George Graham

Sorry, Mr. President, I Still Don’t Get It

After listening intently to President Obama’s attempt to justify escalation of the war in Afghanistan, my response to him is: “I share your pain, Mr. President. But I don’t share your logic.”

Salon’s Joan Walsh called it “the worst major speech of his presidency.” And it probably was.

afghanObama obviously hated giving that speech. He could hardly get the words out of his mouth. You could tell he did not want to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But for whatever reason, he felt he had to send the troops and he had to give the speech.

President Obama’s analysis sounded pragmatic and reasonable. But I was not convinced. The facts simply do not compute. For one thing, this is an American war, not the NATO war he kept talking about. America’s NATO allies have a few hundred, or at best a few thousand, troops in Afghanistan; America will have more than 100,000 next year.

And what can the troops do? Kill more Afghan people? When American generals talk about the Taliban, they are really talking about the Pashtun tribe. And I understand there are about 42 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Will the U.S. troops kill them all? How many must they kill in order to claim a “victory”? And how would they know when “victory” is achieved? There is no sovereign to come forward and surrender, just dozens of primitive “warlords” in scattered and often inaccessible villages.

karzaiAnd the fantasy of a “civilian surge” would be laughable if it were not so tragic. There is no government in Afganistan, just a travesty headed by Hamid Karzai (with the President at right), who reportedly has no influence outside of Kabul.  As for the likelihood of the Afghan army and police ever being able to achieve and maintain “stability” throughout the country, what are the president’s advisers smoking?

When the foreign forces leave, as they must – as they always have – the fighting between the Pashtun and the Hazara, or whoever, will continue – perhaps forever. That’s what Afghans do. That’s what they have always done. Fight. This is no insurgency; this is a civil war. And there are no good guys in this civil war. America is stuck fighting for one of the bad guys. How bad? Think drugs, opium, heroin, oppression, corruption… It’s as if the United States government decided to fight crime by backing one Mafia family against the others.

Admittedly, the President made a valid point when he cited Pakistan – a nuclear power – as a cause of deep concern. It would be nice if he could ensure stability in Pakistan and win that country’s wholehearted support in keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the grasp of terrorists. But Pakistan has long exported nuclear technology and – let’s face it – most Pakistanis have no love for America. According to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria,  there is even widespread suspicion in Pakistan that “terrorist” attacks attributed to the Taliban are really the work of America and its allies.

Besides, if America’s goal is to protect Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from Islamic terrorists, does it really make a lot of sense to deplete American resources overrunning Afghanistan with troops and flooding the countryside with greenbacks?

I am left wondering what’s really going on. Like Joan Walsh, I am not angry at Obama, just disappointed and puzzled.

Here’s Joan’s reaction:

I’m deeply disappointed, saddened even, but I don’t feel betrayed. Obama has governed like the centrist he told us and showed us he is, from his early flip-flops on FISA to his Goldman Sachs-friendly bailout policies to compromising on the job-creation parts of his economic stimulus to his tepid backing of a health care reform public option. It’s going to take hard work by activists on all of those fronts to push him to better solutions.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t stress, once again, that the president faced only bad choices in making this decision, thanks to the incompetence of the Bush-Cheney administration. Every day Dick Cheney becomes more despicable, most recently allowing his handmaidens John Harris and Jim Vandehei from Politico to transcribe his raspy, hateful utterances trashing the president on the eve of this crucial national security announcement. “Here’s a guy, without much experience, who travels around the world apologizing,” Cheney told his stenographers. He even accused Obama of giving “aid and comfort” to al-Qaida, which is, I believe, the definition of treason. Classy. The former vice president is as deranged as the Birthers who used monkey imagery in a Washington Times ad to label Obama a “usurper.” But he’s Obama’s best friend, because he reminds the left that as disappointing as this president is, on so many, many fronts, he’s not Cheney. Small comfort tonight, but it’s something.

No, Obama is not Cheney. But he is not the archangel of change I expected him to be, either. After last night’s speech, I am left wondering who he really is.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for

1 Comment

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