Obama's Address Between the Lines
The MSM and the blogosphere are surfeited with comments on President Obama's Afghanistan policy described in his Tuesday night address at the U.S. Military academy. I have taken the liberty of including some marginal comments (in italics) to the full text below. Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Eisenhower Hall Theatre, United States Military Academy at West Point, West Point, New York
8:01 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. To the United States Corps of Cadets (Perhaps the United States Military Academy Corps of Cadets, but not to be noticed by those with no familiarity with it),to the men and women of our Armed Services (This is a speech about war, can't we remember to call these folks the Armed Forces?), and to my fellow Americans: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort inAfghanistan -- the nature of our commitment there, the scope of ourinterests, and the strategy that my administration will pursue to bringthis war to a successful conclusion. It's an extraordinary honor forme to do so here at West Point -- where so many men and women haveprepared to stand up for our security, and to represent what is finestabout our country.
To address these important issues, it's important to recall whyAmerica and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan inthe first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001,19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. Theytook the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard totheir faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions ofpassengers onboard one of those flights, they could have also struck at (another)one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killedmany more.
As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda -- a group of extremistswho have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s greatreligions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. Al Qaeda’s base ofoperations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban-- a ruthless, repressive and radical movement (more folks who have distorted and defiled Islam?) that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation andcivil war, and after the attention of America and our friends hadturned elsewhere.
Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force againstal Qaeda and those who harbored them -- an authorization that continuesto this day. The vote in the Senate was 98 to nothing. The vote inthe House was 420 to 1. For the first time in its history, the NorthAtlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 -- the commitment thatsays an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And theUnited Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary stepsto respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies and the world wereacting as one to destroy al Qaeda’s terrorist network and to protectour common security.
Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy-- and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden --we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, alQaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. TheTaliban was driven from power and pushed back on its (The Taliban are animate humans, why are they referred to as it?) heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a conferenceconvened by the U.N., a provisional government was established underPresident Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Forcewas established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.
Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, inIraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known and neednot be repeated here. It's enough to say that for the next six years,the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, ourdiplomacy, and our national attention -- and that the decision to gointo Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of theworld. (Those who supported Iraq, those who hoped to minimize American power and those who supported al Qaeda. The rest of the world excepting the much would be our allies.)
Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to aresponsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by theend of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011 (Without the combat brigades who will defend the remaining troops?). That we are doing so is a testament to the character of the men and women inuniform. (Applause.) Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance (in the face of my strong, vocal and persistent opposition), we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we aresuccessfully leaving Iraq to its people.
But while we've achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, thesituation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across theborder into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002 (before the war in Iraq began), al Qaeda’s leadershipestablished a safe haven there. Although a legitimate government waselected by the Afghan people, it's been hampered by corruption, thedrug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient securityforces.
Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common causewith al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghangovernment. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additionalswaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasinglybrazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistanipeople.
Now, throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistanremained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, wehad just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistanrepeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of theTaliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. And that's why,shortly after taking office, I approved a longstanding request for moretroops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced astrategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effortin Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goalthat was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating alQaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate ourmilitary and civilian efforts.
Since then, we've made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we'vestepped up the pressure on al Qaeda worldwide. In Pakistan, thatnation's army has gone on its largest offensive in years. InAfghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping apresidential election, and -- although it was marred by fraud -- thatelection produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan'slaws and constitution.
Yet huge challenges remain. Afghanistan is not lost, but forseveral years it has moved backwards. There's no imminent threat ofthe government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And ourforces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partnerwith Afghan security forces and better secure the population. Our newcommander in Afghanistan -- General McChrystal -- has reported that thesecurity situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: Thestatus quo is not sustainable.
As cadets, you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you fought in Afghanistan. Some of you will deploy there. Asyour Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined,and worthy of your service. And that's why, after the Afghan votingwas completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy. (August 30 McChrystal submits study showing need for more troops. August 20 Afghan elections. ) Now,let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that calledfor troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denialof resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this reviewperiod. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions,and to explore all the different options, along with my nationalsecurity team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, andour key partners. And given the stakes involved, I owed the Americanpeople -- and our troops -- no less.
This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I havedetermined that it is in our vital national interest to send anadditional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, ourtroops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we needto seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that canallow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraqprecisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the useof military force, and always consider the long-term consequences ofour actions. (What Obama actually said in his October 2, 2002 speech was "I don't oppose all wars." "WhatI am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rashwar....What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like KarlRove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the povertyrate, a drop in the median income.") We have been at war now for eight years, at enormous costin lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism haveleft our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created ahighly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. (A partisan backdrop created principally by myself and my party.) And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding oureconomy and putting people to work here at home.
Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you -- amilitary that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviestof all burdens. As President, I have signed a letter of condolence tothe family of each American who gives their (Did anyone proofread this speech anyone, their) life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. Ivisited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I've (even once) traveled(all the way from Washington D.C.) to Dover (A commute my vice-president made every day for many years) to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning hometo their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages ofwar. If I did not think that the security of the United States and thesafety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I wouldgladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.
So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decisionbecause I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan andPakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by alQaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11 (The attacks were launched from planes taking off from Boston and New York), and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idledanger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we haveapprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from theborder region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror.And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and alQaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on alQaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity ofour partners in the region.
Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not justAmerica's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda’s safe havens have been the sourceof attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people andgovernments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And thestakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we knowthat al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we haveevery reason to believe that they would use them.
These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Ouroverarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeatal Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity tothreaten America and our allies in the future.
To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives withinAfghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse theTaliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow thegovernment. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan'ssecurity forces and government so that they can take leadresponsibility for Afghanistan's future.
We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursuea military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increaseAfghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months.
The 30,000 additional troops that I'm announcing tonight will deployin the first part of 2010 -- the fastest possible pace -- so that theycan target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They'llincrease our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and topartner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. Andthey will help create the conditions for the United States to transferresponsibility to the Afghans.
Because this is an international effort, I've asked that ourcommitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some havealready provided additional troops, and we're confident that there willbe further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends havefought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we mustcome together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is notsimply a test of NATO's credibility -- what's at stake is the securityof our allies, and the common security of the world.
But taken together, these additional American and internationaltroops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility toAfghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces (the additional forces or all of the forces?) out ofAfghanistan in July of 2011. (What is special about July as opposed to June or August?) Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions onthe ground. We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's securityforces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it willbe clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to theAfghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their owncountry. (But our national interest as described is not the Afghan government responsibility for the country, but that the Taliban not gain control and provide a safehaven for al Qaeda. Why would we be able to withdraw if the Afghan government does not successfully take responsibility for the country?)
Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and theAfghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that thegovernment can take advantage of improved security.
This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing ablank check are over. President Karzai's inauguration speech sent theright message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, wewill be clear about what we expect from those who receive ourassistance. We'll support Afghan ministries, governors, and localleaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expectthose who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And wewill also focus our assistance in areas -- such as agriculture -- thatcan make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.
The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They'vebeen confronted with occupation -- by the Soviet Union, and then byforeign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand -- America seeks anend to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupyingyour country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to openthe door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the humanrights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership withAfghanistan grounded in mutual respect -- to isolate those who destroy;to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops willleave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is yourpartner, and never your patron.
Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success inAfghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.
We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreadingthrough that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in theborder region of Pakistan. That's why we need a strategy that works onboth sides of the border.
In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who've argued thatthe struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan isbetter off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who useviolence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed fromKarachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistanipeople who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion hasturned. The Pakistani army has waged an offensive in Swat and SouthWaziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistanshare a common enemy.
In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistannarrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to apartnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutualinterest, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthenPakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries,and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven forterrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan’sdemocracy and development. We are the largest international supporterfor those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, thePakistan people must know America will remain a strong supporter ofPakistan’s security and prosperity long after the guns have fallensilent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.
These are the three core elements of our strategy: a militaryeffort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge thatreinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.
I recognize there are a range of concerns about our approach. Solet me briefly address a few of the more prominent arguments that I'veheard, and which I take very seriously.
First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is anotherVietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we're better offcutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argumentdepends on a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joinedby a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy ofour action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popularinsurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American peoplewere viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for thosesame extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon thisarea now -- and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from adistance -- would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressureon al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks onour homeland and our allies.
Second, there are those who acknowledge that we can't leave Afghanistanin its current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troopsthat we already have. But this would simply maintain a status quo inwhich we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditionsthere. It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay inAfghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditionsneeded to train Afghan security forces and give them the space to takeover.
Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a time frame for ourtransition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a moredramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort -- one that wouldcommit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I rejectthis course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achievedat a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure ourinterests. (If the Furthermore, the absence of a time frame for transitionwould deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghangovernment. It must be clear that Afghans will have to takeresponsibility for their security, and that America has no interest infighting an endless war in Afghanistan.
As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond ourresponsibility, our means, or our interests. (And the goals I have set are: 1) deny al Qaeda a safe haven. 2) reverse the Taliban's momentum and 3) deny it the ability to overthrow thegovernment, but just for 18 months. After that somehow the security interests of the United States will change to not require achieving these goals. Al Qaeda will be able to have a safe haven, and the Taliban can regain momentum when we withdraw military support from the Afghan government.) And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take leadresponsibility for Afghanistan's future. And I must weigh all ofthe challenges that our nation faces. I don't have the luxury ofcommitting to just one. Indeed, I'm mindful of the words of PresidentEisenhower, who -- in discussing our national security -- said, "Eachproposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: theneed to maintain balance in and among national programs."
Over the past several years, we have lost that balance. We'vefailed to appreciate the connection between our national security andour economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of ourneighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown morefierce. So we can't simply afford to ignore the price of these wars. (By Obama's reckoning 1 trillion in 10 years as opposed to stimulus and TARP of 2 trillion in one year.)
All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq andAfghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I amcommitted to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our newapproach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion forthe military this year (although we will not deploy the troops that make up that approach until 2010 so we are talking about nine months of costs in Federal Fiscal Year 2010, about 3 percent of the Defense Department budget.), and I'll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit. (It is unclear to me just what work closely with the Congrees to address these costs means.)
But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghanresponsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Ourprosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for ourmilitary. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of ourpeople, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us tocompete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That'swhy our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended -- becausethe nation that I'm most interested in building is our own.
Now, let me be clear: None of this will be easy. The struggleagainst violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extendswell beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test ofour free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike thegreat power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20thcentury, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states,diffuse enemies.
So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the waythat we end wars and prevent conflict -- not just how we wage wars. We'll have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold --whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere -- they must be confronted bygrowing pressure and strong partnerships.
And we can't count on military might alone. We have to invest inour homeland security, because we can't capture or kill every violentextremist abroad. We have to improve and better coordinate ourintelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks.
We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction. And that'swhy I've made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loosenuclear materials from terrorists, to stop the spread of nuclearweapons, and to pursue the goal of a world without them -- becauseevery nation must understand that true security will never come from anendless race for ever more destructive weapons; true security will comefor those who reject them.
We'll have to use diplomacy, because no one nation can meet thechallenges of an interconnected world acting alone. I've spent thisyear renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships. And we haveforged a new beginning between America and the Muslim world -- one thatrecognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, andthat promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolatedby those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.
And finally, we must draw on the strength of our values -- for thechallenges that we face may have changed, but the things that webelieve in must not. That's why we must promote our values by livingthem at home -- which is why I have prohibited torture and will closethe prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man,woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud oftyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights,and tend to the light of freedom and justice and opportunity andrespect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That isthe source, the moral source, of America’s authority.
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrificeof our grandparents and great-grandparents, our country has borne aspecial burden in global affairs. (Now that all those World War I vets have passed on, we don't need to recognize their efforts in global affairs) We have spilled American blood inmany countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue tohelp others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. Wehave joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions --from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank -- that provide forthe common security and prosperity of human beings.
We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have attimes made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United Statesof America has underwritten global security for over six decades -- atime that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, and marketsopen, and billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientificprogress and advancing frontiers of human liberty.
For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought worlddomination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We donot seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’sresources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity isdifferent from ours. What we have fought for -- what we continue tofight 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. (Applause.)
As a country, we're not as young -- and perhaps not as innocent --as we were when Roosevelt was President. Yet we are still heirs to anoble struggle for freedom. And now we must summon all of our mightand moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age.
In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely fromthe strength of our arms. It derives from our people -- from theworkers and businesses who will rebuild our economy; from theentrepreneurs and researchers who will pioneer new industries; from theteachers that will educate our children, and the service of those whowork in our communities at home; from the diplomats and Peace Corpsvolunteers who spread hope abroad; and from the men and women inuniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has madegovernment of the people, by the people, and for the people a realityon this Earth. (Applause.)
This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue --nor should we. But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustainour leadership, nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time, ifwe allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicismand partisanship that (I have used) has in recent times poisoned our nationaldiscourse.
It's easy to forget that when this war began, we were united --bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by thedetermination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. Irefuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. (Applause.) I believe with every fiber of my being that we -- asAmericans -- can still come together behind a common purpose. For ourvalues are not simply words written into parchment -- they are a creedthat calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest ofstorms as one nation, as one people.
America -- we are passing through a time of great trial. And themessage that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: thatour cause is just, our resolve unwavering (for 18 months). We will go forward with theconfidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge anAmerica that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future thatrepresents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes. (Applause.)
Thank you. God bless you. May God bless the United States ofAmerica. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)