Thursday, January 19, 2012

Obama the minimalist nation builder

Ever since he questioned Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus on U.S. goals in Iraq on April 8, 2008, I have noted Obama's minimalist criteria for success, first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. Here's what he said to Crocker at that time:
I'm not suggesting that we yank all our troops out all the way. I'm trying to get to an endpoint. That's what all of us have been trying to get to.

And, see, the problem I have is if the definition of success is so high, no traces of Al Qaida and no possibility of reconstitution, a highly-effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi- sectarian functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.

If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country is struggling along, but it's not a threat to its neighbors and it's not an Al Qaida base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable timeframe.
Compare what he told Fareed Zakaria about the endgame in Afghanistan in an interview published today (my emphasis):
I never believed that America could essentially deliver peace and prosperity to all of Afghanistan in a three-, four-, five-year time frame. And I think anybody who believed that didn’t know the history and the challenges facing Afghanistan. I mean, this is the third poorest country in the world, with one of the lowest literacy rates and no significant history of a strong civil service or an economy that was deeply integrated with the world economy. It’s going to take decades for Afghanistan to fully achieve its potential...

From the perspective of our security interests, I think we can accomplish our goal, which is to make sure that Afghanistan is not a safe haven from which to launch attacks against the United States or its allies. But the international community — not just us; the Russians and the Chinese and the Indians and the Pakistanis and the Iranians and others — I think all have an interest in making sure that Afghanistan is not engulfed in constant strife, and I think that’s an achievable goal.
U.S. security is U.S. responsibility: stabilizing one of the world's poorest and most strife-torn countries is a joint responsibility.  The goal is minimal -- "that Afghanistan is not engulfed in constant strife." The commitment over the "decades" required before Afghanistan is truly stable and prosperous is far more limited, but therfore sustainable. This is the Rory Stewart plan, on timed release.
Read the whole interview. Obama is in complete control articulating U.S. goals and means of achieving them -- with respect to Iran, China, our alliances in Asia, and the nature of U.S. leadership. Would that this election could be decided on foreign policy. It would be a landslide

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you about the interview. He really is a masterful interviewee. The question that occurs to me is this: given his abilities, why do the Republicans constantly talk about the teleprompter. Can there be any other explanation than racism? I ask this as a white man who does not reflexively cite racism as the cause of all the world's evils.