Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In West Point speech, President Obama tries to justify escalation of Afghan occupation

Earlier this evening, in a major primetime speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point, President Barack Obama officially announced his decision to temporarily escalate the occupation of Afghanistan, and, unlike his predecessor, managed to defend his rationale for doing so without resorting to sloganeering.

"I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan," the President said. "After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."

The President began his speech by outlining the history of America's presence in Afghanistan (which began as a response to the September 11th attacks) including the complications that resulted from the unnecessary and immoral occupation of Iraq. He then reviewed the actions he has taken in respect to Afghanistan since taking office at the beginning of the year, and explained that has made the decision to escalate the conflict because the status quo is not sustainable and he doesn't believe cutting our losses and leaving is a feasible option.

The President acknowledged - but did not dwell on - many of the factors that may interfere with the success of the strategy he's just committed us to.

(For example, the legitimacy of the Afghan government, which was chosen in an election "marred by fraud", as the President put it).

He also repeatedly denounced imperialism without admitting that our foreign policy for the better part of this decade has been imperialist.

"We do not seek to occupy other nations," Obama said. He continued: "We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours."

The problem is, we've done exactly that in the past, and we are still doing it. We are not fighting conventional wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan. We are occupying those lands because two successive administrations have deemed it to be in our interest. "National security" is a convenient umbrella term that masks the real reasons why we're in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.

There has never been a formal declaration of war by Congress for either "police action". Congress has voted twice on "authorization of force" resolutions, which have been conveniently viewed by the White House as good for eternity.

Regrettably, the House and Senate have followed up by repeatedly writing blank checks appropriating money that we don't have to fund both occupations, whilst failing to exercise stringent oversight over the executive branch.

But there are signs that that might be changing.

In his response to the President's speech tonight, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon voiced respectful skepticism, declaring, "I have a number of questions about whether the Administration’s goal in Afghanistan is realistic, and how that goal advances our national security." He elaborated:
How will our strategy overcome Afghanistan’s history of decentralized power exercised by regional warlords, its systemic corruption, the insurgents’ ability to use the presence of a foreign force as a rallying point, the geography and topography of the country, and the Taliban’s easy access to explosives and funding?

Does this strategy reduce or increase the number of extremists motivated to strike at our nation?

What will prevent al Qaeda from finding other safe havens in other places from which to plot attacks against the U.S.?

Are there other approaches that can meet our national security objectives?
Those are good questions, and none of them were effectively dealt with in President Obama's speech to the nation tonight. The President unfortunately seems preoccupied with trying to treat symptoms at great cost instead of looking at the root causes of our problems (in this case, terrorism).

We've often been told that al Qaeda hates our freedom and wants to destroy our way of life. But what the terrorist network really seems to be after is an end to our massive military presence in the Middle East:
Bin Laden is most enraged by the American military presence in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was incensed when the Saudis invited U.S. troops to their defense after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Bin Laden — like many Muslims — considers the continued presence of these armed infidels in Saudi Arabia the greatest possible desecration of the holy land. That is why he sponsored bombings of the American military facilities in Saudi Arabia, why he has tried to destabilize the Saudi government, and why the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on Aug. 7, 1998 — eight years to the day after the first American troops were dispatched to Saudi Arabia.
Of course, our forces are in Saudi Arabia (and Kuwait... and Quatar... and Iraq...) to protect our access to the fossil fuels that we have convinced ourselves we cannot live without. This situation has regrettably existed for decades.

Rather than committing all of our available resources towards the goal of energy independence, we have become further entangled abroad by allowing our addiction to petroleum to continue driving our foreign policy. Lip service is paid to the notion of energy independence, but not backed up with action.

Progressives everywhere have long dreamed of seeing our elected leaders commit to the development of renewable energy alternatives on a scale that is befitting of the urgency of the climate crisis (which threatens the health of our planet) and the recognition of how unsafe our fossil fuel addiction has made us.

But that hasn't happened.

We may have a president who believes in diplomacy and real partnership building, but that won't be enough. We need a president who will put our nation's common wealth where his mouth is. If our President is serious when he says it is not our intention to occupy other countries, then he needs to make sure we have no reason to by ending our dependence on fossil fuels. That will require nothing less than an unequivocal federal mandate backed up with cold, hard cash.

Oil companies are not going to lead us out of the fossil fuel age and into a green revolution, no matter what they say in their commercials. Heck, they keep touting the supposed benefits of drilling for oil and natural gas offshore. How is more drilling going "beyond petroleum"?

President Obama can talk about securing America from terrorists until he's blue in the face. Again, the truth is, we'll never be secure until we become energy independent. As soon as we manage that paramount objective, there will be no reason for us to act like we're trying to win a real life Age of Empires tournament. Terrorists, consequently, will have less interest in attacking us.

That is the future that we should be working towards.


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