Obama’s Hope

[International Herald Tribune, France]



Berliner Zeitung, Germany

Obama's Hope is All Afghanistan Has Left


"Obama's plan is nothing more than a hope. Furthermore, it's a hope that is aligned with his desire to be reelected. But hope is all that's left in the Afghan quagmire."


By Damir Fras


Translated By Stephanie Martin


December 4, 2009


Germany - Berliner Zeitung - Original Article (German)


In an address at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, President Obama lays out his plan for Afghanistan.


C-SPAN VIDEO: President Barack Obama announces his long awaited strategy on Afghanistan, calling for 30,000 additional U.S. troops, Dec. 1, 00:39:34RealVideo

Now U.S. President Barack Obama is being accused of having failed to explain the purpose of the war in Afghanistan. Of course George W. Bush, in that disagreeable manner of his, would in fact have done so. He would have ranted on about democratization; about a few more girls being able to go to school; about a few more women who would have been better off than before; et cetera, et cetera - in a tone similar to the one often struck by former German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung when he spoke of Afghanistan. But Obama is much more sympathetic and realistic for not doing so.


In his speech to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Obama didn't explain the purpose of the war. He did, however, suggest that there would be an end to it. As early as 2011, the first American troops are scheduled to return home from Afghanistan. In order to make this possible, Obama is first sending another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan - into a war that cannot be won militarily, but that might at least be brought to an end with more military.


This is nothing more than a hope. Furthermore, it's a hope that is aligned with Obama's desire to be reelected. But hope is all that's left in an Afghan quagmire that has lasted for eight years. All other things being equal, why shouldn't what worked in Iraq in 2007 work in Afghanistan? Obama's plan, to turn responsibility for the country's security over to the Afghan government in a step-by-step fashion after massive military pressure and massive increases in civilian aid, might work. “May” doesn't mean “will,” but at this point, that's simply all there is.


In Afghanistan, they tell one another: Americans have watches, but the Taliban have time. That may be true. But that's exactly why setting a date for international withdrawal does no additional harm. Either the Taliban and other insurgents have by that point been weakened to such a degree that that they no longer pose a threat - or not. Having received offers of money and a share in power, either enough insurgents will have by then switched sides and allied themselves with the Afghan government - or not. There's no guarantee that one or the other will come to pass.


But there are ways to positively influence developments. Options that also present themselves to Germany's federal government … that is, if like Obama, the government feels that Afghanistan concerns us all. This doesn't necessarily require military contributions alone. Rather than developing the country, the 4,500 Bundeswehr [Germany Army] troops that are currently stationed in northern Afghanistan have been more preoccupied with protecting themselves and dealing with an air strike on two fuel trucks in Kundus which claimed a large numbers of civilian victims. If an additional 2,000 German troops were deployed, that wouldn't change much. One could of course send them to fight in the south or east of the country. But first of all, the Americans do a better job with this, and second, the federal government is reluctant to take such a decision. Although logical from a military point of view, it would be a hard sell in Germany.  



What's left, for instance, is aid to the civilian sector for training the Afghan police. This is where Germany, of all countries involved, has the most catching up to do. If the word “failure” needed a superlative, we could quickly find the appropriate phrase. It would be: police training in German hands. When Germany as a “lead nation” was still responsible for the issue, we didn't manage to send more than a few dozen police trainers to Afghanistan. Now that Germany has joined an E.U.-wide project, things don't look much better. 


For years, the federal government has been hiding behind the fact that state governments have jurisdiction over the police. Since Otto Schily, every interior minister has neglected to adequately recruit people for police training in Afghanistan.  


At the same time, the debacle might still be averted. For years now, experts have been calling for the deployment of hundreds if not thousands of military police to Afghanistan. This cross between a soldier and a policeman is best suiting for building up a force in Afghanistan similar to the French Gendarmerie or the Italian Carabinieri. The Afghans need a force of this kind to maintain at least a modicum of security in their own country.


With this type of contribution, the federal government could actually be an asset to the Obama plan. But the debate in Germany on this issue is barely audible. The federal government continues to postpone decisions. However, muddling through was never the right course of action - even in situations when all you have left is hope.



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Posted by WORLDMEETS.US, Dec. 6, 4:10pm



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