February 24, 2009

Obama's Address and the Middle East

President Obama addresses CongressPresident Obama addresses Congress

As one would expect, President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress revolved around his pet issues - bailouts, universal education, universal health care, etc. That said, the President made several remarks that caught the ear of this Middle East specialist/analyst.

The President spoke about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all know that the President has just ordered the expansion of the effort in Afghanistan, and decided to continue unmanned aerial vehicle missile attacks into Pakistan's border area. I have not seen any indication that he is going to address the critical issue of command structure in the country (see my earlier article, More American troops to Afghanistan).

I have no problem expanding the effort in Afghanistan, as long as it includes the Pakistan border area. The real enemy in Afghanistan - as far as American national security interests are concerned - is not the Taliban. Our real enemy is al-Qa'idah, and most of its fighters are now in Pakistan.

America's national security interest in Afghanistan is preventing the impoverished landlocked country from becoming a terrorist safe haven, a "base" (the meaning of the Arabic word al-Qa'idah). If there is a danger of that happening again, we can pound it into submission from the air.

If President Obama wants to continue the former administration's efforts in Afghanistan, fine, but explain it in terms of our national interest. Defeating the Taliban is an Afghan national interest, but is it ours?

As for Iraq, the President said that he "inherited" the war, but hoped to end it in 18 months. A bit of honesty would go a long way here. Not only did the President inherit the war, he inherited the victory. Yes, I know the word "victory" is hard for the President to say, but it was the blood, sweat and tears of American troops in "the surge" that allows him make these statements.

President Obama will be able to withdraw American forces from Iraq in 18 months, not because he was elected or did anything, but because American troops turned the ride of battle. To claim anything else is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst.

Mixed into his statements praising the U.S. armed forces - well-deserved, by the way - was the promise to increase the size of the American military. During the campaign, he advocated increasing the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000. I hope he was serious. Our national interests demand that we commit more than one percent of our population to defending our national interests.

It will be interesting to watch - a Democratic anti-war administration arguing for an increase in the size of American forces and aggressively prosecuting a war halfway around the world.