Seamans: Obama and Afghanistan

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(HOST) Commentator Bill Seamans has been thinking about President Obama, Afghanistan and what lies ahead.

(SEAMANS) President Barack Obama faces a decision bearing down on his administration with at least as much political impact as Iran’s nuclear threat and our health care crisis.  What to do about Afghanistan has been kept on the back burner until the Washington Post leaked a memo by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our commander in Afghanistan who declared that if he doesn’t get 40,000 more troops soon we will lose the war.  Reaction has boiled down to the question, which war?  That answer now is represented by two strategies,  counterterrorism and counterinsurgency – so different in military and political application yet sounding so similar that they are confusing the public.

Counterinsurgency, the strategy proposed by McChrystal, calls for our forces to focus on protecting the Afghan people rather than on killing insurgents and controlling territory.  This, he thinks – as does his overall Middle East commander, Gen. David Petraeus, would encourage the people to support their government and not to hide terrorists.

Counterterrorism calls for slowly reducing our forces while concentrating on destroying al-Qaeda and the Taliban rather than "nation building," a strategy that is believed favored by some of Obama’s closest advisors.

Now full-bore politics are entering the scene as Republicans this week are calling for a a high-profile nationally televised congressional hearing starring Gen. McChrystal which they believe would press Obama to make a quick decision.  If he delays they could charge that he was avoiding his responsibilities as Commander in Chief.

Overall, it looks like a battle is likely between civilian and military control over how to fight the overseas war against terrorism.  Critics ask whether McChrystal exceeded his authority by making an essentially political statement that he thinks protecting the Afghan public was more important than killing terrorist fighters.  Is it another symptom of the alleged creeping militarization of our foreign policy?

Obama says that he will not send more troops until he has – in his words – "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."  Some observers say that Obama has been mouse trapped into a lose-lose political decision – if he doesn’t send more troops Republicans will call him a weakling Commander in Chief who is endangering our national security.  If he does send more troops, then liberals will accuse him of giving in to the political power of the Pentagon.

Whatever, the Afghanistan war has been pulled out of the political fog and is finally getting the full public attention that it demands.

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