President Explains Strategic Choices, Calls for Unity
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2009 The Afghanistan strategy review included many options, but President Barack Obama deemed the increase of 30,000 U.S. troops to institute counterinsurgency operations was the best one.
Cadets listen to President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan policy speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2009. White House photo by Lawrence Jackson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The president said the national security leadership team discussed the concerns that many people have about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. He addressed them in his speech tonight at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Obama said there are many who say that the war in Afghanistan is like the U.S. war in Vietnam.
“They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing,” he said. “Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history.”
Unlike Vietnam, a broad coalition supports the effort in Afghanistan, the president said. The Taliban is an extremist group, not a popular front like the Viet Cong.
“And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border,” Obama said. “To abandon this area now – and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaida from a distance – would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaida, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.”
Other people say that the 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan are enough.
“This would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there,” the president said. “It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan security forces and give them the space to take over.”
Still others criticize the strategy for identifying a timeframe for transition to Afghan responsibility. They say there should be a “more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort – one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade,” Obama said. “I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.”
No timeframe also means no urgency, the president said. “It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan,” he said.
The cost of the effort in Afghanistan will still be high.
“All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars,” Obama said. “Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.”
Succeeding in Afghanistan will not be easy, the president said, but it can be done.
“The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said. “It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states and diffuse enemies.”
But the United States can do this if Americans stick together and respond to our highest aspirations. “We must draw on the strength of our values – for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not,” the president said.
Since World War II, American servicemembers have spilled their blood in many countries. The Marshall Plan helped rebuild Europe, and America has joined with allies to create an architecture of institutions – from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank – that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings, Obama said.
“We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes,” he said. “But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades – a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.”
This is because the United States has not sought world domination.
“Our union was founded in resistance to oppression,” he said. “We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.”
The president told the Corps of Cadets that Americans of today are “heirs to a noble struggle for freedom,” and that freedom is again challenged.
America is a vast and diverse place, Obama said, and Americans can disagree. “But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse,” he said.
The war began with horrific acts of murder, and those united Americans to defend the country and U.S. values.
“I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again,” the president said. “I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment – they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.”
He said America is passing through a time of great trial. “And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering,” he said. “We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.”