In the midst of the state visit to Washington of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Barack Obama at a brief news conference announced that he was going to “finish the job” in Afghanistan. He cautioned, however, that down the road, Afghanistan would have to provide for its own security.
As for the strong divide in the US public over the Afghanistan War, Obama said, “I feel confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we’re doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.” Rumors in Washington, broken by McClatchy on Monday, say that Obama with send 34,000 additional troops and will announce the move next Tuesday.
Prime Minister Singh had the day before pressured Obama to stay the course in Afghanistan, warning that a Taliban victory had the potential for destabilizing Pakistan and India.
Whether Obama can ‘finish the job’ in Afghanistan depends on what he defines the job as. If it is to build a 21st century Afghan state and crush the Taliban and other Muslim political movements in the Pashtun areas, then I am extremely skeptical. If it is to prop up a shaky but just all right Afghan government and military before pulling out, then his odds of success, while still bad, do rise.
As for Obama’s hope that the US public will rally around the flag, I wouldn’t count on it over the medium to long term. His Democratic base is tired of war and of our quasi-martial-law state of siege. If he wants their support, he has to fight an extremely abbreviated war.
So I think it is entirely possible that Obama will be 0 for 2 if he escalates in Afghanistan. And it is extremely dangerous for him to go on alienating his base, which wants peace and prosperity, with policies that make rightwing Republicans happy– coddling bankers in a jobless recovery and an escalation of an eight-year-old, increasingly unpopular war. The rightwing Republicans will vote for these measures in Congress, but put the blame on Obama for them, and benefit from Democratic disillusionment in 2012.
Gareth Porter reports that the real turn-over rate in the Afghanistan National Army is 25%, a datum obscured by the way the Pentagon changed its reporting criteria in midstream this year. Mandy Clark of CBS also reports on the challenges the US faces in training an Afghan national army.
The Russian news service Itar-Tass reports on November 24 from Bishkek on a presentation by Mikhail Melikhov on Afghanistan at a conference on international terrorism and extremism. (The article appears to still be behind a firewall at the I-T site).
Melikhov alleged that the drug trade in Afghanistan is now worth $4 billion annually. (The gross domestic product of Afghanistan in exchange-rate terms is only only about $12 bn. per annum, so drugs account for about 1/3).
He said that during the past seven years, drug output in Afghanistan has grown 40 times over, now standing at 7,700 tons a year.
Melikhov is quoted as saying, “Practically Afghanistan has become an international drug firm.”
He said the drug trade is largely in the hands of trans-national narco-terrorist cartels. He maintains that Muslim extremist organizations, including the ‘Islamic Movement of Turkestan’ and Hizb al-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation), are the primary drug exporters.
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