Obama and the Shift to Afghanistan

( – promoted by undercovercalico)

Senator Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, has said that he wants to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq within about 16 months. Now it appears that political differences are narrowing and that a possible consensus is building for just that.

The Wall Street Journal in an article on 23 July by By John D. McKinnon, Yochi J. Dreazen and Elizabeth Holmes noted that President Bush had announced a week earlier that he would agree to a “time horizon” for withdrawal. The Prime Minister of Iraq is also pleased.

In the days that followed, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki publicly endorsed a target date for withdrawal — the end of 2010, roughly in line with the mid-2010 time frame advocated by Sen. Barack Obama.

On his Obama ’08 website one year ago on 1 August 2007, Obama made this statement:

It is time to turn the page. When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world’s most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.

Perhaps Obama was ahead of his time, or perhaps he was aware of a July 17, 2007 National Intelligence Estimate which concluded that “al Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan and more centrally organized than it has been at any time since 9/11”. More on that NIE is available at Slate.

Juan Cole had some comments on July 2007 NIE. He relates this interesting anecdote:

I had this argument two years ago with a US counter-terrorism official. He was skeptical of prognostications that the Iraq War would generate anti-US terrorism. I told him, you can`t have a massive US military occupation of a major Arab Muslim country for years on end that does not come back to bite you on the ass.

Both Juan Cole on his website, and Fred Kaplan in the Slate piece, maintain that the NIE report, although not stating so explicitly but making it clear nonetheless, that the al-Qaeda threat has re-emerged as a result of the war in Iraq.

In his book Leaderless Jihad former CIA officer Marc Sageman, (book review here) points out that

we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, that, as McCain’s Web site puts it, the United States is facing “a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists” spawned by al-Qaeda.

Sageman writes that the first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan and that others who had been trained in al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier.

But now there is a “third wave” of internet culture jihadists who have been outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq… He writes that “We have taken a fire that would otherwise burn itself out and poured gasoline on it.”

Sageman’s policy advice is to “Jettison the rhetoric about Muslim extremism … and reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq, which fuels the Muslim world’s sense of moral outrage”.

Meanwhile along the Afghanistan – Pakistan border al-Qaeda and its third wave are regrouping. Please see this video, Al-Qaeda calls for a new ‘Jihad’, at The Real News. Sorry, I’ve been unable to embed the video.

Obama wants to send a significant number of US troops to the region in addition to the NATO and other US military personnel already there. I believe we must be extremely careful here. Our careless and heavy-handed tactics in Afghanistan and in the Pakistan border areas in which we have bombed wedding parties and shot missiles into remote villages killing an untold number of civilians can only serve as a recruiting tool for those who oppose a foreign occupation.

A pro-Taliban government would pose huge problem in a nuclear Pakistan. If such a government were to come to power in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda’s chances of gaining access to nuclear weapons would increase dramatically and a deliberate attack against a sovereign Pakistan could easily enrage the people there. Pakistan also has a large army.

We have, over these past 7 years stirred up a hornets nest in that part of the world. The history goes back much further than that, to the discovery of oil in Persia, in Central Asia and the Middle East around the beginning of the last century. It is that which continues to feed the greed and the lust for power and the wealth that comes to those own it and to those who don’t own it but seek to control it.

iraq oilAll foreign policies bring results not intended by those who author the policies. And some of those results are regretted by the policymakers. Further, the undesirable consequences are frequently grounds for further intervention.

U.S. policy by its very nature is never ending. Those whom the policy seeks to mold resist it, and change always upsets expectations.


I am confident there are those who understand this. I would hope that an Obama Administration would include those wise enough to understand and to resist those who continue to lobby for further interventions and further war. We cannot afford to continue on this road.


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  1. in Pakistan. The entire region could blow up with disastrous results. Sometimes I have to wonder if this is not what the neocons want.

    It’s insane.

  2. that we have the common sense to mine relationships with the arabs themselves who want stability. and put them in charge and support their efforts. not more criminals like saddam (that seems to be our sad MO, huh?)

    there are many arab earthlings who want nothing more than to get back to their lives. without a solid coalition of progressive arabs from the region who have credibility, this will continue to be a mess.

    maybe we could run some want ads for the new george washingtons here and abroad… great thinkers who know how to implement PRACTICAL measures right now… to relieve some of this mess

  3. the biggest threat is the possible overthrow of the Pakistani government should we make ‘raids’ into Pakistan without their knowledge (a possibility, if I remember, that Obama has said he would consider).  Imagine a nuclear country deciding to fight us using all of their weapons.  Add to that Pakistan’s population is ~140 million people.  It’s a bad situation where escalation is quite probable.

    • Viet71 on July 27, 2008 at 20:34

    Not just because each remaining troop will be a target for one group or another and therefore will tend to have hostility toward Iraqis generally (meaning continuing American-caused civilian casualties).

    But because residual troops will inevitably be called upon and used to back U.S.-favored Iraqi politicians, which is a sure prescription for continuing strife.

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