Obama's speech last night was, as we have gladly, improbably
come to expect of our president, elegant, thoughtful, and pitch-perfect in
its mix of toughness with optimism. Duly noting the economic crisis engulfing us, he said the "day of
reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is
We cannot question Obama's speaking skills, but we can ask him to
sharpen his much-praised listening skills when it comes to the brewing
disaster that is Afghanistan. As John Feffer asks in his CD piece here, "Why is the new Listener-in-Chief... so unable to hear the word "quagmire?"
In his speech, Obama made several key points that were welcome: that health care reform cannot wait, that government exists to help not hurt its most vulnerable citizens, that this country does not torture, that "living our values doesn't make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger."
Still, one point continues to alarm: the promise to "forge a new and comprehensive
strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al Qaida and combat
extremism, because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the
American people..." No mention of the addition of 17,000 troops, the continuing Drone attacks in Pakistan, the apparent intent to escalate, despite widespread evidence that a military approach in the volatile region will serve neither the interests of the Afghan or American people.
In interviews last week, the Washington Post reported, "Afghans said that instead of helping to defeat the insurgents and quell the violence that has engulfed their country, more foreign troops will exacerbate the problem." Their findings echoed surveys by the BBC and ABC News that while 90 percent of Afghans oppose the Taliban, less than half view U.S. forces favorably, bitterly citing the deaths of civilians and other abuses by Americans.
"Bringing in another foreign army is not going to help," said truck driver Ibrahim Khan. "They always come here for their own interests, and they always lose."
May Obama hear Khan, and the echoes of Iraq, and Vietnam before it, and find a better way.
For more on the perils that await, read the Post story here