Running for president is a perilous endeavor. Candidates make mistakes.
And Barack Obama is making a serious mistake this weekend.
As he tours Afghanistan, the senator from Illinois says he is “more interested in listening than doing a lot of talking.”
That would be good if it were the case.
Unfortunately, Obama is busy making promises.
After meeting with the Democratic presidential candidate inside the
US base in Jalalabad, Afghan warlord turned provincial governor Gul
Agha Sherzai told reporters, “Obama promised us that if he becomes a
president in the future, he will support and help Afghanistan not only
in its security sector but also in reconstruction, development and
Translation: Obama is not listening. He is making commitments.
Despite the fact that there are more foreign troops in Afghanistan
today than at any time since the 2001 invasion — roughly 60,000 total,
including 36,000 Americans - Obama is proposing to dispatch two more US
combat divisions (comprising more than 7,000 soldiers) to Afghanistan.
That will give the United States even greater responsibility for a
technically NATO-led ooccupation.
The Democrat’s send-more-troops proposal is precisely the same as that of Republican John McCain.
And it is precisely wrong.
Dramatic increases in the US troop presence in Afghanistan in the
past year have done nothing to stabilize the situation on the ground in
the country. In fact, US military officials acknowledge that attacks in
eastern Afghanistan — the sector of the country where the majority of
US forces currently operate — are up by 40 percent so far in 2008.
So, too, as recent events remind us, are US and Afghan death tolls.
More troops will not cure what ails Afghanistan.
That’s because, even though the cover of the latest edition of Time
magazine refers to the fight in Afghanistan as “The Right War,” and
even though Obama seems to have bought into this particularly dangerous
variation Washington-insider spin, there is nothing right or smart
about deepening the US troop commitment in a country that has a long
history of thwarting the best-laid plans of great military powers.
The US media and political class has never focused very seriously on the war in Afghanistan.
But in Canada, which was smart enough to keep out of Iraq, but not
smart enough to keep out of Afghanistan, there has been much more
attention to the conflict.
That attention has fostered a serious movement calling for bringing Canadian troops home.
More than a year ago, the opposition New Democratic Party called for
“an immediate safe and secure withdrawal of (Canadian) troops from the
counter-insurgency mission and to focus our assistance, not through
counter-insurgency but through development and aid.”
“The combat role is the wrong role for Canada and it’s not making
life more secure for Afghans,” declared Jack Layton, the NDP’s
The NDP leader and other Canadian critics of the country’s military
presence in Afghanistan argue, correctly, that while foreign forces
have been training Afghan army and police units since the conflict
began, the security situation in Afghanistan has not improved.
The Canadians suggest that one of the big problems is the fact that
the foreign presence in the country is a too-narrowly defined military
occupation directed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, rather
than a broader, more-thoughtfully conceived mission under the
leadership of the United Nations.
“Instead of extending a strategy that isn’t working, Canada must aim
to support and facilitate efforts towards the peaceful resolution of
the Afghan conflict,” says veteran parliamentarian Alexa McDonough, the
NDP’s spokesperson on international development issues.
Argues McDonough: “Canada should lead the international community
towards a political solution, not continue the failed military
approach. This means the international body in charge should be the
United Nations, not NATO.”
Instead of making ill-thought commitments of additional US troops to
another quagmire, Barack Obama should be listening to the wise critique
from engaged Canadians regarding a misguided and misdirected foreign
military presence in Afghanistan.
John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written The
Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted
in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
Copyright © 2008 The Nation