Obama’s Afghanistan Speech

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

The speech was ghastly, dreary, dreadful and morose, full of wishful thinking and blame of others for the situation we now face.  Obama seemed to be unable to stay focused on Afghanistan, appeared bored with the subject, and even seemed a bit peeved that he had to deliver such a speech.

The first part of the speech rehashed information that most people alive today already know, and then proceeded to place the blame on Operation Iraqi Freedom for the low troop levels in Afghanistan.  That Generals McNeill and McKiernan requested more troops for the campaign in Afghanistan is true, but at least McKiernan’s desires were made known during Obama’s tenure.  Even this doesn’t fully explain how the situation in Iraq related to Afghanistan.

During much of the time from 2004 (around the time of Operation al Fajr) to 2007, thousands of religiously motivated foreign fighters (AQ) flowed into Iraq per year to fight the U.S. forces.  These are fighters that didn’t go to Afghanistan because they were headed for Iraq.  Whatever else one thinks of the initial invasion of Iraq, the subsequent counterinsurgency phases (Operation Iraqi Freedom II and III) were the center of gravity of the fight against religious globalists (even though we had to fight our way through an indigenous insurgency in Iraq to get to AQ, this insurgency being somewhat less committed to the religious cause of AQ).  To blame the situation in Afghanistan entirely on Iraq just doesn’t comport with the facts.

Slow to give up the finger-pointing even though he chides us for failing to do the same, Obama eventually transitions to his strategy.  He does mention population centers and securing the population (and Kandahar will be a big focus of the effort).  But he insisted that the cornerstone of the strategy was turnover to Afghan Security Forces, and couples this insistence with the strangest of demands: that U.S. troops begin leaving Afghanistan in 2011.

I have repeatedly claimed that seeing the population as the center of gravity of a counterinsurgency is doctrinal intransigence and stubbornness, and that multiple foci should be pursued in small wars, including an enemy-centric focus if that is deemed wise at some particular point in a campaign (such as early on).  But if Obama has been listening to his generals (and it sounds as if he has, at least to some degree), it would explain the focus on population centers and startup of the Afghan Security Forces.  Obama insists on placing the burden on the ANA and ANP, and sooner rather than later.

So assuming that Obama has selected population-centric counterinsurgency as his strategy, he certainly doesn’t appear to understand exactly what that entails.  We have been training the ANA and ANP for eight years now, and had Provincial Reconstruction Teams deployed throughout Afghanistan for years.  Army human terrain teams have studied the tribes, agricultural experts have advised and counseled Afghan farmers, and U.S. Soldiers and Marines now must be aligned with Afghan Army in order to conduct operations.

Yet in the Afghan Security Forces, drug addiction continues, they sleep on duty, they refuse in cases to go on night patrols, they have proven to be generally inept and unreliable in fire fights, and the Afghan people hate the corruption within their ranks.  Training up an Afghan Army is not about teaching them to fire a weapon or go on patrol.  Instilling esprit de corps, reliability, commitment and faithfulness is not about thirteen weeks or even a year of basic training.  It’s about a culture, country and social and religious milieu that can sustain such an institution.

Pointing to an end date for troop presence is the height of irresponsibility.  It’s either an intentional lie (in which case he is a liar and the troops’ families have false hope for and end date), or it’s the truth, in which case he clearly has confused ideas on just how long counterinsurgency takes to succeed – if it can succeed at all.

Finally, the speech wanders off into foreign territory by discussing the use of soft power to end the threat of nuclear weapons.  The claim is that work to end nuclear proliferation will enhance national security, but thus far the only change to nuclear weapons has been on the American side.  The Russians have now been invited to examine our nuclear weapons installations, and nuclear warhead refurbishment (strongly recommended by the DoD and DOE) has been denied and de-funded.  All the while, Iran insists that its very own nuclear program is non-negotiable.

I was recently at a funeral where I had a chance to speak with four World War II veterans at one ad hoc gathering.  Upon hearing that my son was in the U.S. Marine Corps, they conveyed their heart felt thanks to both him and me.  They had battled the Japanese in the South Pacific and the Germans in Europe.  But they knew what we face.  They used the phrase “long war,” and they didn’t know who John Abizaid was.  They simply knew that we were in a long war – the longest one our republic would ever face, and much longer than the one they faced.

U.S. industry fabricated some 55,000 Sherman tanks to prosecute World War II.  Our industry is being shut down due to all manner of issues, including environmental regulations.  Large scale steel fabrication is now done primarily overseas, and the current administration cannot bear the thought of deploying fewer American warriors to Afghanistan than tanks we deployed during World War II.

Afghanistan matters.  The Durand line means nothing to al Qaeda and their supporters, the Taliban.  Pakistan, whom the U.S. very much wants to focus on its internal threats rather than India, awaits our own intentions.  Pressure must be kept on AQ and the Taliban on both sides of the alleged border, because there is no border.  While Pakistan awaits our direction, so does most of Europe.

With the current leadership unable to make a case for troop presence beyond 2011, we are poorly prepared indeed for the battle ahead.  I missed the initial speech and had to take it in later, but my daughter told me that it was ghastly, dreary and dreadful.  She was right.  It would have been better if it had never been made.


  1. On December 3, 2009 at 8:07 am, TSAlfabet said:

    Yes, indeed, Captain. The speech was all of that and worse: it was a slap in the face to every father, mother, daughter and son connected with the U.S. military, and the veterans of wars past.

    He really seems to believe that “ordinary” Americans are idiots. He thinks that he can throw out some patriotic phrases framed against a military back-drop of West Point and fool everyone into thinking that he is a strong commander-in-chief. And he is annoyed by any criticism, that the One should have to defend his actions or decisions to mere mortals.

    Say what you want about G.W. Bush, but when he finally recognized that the strategy in Iraq was not going to end in victory, he was willing to swallow his pride and reverse course and make changes, in the face of terrible political opposition— where was Obama’s non-partisanship then? Obama clearly does not have the guts to make the hard decision to win in A-stan; he does not even have the guts to say the word, “Victory.” He is throwing in 30,000 troops in the hopes of fooling Americans into thinking he has tried, all the while building in so many snares that there is hardly a chance of prevailing.

    It must be a very, very difficult time to be in the U.S. military right now. God save us.

  2. On December 3, 2009 at 11:09 am, Warbucks said:

    Our Generals need to implement a plan that does not violate the President’s orders by:

    (A) pulling psychologically profiled, selected ANA troops out of country
    (i) inclined with a will-to-win this war and sense that personal liberty is a “good thing” not an offense to God,
    (ii) that “personal freedom” is a good thing, not an offense to God,
    (iii) that democracy is a good thing when tied to justice and mercy and the rule of law and not an offense to God.
    (iv) Even as these values may take a generation to fully bloom in country, these ANA trainees should be made to realize they are the future.

    (B) Send the trained back in and bring another group out and keep the training process going. Even if we only train less than 5% in the months ahead we may be able to seed a flower that blooms.

  3. On December 3, 2009 at 1:26 pm, omarali50 said:

    I think it was a very good speech. The “withdrawal date” is a joke, but I dont think it will have any serious impact on affairs on the ground.
    IF the US/NATO forces are seen to be taking the initiative and going after the taliban and have a plan for all aspects of the problem, people will see that and react accordingly. If they seem to be just treading water, people will see that too and react accordingly. If a deal is being made to allow Pakistan to reinsert its proxies into Afghanistan in exchange for an orderly withdrawal, we will see evidence soon enough. If no deal has been made and Pakistan is pressured to drop its proxies and help NATO pummel them before 2011, people will see that too. There is only so much you can do with PR, the rest is actual work (and kinetics?)
    The salafist/jihadist insurgency will continue and nation states will have to fight against it because it is not compatible with the existing international system. Some states will take a while to figure this out. If this works, Pakistan will have chosen to dump these people and will be getting help in its fight. If this does not work, the US will suffer a setback, but will be able to cut its losses and move on, but Pakistan will be at the center of a much bigger mess than what exists now and will have to figure things out after dragging its people through unnecessarily bitter experiences. But what the hell, that wont be the first time history takes the roundabout way…

  4. On December 3, 2009 at 3:26 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Um … Omar … you left this very same comment at the SWJ:


    Copy and paste?

  5. On December 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm, amarriott said:

    Why the good ol’ US Marines are succeeding where others have failed/ are failing. ‘Telling it like you see it’ reporting (podcast): http://defensetech.org/2009/12/02/boots-on-the-ground-afghanistan-edition/

    Echoes much of the same good sense coming from the Cap’n.

  6. On December 4, 2009 at 9:35 am, Warbucks said:

    Whoops Omar, the Captain’s spirit carries the energies of truth which are hard to divert.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Obama Administration,The Long War and was published December 3rd, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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