Foreign Policy Blogs

Obama on Afghanistan

I’m going to reserve final judgment until I see text of President Obama’s remarks, or the speech itself, but here are a few things to watch for tonight:

1) How many times Obama uses the word “India” or “Indian”—focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan is fine, but leaving the elephant in the room (the Indo-Pak relationship) unsaid makes me worry that we’re going to be trying to accomplish too much on the military front, and not enough on the political front. More on this later.

2) Will Obama mention securing the border? I’ve hit on this point before, but it bears repeating—you can’t stabilize either Afghanistan or Pakistan if the border is entirely porous. Obviously, the terrain isn’t the most forgiving in the world, but we’d be better spent with 20,000 more troops on the border and the rest in cities. If we’re not even going to try securing the border, there’s very, very little chance of a COIN success.

3) Talking to the Taliban—there needs to be a clear indication that militants willing to break with international jihadists, and work inside the political process (no matter their political beliefs) will be actively courted by ISAF and the Afghan government. Obama campaigned on talking to ‘the enemy’ and it’s high time he made an active effort with ‘enemies’ other than Iran.

4) Reassurances to Pakistan the United States will not leave the region without a satisfactory political settlement. If Pakistan is convinced we won’t up and run, the military will be much more likely to finally break its ties with all militant groups (including the five that Obama mentioned in his letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari—al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba [culprits of the Mumbai attacks], and Tehrik-i-Taliban [TTP], the major Pakistani Taliban group.)

5) A renewed commitment to finding and capturing Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Yes, they may be mere symbols at this point, but symbols matter. They’re the original reason we ever went into Afghanistan, and if the prior administration hadn’t massively bungled the events at Tora Bora, America probably never would have been in this position.



Andrew Swift

Andrew Swift is a graduate of the University of Iowa, with a degree in History and Political Science. Long a student of international affairs, he is on an unending quest to understand the world better.