALL of our troops, the troop surge, just combat troops? Note too the use of the term "BEGIN to come home": very vague, very ambiguous with lots of wiggle room. In short, this sounds to me to be so vague it is meaningless.
These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
The statement about "building the Afghan capacity" seems to be very close to nation building, and at contradiction with much of the rest of the speech which focuses on Afghanization of the war.
(Page 2 of 6)
Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistani people.
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Obama Vows to Fight Al Qaeda ‘Cancer’ (December 2, 2009) Now, throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. And that’s why, shortly after taking office, I approved a longstanding request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts.
Since then, we’ve made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we’ve stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda worldwide. In Pakistan, that nation’s army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and — although it was marred by fraud — that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.
Yet huge challenges remain. Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There’s no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population. Our new commander in Afghanistan — General McChrystal — has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: The status quo is not sustainable.
As cadets, you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you fought in Afghanistan. Some of you will deploy there. As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service. And that’s why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy. Now, let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all the different options, along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key partners. And given the stakes involved, I owed the American people — and our troops — no less.
This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war now for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.
Obama here is obviously pandering to the left of his party which largely opposes escalation. Indeed, recent Gallup polls show 57% of Democrats want a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Obama claims to be antiwar based on a single vote on Iraq; hardly a great sample to draw on for statistical purposes. Here too Obama glosses over the "cost of war" which he never adequately addresses. This theme also leads into his "we need unity" closing.
Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you — a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens. As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I’ve traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war.
Sorry, this is obvious pandering to the military and military families (just as Michelle’s taking over "concern" for military families is). This could have been uttered by George W. Bush. Obama also seems to be patting himself on the back a bit much here for all of his "sacrifices".
So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.
This is the very heart of Obama’s rationale for expanding the war and IT IS BASED ON FALSE STATEMENTS. Again, there are fewer than 100 AQ in Afghanistan as said by our top generals. Nor was the US attacked from Afghanistan at 9-11: the hijackers mainly came from Saudi Arabia and the attack seems to have been planned in Germany. This is all wrong factually but of course Obama lies here because he needs to. There really is NO reasson that AFghanistan poses a threat to the US now. Again, this section, especially with the misleading 9-11 statements, could have been deliverd by Bush.
We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.
Wrong, since AQ is not in Afghanistan in any significant numbers. This might be a rationale for further escalating the war to Pakistan, and probably WILL BE used by Obama in the future.
Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America’s war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda’s safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.
Here Obama trys to point out that other countries interests are involved but he does not note the tremendous opposition in NATO countries to deployment of troops to Afghanistan. By all estimates, NATO will likely send only about 5,000 more troops there. And yes, the stakes are higher in Pakistan but this Obama strategy is just going to destabilize Pakistan more by sending AQ to Pakistan, which is what has happened. Russ Feingold pointed this out months ago.
These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
A very disturbing set of sentences because he once again implies our allies our unified. They are not. Britain will only send 500 more troops for instance. Here too he is talking about more than Afghanistan; he seems to be opening the door to war within Pakistan even more. That would be a huge escalation. Hundreds of thousands of more troops would be necessary to do that.
To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven.
A classic strong man argument: there are fewer than 100 AQ in Afghanistan and this escalation will only push all of them into Pakistan where they can wait out Obama’s 18 months. This strategy seems to make no sense. I see Obama as priming the well for a new speech in another 8 months to ask for even more troops for Afghanistan AND Pakistan.
And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.
How can we do that with such a corrupt ally? And the latter part of this statement seems to be in line with nation building. Is that what we really can afford and will do? Vietnamization of the war did not work in Vietnam, why will Afghanization of the war work in Afghanistan which has historically been MORE DECENTRALIZED than Vietnam ever was. Obama simply does not understand what happened in Vietnam.
First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months.
How is this going to be possible in the next 18 months when it has not in the past 9 years? All the Taliban has to do is wait us out. AQ has already gone to Pakistan. This makes no sense whatsoever as a strategy. Also, it is at odds with what Gen. McCrystal asked: a counterinsurgency strategy. And what does "increase Afghanistan’s capacity" mean? That could imply nation building too.
The 30,000 additional troops that I’m announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 — the fastest possible pace — so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers.
This statement assumes that the insurgency is ONLY in "key population centers". It also seems to be giving the Taliban a free hand in the countryside. That means, they can simply move from the cities to the countryside with impugnity: just what AQ did when they left Afghanistan. It does not defeat the enemy. It is a kind of "strategic hamlet" approach which we used in Vietnam (and failed).
They’ll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
All of this will happen in 18 months when we have not been able to do it in 8 years? Hard to believe! Al Jazeera television notes that official estimates for the Afghan army are only 90,000 and they say that way overstates the number, by at least half. Ditto for the police force which numbers the same. Al Jazeera says that in reality the police force is more like 35,000. So this is a huge group to train in just 18 months. But Obama is trying to sell this to the American people and thus the small amount of time he allots for the task. Look for him to move this date (as he moved the closing of GITMO to indeterminate) as time goes on.
Because this is an international effort, I’ve asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we’re confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully.
This part of the speech could have been delivered by George W. Obama like Bush overstates the allied commitment. All reports indicate that NATO will not send many more than 5,000 new troops, if that to Afghanistan. The AFghan war is hugely unpopular in Europe. Note the current troop levels by country in Afghanistan:
So the US troops outnumber NATO troops more than 3 to 1. That is NOT an international effort.
But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.
A very ambitious timeframe that Obama knows is driven by present day politics. It will change as most of what he has promised does. "to begin the transfer of our forces out…in July of 2011" is also very vague. All forces? Just combat forces? And begin could mean 10 troops. This is pap for the American people; Obama is not levelling with us.
Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.
Sorry, Mr. President but the UN has not been a positive force in Afghanistan: why should it be in future? Its head of mission there COVERED UP the Karzai fraud in elections. "Our partner" are limited to the U.K., Germany, Canada, Italy and France. The people of NONE of those countries wants this.
This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction.
What benchmarks have been laid out? I see none. Nothing here is performance based. Obama has said Afghanistan will get 30,000 more troops and those are NOT tied to performance in any way I can see. Bullshit language about a "blank check" that are for gullible American voters. Note that this section ends with Obama praising the corrupt Karzai administration which just committed fraud on a massive scale. That is the ally we are relying on? Ouch!
(to be continued)