Foreign Policy Blogs

Obama Cairo Speech: Afghanistan Made It In!

I apologize for my absence as we have been having good ol’fashioned technical difficulties.  There are many Afghan-related in the past week and I hope to catch up and comment on at least a few of them (McChrystal’s testimony, airstrikes and civilian casualties, poppies, etc.), but for now let’s discuss what President Obama said in his Cairo address about Afghanistan.  First, the short Afghan portion of his speech:


The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

First off, I really like how Obama firmly faces and objects to any idea that 9/11 was anything but a cruel act by Al Qaeda, as polls have shown that an unfortunate percentage of Arabs/Muslims feel that 9/11 was an inside job or some other conspiracy so the US could go into Afghanistan and Iraq.  Obama continues this thread by calling the US invasion of Afghanistan ‘necessary’ and quickly emphasizes how the US desires to keep our troops home, but that the situation on the ground denies us that choice.

I think the President was rather effective in this regard, stating the enemy we all face, Arabs, Muslims, Pakistanis, Afghans, Americans, Europeans, etc., and that is radical, violent Islamic extremists, but things get a little bleary, as he just discusses Al Qaeda and other extremists, without ever mentioning the Taliban.  There is no doubt that the US is in Afghanistan to stop international terrorism and terrorists, but it is also trying to secure a stable government, very preferably democratic, and is fighting the Taliban to do so.

Unfortunately, Obama made the situation seem a little to tight and tidy.  I also think the President missed an opportunity to call for regional support, both diplomatic and strategic, in America’s wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  He went to great pains in the speech to emphasize that the US wants to fight extremist elements in Islam with the majority of Muslims who are moderate, but failed to connect this to actual policies and requests.  For example, the Taliban are being funded from various foreign sources, couldn’t he have discussed polling regional resources to combat this?  I may be getting to0 picky as this speech was more about overarching West-Islamic-Arab relations, Israel-Palestine, with many other issues (including Iraq and Iran) getting set aside.