By Jefferson Flanders
The mainstream media has now declared the conflict in Afghanistan to be “Mr. Obama’s War.” Barack Obama’s Dec. 1st West Point speech escalating the war through a surge of 30,000 American troops—following the 21,000 soldiers and Marines he dispatched earlier in the year—means, as CNN’s Gloria Borger noted, that Obama “owns the war.”
What hasn’t provoked much comment, however, is how unimaginative and conventional Obama’s approach to Afghanistan has been. It’s surprising that Obama would accept ownership of a strategy that, say, former President George W. Bush would be comfortable endorsing.
Obama had promised a multilateral approach to foreign policy, and yet his AfPak strategy disappoints in how heavily it relies on American troops for the surge beginning in 2010. As James G. Neuger and Janine Zacharia of Bloomberg News reported: “Obama took office with the U.S. supplying 54 percent of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, a figure that he will push past 70 percent.”
Why didn’t Obama persuade Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and other Muslim-majority nations with troops in Afghanistan to dramatically increase their “boots on the ground”? That would have sent the welcome message to the Muslim world that Afghanistan has become a coalition effort to resist Islamic extremism.
The U.S.-forces-centric policy Obama has approved is exactly what could have been expected from John McCain had he been elected—a conventional response lacking the application of soft power and any signs that the much-vaunted Obama charisma has swayed the views of our allies.
Even the contribution from NATO of an additional 7,000 troops is short of the 10,000 the U.S. had requested. According to Reuters, Canada and the Netherlands may pull out nearly as many troops in the next two years as the new NATO surge level. European public sentiment runs strongly for withdrawal. Where has been Obama’s creative, unconventional response? Why didn’t he go on the road to the major European capitals—London, Paris, Bonn, Rome—and make a compelling case for his Afghanistan strategy?
Obama has talked bravely of shared commitment in international peacekeeping efforts, but the reality is that the U.S. and Great Britain will bear the brunt of the escalation in Afghanistan. Obama the Candidate criticized the Bush Administration for unilateralism in its approach to Iraq and Afghanistan—and yet when confronted with a crucial decision Obama the President has offered none of the creative change his admirers insisted he would bring to foreign policy.
Copyright Â© 2009 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved
Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue