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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The WaPo Hoists Senator Obama Up

Mild rebuke, or a lecture vaguely reminiscent of some of his own? We will let the readers decide, but the WaPo editorial board makes no bones about the fact that Senator Obama's statements on Iraq while in Iraq will not work to help his campaign on this issue:

THE INITIAL MEDIA coverage of Barack Obama's visit to Iraq suggested that the Democratic candidate found agreement with his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat forces on a 16-month timetable. So it seems worthwhile to point out that, by Mr. Obama's own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq's principal political leaders actually support his strategy.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the dramatic turnaround in U.S. fortunes, "does not want a timetable," Mr. Obama reported with welcome candor during a news conference yesterday. In an interview with ABC, he explained that "there are deep concerns about . . . a timetable that doesn't take into account what [American commanders] anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has a history of tailoring his public statements for political purposes, made headlines by saying he would support a withdrawal of American forces by 2010. But an Iraqi government statement made clear that Mr. Maliki's timetable would extend at least seven months beyond Mr. Obama's. More significant, it would be "a timetable which Iraqis set" -- not the Washington-imposed schedule that Mr. Obama has in mind. It would also be conditioned on the readiness of Iraqi forces, the same linkage that Gen. Petraeus seeks. As Mr. Obama put it, Mr. Maliki "wants some flexibility in terms of how that's carried out."

Is everyone in the media paying attention? We certainly hope so seeing as how they perpetuated the myth that Prime Minister al-Maliki was on board with Senator Obama's insane idea of withdrawing all combat troops and their equipment out of Iraq in sixteen months. The commanders on the ground have repeatedly said that is not a realistic possibility just on the logistics involved alone. But the media was quick to jump on the misconstrued quote out of Der Spiegel. In doing so, they are the ones with egg all over their face. Recall, please, that Senator Obama had his sit down with General Petraeus yesterday, and emerged from that meeting with the opinion that the general knows not of what he speaks. In essence, the soundbite was basically "I do not believe him."

Other Iraqi leaders were more directly critical. As Mr. Obama acknowledged, Sunni leaders in Anbar province told him that American troops are essential to maintaining the peace among Iraq's rival sects and said they were worried about a rapid drawdown.

Mr. Obama's response is that, as president, he would have to weigh Iraq's needs against those of Afghanistan and the U.S. economy. He says that because Iraq is "a distraction" from more important problems, U.S. resources devoted to it must be curtailed. Yet he also says his aim is to "succeed in leaving Iraq to a sovereign government that can take responsibility for its own future." What if Gen. Petraeus and Iraqi leaders are right that this goal is not consistent with a 16-month timetable? Will Iraq be written off because Mr. Obama does not consider it important enough -- or will the strategy be altered?

You can bet that as long as Iraq is a "distraction," a "President" Obama would work quickly to throw that country under the bus. It is a classic waffle on his part to say he would not be willing to continue funding the continued efforts to stabilize and prepare Iraq for full sovereignty, but then in the same breath claim that he wants to make sure they can stand on their own. They will not be able to do that if we abandon them. While al-Qaeda is most assuredly on its last leg in Iraq, and many are fleeing for countries like Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Iran, to leave abruptly will only invite that element back into the nation. We provide the stabilizing posture there. If it were not for us and our outreach to the tribal elements, the Sons of Iraq and the Anbar Awakening might never have happened. The nation would have devolved into a constant state of sectarian civil war. Anyone who has read the dispatches from Michael Yon, Bill Roggio, or Michael Totten know this. They know what we went through to stave off all-out civil war; a civil war, we add, that was fomented by al-Qaeda.

Arguably, Mr. Obama has given himself the flexibility to adopt either course. Yesterday he denied being "so rigid and stubborn that I ignore anything that happens during the course of the 16 months," though this would be more reassuring if Mr. Obama were not rigidly and stubbornly maintaining his opposition to the successful "surge" of the past 16 months. He also pointed out that he had "deliberately avoided providing a particular number" for the residual force of Americans he says would be left behind.

This is, perhaps, his biggest blunder on this trip, or at the very least his biggest one on this particular leg. While he admits that the "surge" has worked, he steadfastly stands by his decision to oppose it, and if given the chance to do the vote over again, he would oppose it again. This is his biggest blindspot. He knows it worked, but he still stands in opposition to it. Iraq is in the strategic center of the Middle East. It is the proverbial lynchpin to the region. Add in it's oil reserves, which are helping to stabilize their economy, and you have a country that we cannot afford to lose to extremism. Senator Obama's plans for Iraq would jeopardize all for which has been fought for.

Yet Mr. Obama's account of his strategic vision remains eccentric. He insists that Afghanistan is "the central front" for the United States, along with the border areas of Pakistan. But there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and any additional U.S. forces sent there would not be able to operate in the Pakistani territories where Osama bin Laden is headquartered. While the United States has an interest in preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the country's strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq, which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves. If Mr. Obama's antiwar stance has blinded him to those realities, that could prove far more debilitating to him as president than any particular timetable.

Afghanistan is indeed becoming more violent. That is due, in no small part, to the fact that the Pakistanis are either reluctant to engage the Taliban presence in the tribal regions of Waziristan, or they have elements that directly undermine their efforts. The Pakistani intelligence serves -- the ISI -- has been accused of aiding Taliban elements, and while they vehemently deny this, the Predator strike carried out just a couple short weeks ago killed Pakistani military/intelligence personnel that were helping the Taliban in a cross-border raid. But without permission from Pakistan we cannot simply cross over and take out those bases. We are allowed to pursue and engage those hostile to our forces on the Afghanistan side of the border, but once they go into Pakistan, the best we can do is send a Predator after them.

We must stop at the dividing line.

We have already "surged" in Afghanistan. There is not much more we can do with the military there. Senator Obama's "rigid" stance that Pakistan could be invaded to end the threat is beyond insane. It is a neophyte's view that reveals a lack of understanding when it comes to geopolitics. It would be far better to have talks with the Musharraf government to see what is needed to end the Taliban's threat to both Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In that region, we face a virtual "two-front" war. We have the cross-border attacks in Afghanistan, and we have the problems the Musharraf government is facing with the Taliban in their country.

Senator Obama would be wise to learn more and speak less until he has the facts. Simple campaign sloganeering will not bring us a solution to these sticky issues. We need someone who understands and recognizes what needs to be done, and in an intelligent fashion. Needless to say, that does not appear to be in Senator Obama's repertoire.

Marcie

1 Comments:

Blogger John Maszka said...

Senator Obama is turning out to be a real disappointment and a very dangerous man. Moving the war on terror to Pakistan could have disastrous consequences on both the political stability in the region, and in the broader balance of power. Scholars such as Richard Betts accurately point out that beyond Iran or North Korea, “Pakistan may harbor the greatest potential danger of all.” With the current instability in Pakistan, Betts points to the danger that a pro-Taliban government would pose in a nuclear Pakistan. This is no minor point to be made. While the Shi’a in Iran are highly unlikely to proliferate WMD to their Sunni enemies, the Pakistanis harbor no such enmity toward Sunni terrorist organizations. Should a pro-Taliban or other similar type of government come to power in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda’s chances of gaining access to nuclear weapons would dramatically increase overnight.

There are, of course, two sides to every argument; and this argument is no exception. On the one hand, some insist that American forces are needed in order to maintain political stability and to prevent such a government from rising to power. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a deliberate attack against Pakistan’s state sovereignty will only further enrage its radical population, and serve to radicalize its moderates. I offer the following in support of this latter argument:

Pakistan has approximately 160 million people; better than half of the population of the entire Arab world. Pakistan also has some of the deepest underlying ethnic fissures in the region, which could lead to long-term disintegration of the state if exacerbated. Even with an impressive growth in GDP (second only to China in all of Asia), it could be decades before wide-spread poverty is alleviated and a stable middle class is established in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the absence of a deeply embedded democratic system in Pakistan presents perhaps the greatest danger to stability. In this country, upon which the facade of democracy has been thrust by outside forces and the current regime came to power by coup, the army fulfills the role of “referee within the political boxing ring.” However, this referee demonstrates a “strong personal interest in the outcome of many of the fights and a strong tendency to make up the rules as he goes along.” The Pakistani army “also has a long record of either joining in the fight on one side or the other, or clubbing both boxers to the ground and taking the prize himself” (Lieven, 2006:43).

Pakistan’s army is also unusually large. Thathiah Ravi (2006:119, 121) observes that the army has “outgrown its watchdog role to become the master of this nation state.” Ravi attributes America’s less than dependable alliance with Pakistan to the nature of its army. “Occasionally, it perceives the Pakistan Army as an inescapable ally and at other times as a threat to regional peace and [a] non-proliferation regime.” According to Ravi, India and Afghanistan blame the conflict in Kashmir and the Durand line on the Pakistan Army, accusing it of “inciting, abetting and encouraging terrorism from its soil.” Ravi also blames the “flagrant violations in nuclear proliferation by Pakistan, both as an originator and as a conduit for China and North Korea” on the Pakistan Army, because of its support for terrorists.

The point to be made is that the stability of Pakistan depends upon maintaining the delicate balance of power both within the state of Pakistan, and in the broader region. Pakistan is not an island, it has alliances and enemies. Moving American troops into Pakistan will no doubt not only serve to radicalize its population and fuel the popular call for Jihad, it could also spark a proxy war with China that could have long-lasting economic repercussions. Focusing on the more immediate impact American troops would have on the Pakistani population; let’s consider a few past encounters:

On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid.

On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the US, attacked a madrassah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced that the US military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault against Islam.
On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with an iron hand.” The point to be driven home is that the attack on the madrassah was kept as quiet as possible, while the suicide bombing was publicized as a tragedy, and one more reason to maintain the war on terror.

Last year trouble escalated when the Pakistani government laid siege to the Red Mosque and more than 100 people were killed. “Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid ... the retaliations began.” Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting center. Guerrilla attacks that demonstrated a shocking degree of organization and speed-not to mention strategic cunning revealed that they were orchestrated by none other than al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri; a fact confirmed by Pakistani and Taliban officials. One such attack occurred on July 15, 2007, when a suicide bomber killed 24 Pakistani troops and injured some 30 others in the village of Daznaray (20 miles to the north of Miran Shah, in North Waziristan). Musharraf ordered thousands of troops into the region to attempt to restore order. But radical groups swore to retaliate against the government for its siege of the mosque and its cooperation with the United States.

A July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concludes that “al Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan- and more centrally organized than it has been at any time since 9/11.” The NIE reports that al-Qaeda now enjoys sanctuary in Bajaur and North Waziristan, from which they operate “a complex command, control, training and recruitment base” with an “intact hierarchy of top leadership and operational lieutenants.”

In September 2006 Musharraf signed a peace deal with Pashtun tribal elders in North Waziristan. The deal gave pro-Taliban militants full control of security in the area. Al Qaeda provides funding, training and ideological inspiration, while Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Tribal leaders supply the manpower. These forces are so strong that last year Musharraf sent well over 100,000 trained Pakistani soldiers against them, but they were not able to prevail against them.

The question remains, what does America do when Pakistan no longer has a Musharraf to bridge the gap? While Musharraf claims that President Bush has assured him of Pakistan’s sovereignty, Senator Obama obviously has no intention of honoring such an assurance. As it is, the Pakistanis do just enough to avoid jeopardizing U.S. support. Musharraf, who is caught between Pakistan’s dependence on American aid and loyalty to the Pakistani people, denies being George Bush’s hand-puppet. Musharraf insists that he is “200 percent certain” that the United States will not unilaterally decide to attack terrorists on Pakistani soil. What happens when we begin to do just that?

July 24, 2008 at 11:43 AM  

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