No End In Sight: Obama Gears Up On AfghanistanS

This morning, President Obama spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai outlining the new war plan in detail. Tonight, Obama will reveal his plan for military action in a speech at West Point - and he's already drawing political criticism.

According to reports, Obama will be adding somewhere around 30,000 more troops and asking for more time to make sure the country is stable before looking at a time table for withdrawal.

Obama will emphasize that Afghan security forces need more time, more schooling and more U.S. combat backup to be up to the job on their own, and he will make tougher demands on the governments of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

In the capital of Kabul, some Afghans said they were worried that the troop increase was too much like an occupation - a scenario particularly worrisome to Afghans who still remember living through an oppressive Soviet regime.

The additional troops are there to assist with the stabilization of the country while the Administration steps up its efforts to repair infrastructure. Nation-building is slow going, often producing results that are hard to measure. The Washington Post spoke with experts on nation building, who explain:

Diplomats and officials involved in past nation-building efforts generally agree that the process works best when warring factions are ready to make peace. Elections, while important to lend legitimacy to a new government, should not be rushed — creating lasting institutions is more important. The international community must have realistic, if modest, goals. Regional experts need to be consulted, and neighboring countries should be brought on board.

And nation-building should be done primarily by the people of the country involved, with the outside world there to assist, diplomats said.

Above all, there must be resources.

"More manpower and more money produces better, faster results," said former U.S. diplomat James F. Dobbins, now with the Rand Corp., who has had firsthand experience in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. "There is a correlation between the commitment and the achievement."

He added: "Lesson one was decisive force. Employ a force decisive enough and impressive enough to deter any violent resistance."

Most of the experts admit that in order to have a successful strategy, most of the nations' factions must be committed to moving forward:

Many of the officials involved in past nation-building missions called it a critical yet common mistake for outsiders to impose their views on a country, without regard for the country's unique circumstances, and before all the internal factions have reached agreement.

That is the main problem in Afghanistan, said many with familiarity there.

Not surprisingly, the opposition to the troop increase is mounting before Obama has even said a word.

Other Democrats are skeptical about investing any more time and money into Afghanistan without clearly defined goals:

Democratic Rep. John Murtha - just back from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan - said Monday that he never got a clear definition of what constitutes an "achievable victory" for the United States and fears that American commanders are assuming more time for the war effort than voters at home will allow.

"I am still very nervous about this whole thing," Murtha told POLITICO. "If you had 10 years, it might work; if you had five, you could make a difference. But you don't have that long." [...]

"What is victory? It's a good question," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.). "I'm not as prone to jumping into wars as I used to be. He spent two months deciding," Berman said of Obama. "I think I can spend a few weeks."

Dick Cheney, who seems to have forgotten that he and Bush spent their time in office wreaking havoc on international relations and fighting wars just for the hell of it, has decided, for some strange reason, that his opinion still counts. He talks to the Politico, insinuating that Obama is a punk:

In a 90-minute interview at his suburban Washington house, Cheney said the president's "agonizing" about Afghanistan strategy "has consequences for your forces in the field."

"I begin to get nervous when I see the commander in chief making decisions apparently for what I would describe as small ‘p' political reasons, where he's trying to balance off different competing groups in society," Cheney said.

"Every time he delays, defers, debates, changes his position, it begins to raise questions: Is the commander in chief really behind what they've been asked to do?"

Obama administration officials have complained ever since taking office that they face a series of unpalatable - if not impossible - national security decisions in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the Bush administration's unwavering insistence on focusing on Iraq.

But Cheney rejected any suggestion that Obama had to decide on a new strategy for Afghanistan because the one employed by the previous administration failed.

Of course not. Because Bush/Cheney didn't do anything wrong. The denial continues:

During the interview, Cheney laced his concerns with a broader critique of Obama's foreign and national security policy, saying Obama's nuanced and at times cerebral approach projects "weakness" and that the president is looking "far more radical than I expected."

"Here's a guy without much experience, who campaigned against much of what we put in place ... and who now travels around the world apologizing," Cheney said. "I think our adversaries - especially when that's preceded by a deep bow ... - see that as a sign of weakness."

Party differences aside, both the Democrats and the Republicans are teaming up on one thing: no one wants to pay the cost of sending more troops.

The hefty price tag of the pending Afghan troop increase is already drawing opposition from many Congressional Democrats, deepening Mr. Obama's estrangement from his own party over the conflict.

Some Democrats are coalescing around a new proposal to levy a war tax to help fund the conflict. The proposal by Wisconsin Democratic Rep. David Obey, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, would impose a 1% tax on most Americans that rises to 5% for wealthier citizens. The administration has yet to weigh in on Mr. Obey's proposal, which would likely have a difficult time getting passed.

"If the president intends to go in over our objections, he should have to bear the burden of asking for a tax to pay for it," said Rep. Mike Honda (D., Calif.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee who supports the new tax. "You're talking about $30 billion or $40 billion per year in new spending. It's expensive."

Congressional Republicans have pressed Mr. Obama to fully heed his commanders' requests for more troops and military resources. Republicans, who oppose the idea of a war tax, generally favor borrowing the additional money necessary for the Afghan surge or reallocating other government funds.


Obama, Karzai hold hour-long video conference
[AP/MSNBC]
A test for the blocks needed to rebuild a nation [Washington Post]
Democrats 'nervous' about Afghanistan plan [Politico]
Dick Cheney slams President Obama for projecting ‘weakness' [Politico]
Fight Looms on How to Pay for New War Plan [WSJ]