The same old question continues to haunt Obama as was before him when he assumed office in January? should he continue the course charted by his predecessor, which has caused great damage to his country and drawing it further into the sinkhole; or deliver on the promise of hope and change he made not only to his own people but the whole world? That time he missed the opportunity granted by a broad national mandate and the universal consensus against the Bush policies. One hopes he won’t miss the chance this time when the people are demanding to do something about the national and world ailments.
He was aware then and is convinced now that the policies of Bush administration have failed, rather worked against their declared objectives ? protecting the US in particular and the world in general from terrorists attacks, help the depressed people get freedom, promotion of the values of the free world and attainment of a fair degree of world peace. These have also put further farther those undeclared goals, which according to many were the real aims? free access and control of the energy assets in ME and Central Asia, security of Israel and world recognition of its sole super power status in a unipolar world.
The declared yet unattained objectives are even more relevant today and must be perused with a renewed vigour and commitment. But it is not just vigour and commitment that are needed, and it’s the policies, not strategies that must be changed. Unilateralism must be replaced with multilateralism, coercion with persuasion, isolation of ‘rogue states’ with engagement, and militarism with diplomatic and political initiatives. After all, one cannot bring a big change in output without a significant change in the input. The so-called wars against terrorism have provided a respite from attacks to the West, but the relief is superficial and temporary as these misadventures have brought a wholesale death and destruction to Muslim populations, thereby turning large sections of otherwise moderate Muslims into extremists.
As far the undeclared objectives, the situation is not different as Israel is more insecure today, the dream of controlling energy centres in ME and Central Asia now seems more difficult to realise, the people of Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan have suffered more from the wars than they would have otherwise and the US has landed in a world with many poles.
The real question is: has Obama enough courage to defy the hawks and the so-called Jewish lobby? If he does this, he risks losing his job. But on the other hand, sticking to failed policies is sure to bring him to a total failure. The fruits of policy shift are many: if he succeeds, he is a hero; if he is dethroned in the process, he has a chance of a Charles de Gaulle-style return, or, at the least, he will be remembered in US history as a man who sacrificed his position to uphold a moral cause.
There are many subtle and obvious changes that can help Obama in effecting a policy change. Among these is a growing awakening to the military defeat in Afghanistan and futility of Gulf wars; growing financial troubles; assertion of countries like China, India and Brazil, and resurgence of Russia; and reluctance, even denial, of NATO countries to make further commitment to the Afghanistan misadventure, besides growing demand of winding up the war by the people in the West.
When Mikhail Gorbachev told Americans they will never win in Afghanistan, his wise bit was turned down by many out of overconfidence on US might. But, this is exactly what has lately transpired. This is why Obama rejected the four military options he was presented recently. All of these involved sending more troops to Afghanistan, and none of which attached any strings relating to withdrawal, or reform in the Karzai administration. They were: One, send between 10,000 and 15,000 extra troops to augment the 68,000 US military on the ground now. Vice-president Joe Biden favours this option. Two, send 20,000 more troops. Three, send 30,000 more troops. Four, send 40,000 more troops, as General McChrystal wants.
Yet another aspect of troops surge debate is cost-benefit proportions. The internal government estimates place the cost of McChrystal option at $40 billion to $54 billion a year. Even if fewer troops are sent, or their mission is modified, the rough formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier per year, appears almost constant.
So even if President Obama opts for a lower troop commitment, Afghanistan’s new costs could wash out the projected $26 billion expected to be saved in 2010 from withdrawing troops from Iraq. And the overall military budget could rise to as much as $734 billion, or 10 percent more than the peak of $667 billion under the Bush administration. Such an escalation in military spending would be a politically volatile issue for Mr. Obama at a time when the government budget deficit is soaring, the economy is weak and he is trying to pass a costly health care plan.
A recent survey by The Gallup Poll shows only 35% of Americans now support Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops, while 44% want to reduce troop strength in Afghanistan. In other words, the people of this country are beginning to bail on the mission. Seven out of 10 Britons, the people of the staunchest allied state, back the call for a phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as a landmark report by Oxfam this week exposes the real human cost of the war.
According to the US Defence Department, as of Nov 13, 2009, at least 839 members of the US military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Of those, the military reports 648 were killed by hostile action. But remember above mentioned figures are from the Defence Department and do not include the death toll among US civilians, Europeans and Afghan troops and officials. As far the Afghan civilians are concerned, various casualty counts suggest that between 12,000 and 32,000 civilians have been killed either directly or indirectly due to the fighting since 2001.
The UN has said the “surge” in fighting in recent months has also taken its toll on the non-military population. More than 2,000 had died as a result of the conflict in the first 10 months of this year – at a faster rate than any time since the initial invasion. The number of botched Nato air strikes, killing civilians, is continuing to rise. Latest UN figures for the first half of this year alone report 40 rogue air strikes, which are believed to have killed 200 civilians.
With US economy on an unrelenting decline and no military solution to Afghan problem in sight, Obama should ride the rising tide of the demand of ‘do something’ and dare to stare the hawks in the eye. If he again misses the opportunity, nothing would save him and his people from disaster.
A lahore based journalist.
A lahore based journalist.