Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama's Afghan Strategy & Communication

Last evening the President presented his strategy at West Point Military Academy after months of deliberation with the principals and national security team. On Wednesday Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton will testify on Capitol Hill and are expected to discuss the White House's $30 billion estimate for the strategy's first year. No doubt Obama's speech will be summarized and analyzed in the coming days and weeks, but a few articles that have popped up fairly quickly are worth mentioning in a quick analysis of his words. (Check out Obama standing on a box covering Iran in the comic, ain't no thang.)

One article (actually written a few hours prior to the speech) is David Jackson of USA Today paraphrasing Rick Nelson, who points to the multivocality of Obama's speech, or maybe trivocality. Nelson claims the three distinct audiences of the speech are the American public, Congress, and the International Community. The first make sense for sure, but I have problems with the assumption that Obama's message to everyone outside the US is the same. In the speech he mentioned Yemen, Somalia, the Afghan people, and NATO allies among other parties. Instead, I would break the international community audience of this speech into three sub-groups: the Karzai government (still a "legitimate government" despite "corruption, drug trade, an under-developed economy and insufficient security forces"), the Afghan people, and the Taliban (who can actually be grouped with our allies). Also trying to communicate to other groups such as Iran, Somalia and others would be attempting to kill too many birds with one stone in this blogger's opinion. The message hopefully received by the Karzai government is that its last chance to bolster Afghan security forces and work with US political objectives there is now, or else it may actually beat Somalia as the most corrupt government. ("The days of providing blank checks are over" might be directed more toward the American public rather than the Karzai government.) The Afghan people, if reached at all, should ideally be convinced that the US does not want to stay any longer than it "has" to and hopefully provide cooperation in counterinsurgency operations until the end of the campaign. Lastly, the message to the Taliban (and our allies) should be fairly clear: go COIN or go home. Of course, an approximate time table (July 2011) for an exit in Afghanistan offers the insurgency a clear goal: keep it up for another year and a half and the US will lose (or at least Obama won't be reelected).

Another interesting article I'll mention briefly is the NYT's room for debate. The most helpful contribution to the Afghan strategy discussion I believe is the one offered by Gerald Meyerle (Gventer's idea that COIN equates to the US military building "a nation from scratch" would likely incite a disapproving response from Kilcullen among others). He states that the number of troops is at best a third order question - while the US political objectives with respect to the insurgency and the Afghan government and what to do with the troops are more important.

At least for Obama's sake, he didn't mention "exit strategy" in the speech (in fact he never used the word 'exit') which would spell one-term-presidency according to Thomas Ricks. Then again he didn't publicly state the approach to Pakistani security problems either... (cue for an excellent post on the Gordian Knot of Pakistan)

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