Guy W. Farmer: Obama’s decision on Afghanistan a smart one | NevadaAppeal.com

Guy W. Farmer: Obama’s decision on Afghanistan a smart one

Guy W. Farmer
For the Nevada Appeal

Although he dithered for far too long, I believe that President Obama got it mostly right last week when he decided to send 30,000 additional combat troops to Afghanistan. I hope his high-risk political and military gamble succeeds.

Obama told a worldwide TV audience that the troop surge “is in our vital national interest,” and promised to start bringing them home after 18 months. Many of the additional troops would come from Iraq, where we’re engaged in a fairly rapid military drawdown. The first new Marine contingent could arrive in Afghanistan by Christmas.

The president’s decision will satisfy neither the neo-conservatives who started the disastrous Iraq War nor anti-war Democrats. Nevertheless, I agree with Obama when he says that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people are at stake in Afghanistan. We simply cannot allow al-Qaida and the Taliban to establish safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama’s strategy is designed to deny safe havens to the terrorists, to convince President Karzai and his government that they must assume responsibility for their own country, and to reassure his fellow Democrats, and some Republicans, that the 8-year-old Afghan War won’t drag on forever. At the same time, the president must make it clear to Karzai that the troop surge doesn’t constitute an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan.

Obama, whose approval ratings are slumping after nearly a year in office, faces huge political challenges as he attempts to sell the troop surge to war-weary voters (including many in his own party), to left-wing critics who favor an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, and to fiscal conservatives who worry about the escalating costs of the war.

Somewhat surprisingly, the conservative Orange County (Calif.) Register criticized the president’s decision. “President Obama failed to make a compelling case that an escalation in Afghanistan is vital to core U.S. national interests,” the newspaper argued in an editorial. “The theory that an intense military effort will defeat the Taliban … seems more like hope than reality.”

The U.S. will need more help from NATO and Pakistan in order to prevail against the Taliban and al-Qaida. We will have 98,000 American troops in Afghanistan after the military surge with NATO expected to provide an additional 5,000 to 10,000 troops for a total of nearly 50,000. Meanwhile, Pakistan must crack down on terrorist activities in its lawless tribal regions if Obama’s strategy is to succeed. That’s a big “if.”

Afghanistan is President Obama’s war now and although I applaud his call for national unity, I fear that our nation will remain deeply divided in the runup to next November’s mid-term elections.

• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.