Obama’s Afghanistan Problem

Obama’s
Afghanistan Problem

10/28/09

First, let’s remember that Obama inherited the Afghanistan problem
and that Bush did not send additional troops when he was asked to either. So
presumably, there are good reasons pro and con on the troop level issues. What
I want to discuss is the nature of this problem and the Humanist approach to
solving problems in general.

The question of whether or not to send more troops is not an easy
one and it is the main reason why I am really glad I am not president. Because
I would hate to have to make that decision. Simply put, there is no good solution
right now available. Now, it is entirely possible that Obama is biding his time
hoping something on the ground in Afghanistan will change to help him make his
decision. But since there have been several high level meetings on the subject,
I think it is clear that he is actively tryng to come up with a good plan in
a bad situation.

First, let’s look at Humanism as an approach to problem solving.
One of the best aspects of Humanism is that it uses reality-based decision-making
coupled with a compassionate outlook as it solves problems. Basically, the outcome
Humanists want is one where the most people benefit and the least harm is caused.
In the case of Afghanistan, I think everyone agrees, we would like to see that
country become a self sustaining peaceful democracy that does not harbor or
support terrorists that not only kill their own people but who also export their
violence around the world. In short, we want to help create a peaceful environment
for Afghans to go about their lives as they see fit. Not an easy task given
the current realities of the situation.

While most people of good faith can agree on the outcome we all
want, it is during the process of how best to get there that Humanism shines.
Humanists first of all try to get as much good information about the reality
of the situation we find ourselves in as possible. After all, if we want to
really solve our problems, reality is a good place to start. We then consider
all our options, using free thought to ensure that we don’t bias our thinking
through the problem by preconceived ideas and notions about the nature of the
problem. And then we do our best o figure out which of our options will have
the most success given the realities of the situation. And yes, I know, this
seems like the obvious thing to do, but it takes a lot of work and a good mind
to do the thinking required so, not too many people take the time to do problem
solving right. Politicians are particularly prone to take short cuts because
of their ideological predispositions.

So, lets start applying this to Afghanistan. We know what we want.
A peaceful Afghanistan free of religious violence. The problem is that there
is no clear path on how we, as Americans, can help the people of Afghanistan
achieves that. Now, internal religious violence in Afghanistan would not be
something we would normally deploy our troops to be involved with. But Al Qaida
is based there ad we do have a vested interest in disrupting their activities.
Now, to complicate matters, the Afghans do not have a legitimate government
at the moment. And if we send more troops it is entirely possible we could be
misused by that illegitimate government to help solidify their power and to
eliminate their enemies. And yes, we have been used this way in the past. It
is something we should be avoiding. Not only because it is unethical, but also
because it is counter productive to our main goal, which is to marginalize the
Taliban and Al Qaida. If we support an illegitimate government we push people
to Al Qaida as the only real opposition militia to that illegitimate government.

And there is the quandary. We need to have a presence in the area
to continue our fight against Al Qaida. And ideally, we would be working with
a legitimate government to help us do that. But that is not currently an option.
It could be in a few months, but it isn’t an option right now.

What we need are two different contingency plans. One in case
we end up with a legitimate government we can work with. And one in case we
don’t. And that is probably what Obama has been working on with his staff. And
because we won’t know if we will have a legitimate partner for another couple
of months, he would be wise not to announce his alternate contingency plan until
after the Afghan election results are sorted out and certified. And yes, I do
think he has decided what he wants to do in either case and is just waiting
until the time is right to move forward on either of the two plans.

After all, if Obama announced troop increases now, and then the
Afghan government devolves into a illegitimate state, we would not be able to
easily recover from that. And our withholding of additional troops is actually
an incentive for Karzai to make sure the election result is legitimate. And,
if we have an alternate plan in case the election results are not legitimate,
then announcing that in 2 months time will make no long-term difference in our
efforts against Al Qaida.

What the details of those 2 contingency plans are I have no idea.
There are too many variables that we the people just don’t have access to but
the President via the military and other intelligence apparatus does. And again,
I am glad I am not the president because there is no good solution to this problem.
But that means we have to trust that we elected a thoughtful man who is an excellent
thinker and problem solver and that whatever he and his staff come up with in
terms of a plan for dealing with the Afghanistan problem will be a good one.

I view the fact that he has not announced a new plan as a good
thing. It shows me he is thinking this problem through and recognizes the dilemma
we are in there. And instead of doing the politically expedient thing, he is
actually taking his time to see how things play out while making sure he has
contingency plans in place to handle whatever comes out of the Afghan election
process. His foreign policy endeavors so far have been extremely well handled
and he does play a deep strategic game. So I have no reason to believe he is
going to flub his thinking on this one.

Of course, once a plan is announced, we will then be able to judge
whether or not his thinking is good or not. But I do think it is too soon to
tell as his ability to announce his plans is on hold until after the Afghan
elections are decided.