Presidential Prerogative: Defining “Victory” in Afghanistan Anyway He Wants!

The day before Leon Panetta’s confirmation hearing as Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ successor, President Barack Obama said during a television interview that his administration has won a “big chunk of strategic objectives” in Afghanistan.  He then proceeded to say, “By us killing Osama Bin Laden, getting al Qaeda back on its heels, stabilizing much of the country in Afghanistan so that the Taliban can’t take it over…it’s now time for us to recognize that we’ve accomplished a big chunk of our mission and that it’s time for Afghans to take more responsibility.”  When you are president, you have the national visibility to define success the way you want. Whether people would believe you or not is an entirely different story.

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Avoiding the ‘Graveyard of Empire’ Syndrome’

The administration of President Barack Obama is near fixated about not getting stuck in Afghanistan–the well-known “graveyard of empires.” That may be one reason why he is so persistent about not getting involved in the long-term process of nation-building, which is also full of too many hidden landmines. That is why he is so persistent about telling all his advisors, “I’m not ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan.” How else would he win in Afghanistan?

A cursory description of the Obama administration handling of the war in Afghanistan gives one a vivid description of how driven President Obama really is about getting out of Afghanistan. In a way that is refreshing when one recalls how obsessive George W. Bush was about invading–that is getting embroiled in–Iraq. But the stark contrast between the passions of these two presidents leads to the same outcome: America’s continued involvement in two very dangerous places, except prospects of winning in Afghanistan appear dim at best. Continue reading “Avoiding the ‘Graveyard of Empire’ Syndrome’”

Political Legitimacy: Key to Victory in Afghanistan

As new idiosyncrasies of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan are becoming pronounced, one wonders how many of them are pushing it toward a potential disaster, which President Barack Obama is as determined to avoid as his three predecessors – Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and George W. Bush – did in Vietnam and Iraq, respectively.

Every new president’s approach to major unresolved issues is entirely different from those of his immediate predecessor, simply because the predecessor’s approach is regarded as inept or even wrong-headed. So, the successor proceeds to ‘reinvent the wheel’ on those issues by approaching it entirely differently. Since Barack Obama entered office criticizing Bush’s involvement in and his handling of the Iraq war, his own war – the one in Afghanistan – was going to have his ‘superior’ mark on it.

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The Topsy-Turvy Nature of South Asian Power Games

The strategic debates in Washington on the fortunes of Pakistan are undergoing a palpable degree of modification. The Obama administration has initiated a strategic dialogue. There is no reason for anyone to think that Pakistan will emerge as a strategic partner of India anytime soon; however, the fact that the Obama administration has decided to conduct such a dialogue speaks volumes about its earnest commitment to pragmatism. That might be viewed as bad news in India, largely because one of the many egregious rules of South Asia is the high relevance of the zero-sum game between India and Pakistan involving the United States.

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The White Man’s Burden in Afghanistan

The Western predilections to know what’s best for South Asia and the Middle East are very much alive. This is 21st Century’s version of the “white man’s burden,” a frame of mind that manifested a purportedly superior wisdom on the part of white colonials about the future shape of governance in their colonies. We just heard that Peter Galbraith “proposed enlisting the White House in a plan to replace” President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. Galbraith served as the number two official of the United Nations in Afghanistan. He was appointed to that job at the insistence of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is President Barack H. Obama’s Special Envoy for his AfPak strategy, whose face is changing on a daily basis, it seems. However, thanks to the proactivism of the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, Galbraith’s plan was rejected and he was removed from his slot. Continue reading “The White Man’s Burden in Afghanistan”

Slaying the Beast Called the “Clash of Civilizations”

President Barack H. Obama’s campaign slogans of “a time for a change” and “yes we can” are filtering into his speeches and his actions toward the world of Islam.  He is serious about bringing an end to the poisonous frame of reference that the concept of “the clash of civilizations” presents for Muslims.  In this sense, he is busy slaying the beast that that idea has become in the past fifteen or more years.  President Obama’s interview with al-Arabiyya soon after he entered the White House, his message to the Iranian people on the day of the Nowroze (Iranian New Year), and his trip to Turkey were the most credible examples of that reality.  However, Obama’s battle with the beast is challenging and does not guarantee a victory at this point.


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