David Sorota, Huffington Post December 1, 2009
Just a few quick questions to ponder after President Obama's speech announcing a massive escalation in Afghanistan:
- What percentage of those kids in the audience will die because of this decision?
- Why do so many pundits and pro-Obama activists continue to focus on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this decision is for President Obama, rather than on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this will be for the soldiers who are killed? Doesn't Obama get to make this decision, and then go home to the comfortable confines of a butlered White House, while thousands of Americans will be sent 7,000 miles from home to face their potential deaths? Isn't the latter "harder" than the former?
- Where's the antiwar movement and the marches and the organizing and the protesting? Where are all those well-funded groups that protested George W. Bush's war policy? Or was all that really just about hating George Bush and embracing blind Partisan War Syndrome?
- In the days and weeks after this speech, will the White House's cynical new spin get ever more desperate and become, hey - at least an Afghanistan escalation holds out the possibility of making sure military combat casualties start outpacing military suicides?
- Simple budget question: Should we now believe that escalating the Afghanistan War at the same annual cost of universal health care will save more than 45,000 Americans a year (i.e. the number of Americans who die every year for lack of health insurance)?
- Did CNN really turn a move to potentially send thousands of Americans to die in Central Asia into an over-stylized, hyper-marketed television show called "Decision Afghanistan?" Is the media really that soulless, or did my eyes betray me?
- Which is worse - a stupid person like George W. Bush starting a dumb occupation, or a smart person like Barack Obama following the lead of that stupid person, but actually escalating that occupation?
- The "we're going to escalate war to end war" refrain throughout the speech - have we heard that before somewhere? It sounds sorta like "we'll burn down the Vietnam villages to save them." Just curious if that's what we're talking about here - because, ya know, that worked out really well.
- Are we really expected to believe that massively escalating a war is the way to end a war? I mean, really? Like, is the public really looked at like we're that stupid? And a follow-up question: Are we really that stupid?
- If Obama's Afghan War strategy about escalating a war to end a war was a self-help strategy for, say, alcoholics, wouldn't it prescribe drinking more whiskey to stop drinking - and wouldn't we all laugh at that?
- How many pundits will insist that bowing down to the Military-Industrial complex and escalating this missionless war somehow shows "resolve" and "strength" and "toughness" and "leadership" and not embarrassing weakness?
- Would the Obamaphiles now telling us to "give President Obama a chance" with this decision and/or defending Obama's escalation - would these same people be saying we should "give President McCain a chance" and/or defending President McCain's escalation if he was the one in office making this decision?- I'm confused: Is this hope or change?
In the interests of self disclosure I admit I strongly supported President Obama fully knowing, based on some of his campaign speeches, that he would do exactly what he announced last night. He stated quite forcefully during his presidential campaign, that he would down scale Iraq in favor of escalating our presence in Afghanistan. PO believed Iraq was Bush's mistaken war and that Afghanistan represented the real threat to America. PO said he would pick up the ball Bush had dropped. Afghanistan is one campaign promise PO is keeping in spades. This is the complete reverse of his actions on his promises concerning the culture war issues. For instance gay soldiers will still get to die in the closet.
I supported Obama even though I was fully aware of this strategy because I thought it might be the best strategy. Get out of Iraq and finish Afghanistan. Two years ago I didn't know how inept and corrupt the Karzai regime was, or that the US under Bush had done nothing about the increase in the Poppy trade, or that unemployed Afghan males would flock back to the Taliban where they would be handed regular meals with their AK47's.
Two years ago Afghanistan wasn't just an American war, we also had some help from other countries. Now it's Obama's war, the war he wanted to fight, and he says we'll have more international help. I hope it's meaningful help. He also stated Pakistan will be treated as part of the problem and solution, rather than as a separate issue. That's hopeful too, because Pakistan is part of the problem and must be part of the solution. His speech was typical Obama, direct, hopeful and articulate, but I can't help but wonder why the need to give it at West Point. Why not in the Oval Office to the entire nation, rather than the already convinced and committed. This wasn't exactly a town hall audience.
Maybe it's because no one in the Obama administration really expects this surge to work and PO felt the need to rally the troops who were going to have to take all the risks. That's what really angers me. Eighteen months from now Karzai will still be president. Corruption will still flourish. The poppy trade will still finance the Taliban with the Karzai family prime beneficiaries. Illiterate young men will still flock to the Taliban for regular meals in spite of what those rifles they get with those meals actually mean for their long term health.
Here's why I think that. The single most shocking statistic for me about Afghanistan is that the literacy level is just over 10%. I don't understand how we can 'nation' build on an illiterate base. The only nation one can build on this kind of population is the one they have--totalitarian rule by either corrupt secularists or theocratic extremists. I guess PO thinks American interests are best served by the corrupt secularists rather than a Taliban theocracy. Afghans aren't served by either. They are abused by both.
There is a component of Obama's plan that is designed to help with community building, but the emphasis of the program is the training and equipping of competent security forces. I can understand the need to pursuit that strategy in the short term. In the long term Afghan security in a complex modern world is dependent on an educated population, not just an educated security force.
The Taliban knows this which is why they have invested so much in their own form of education, the midrashas. They also know something else, they can not continue to influence male thinking if women are also educated. This is undoubtedly why the Taliban target schools for girls and women. They can say it's because of fidelity to their interpretation of the Koran, but the Taliban has shown too much practical resiliency for me to buy that notion. Educated women are a huge threat to their version of theocracy.
I would have loved it if one line of Obama's speech had mentioned women and girls. I wish he would have stated that is was as important to work with and educate the women of Afghanistan as it was to train and arm their men. He didn't and because he didn't, the long term hope for Afghanistan has ironically been castrated--irrespective of when we actually pull our troops out.
In the long run books for girls and women will be more important than guns for boys and men.