Afghanistan and Presidential Dilemmas

Deepak Tripathi
(Informed Comment, November 13, 2009)

News that the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, has sent classified messages to Washington in the last few days, advising President Obama not to send more troops to Afghanistan, is dramatic both in its timing and substance. It came just as Obama was to hold further deliberations with his advisers on a new strategy for what is now described in Washington as the AfPak front. The substance of Eikenberry’s advice went directly against the plan the military commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has been pushing for in recent months. Eikenberry’s intervention is highly significant. A Harvard and Stanford-educated general, he had served in Afghanistan twice before retiring and was immediately appointed America’s envoy in that country in April 2009. He has strong military credentials and President Obama’s ear–an effective counter to the Pentagon lobbying for ever-increasing military commitment to the war.

The contrary advice from Eikenberry may have annoyed General McChrystal. But it represents an established pattern by now: well orchestrated media reports originating from advocates of greater American involvement before every new strategy session, apparently intended to bounce the president into sending more troops; and President Obama finding a way to resist that pressure. Whatever criticisms are leveled against Obama over his perceived hesitation or dithering, these maneuvers within the administration point to his dilemmas at this juncture. For unlike George W Bush, an instinctive demolisher, Obama is a man of intellect, averse to war and more in tune with history. More


The Cost of Empire

Deepak Tripathi
(History News Network, November 2, 2009)

President Barack Obama is having a bad time. The health reforms he so confidently promised have been bogged down in Congress for months; his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said the other day that the pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp by January 2010 would take longer to fulfill; Obama’s top general, Stanley McChrystal, appeared to break military discipline by openly demanding forty thousand extra US troop for the Afghan War, warning his commander-in-chief that otherwise the mission would fail; the award of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama brought more scorn and disbelief than congratulations and encouragement; it generated an odd unity of purpose between the Left and the Right, his erstwhile supporters and bitter adversaries out to destroy his young presidency; and two decades after the United States defeated its superpower adversary, a resurgent Russia made plain that sanctions against Iran over its suspicious-looking nuclear program were not acceptable to Moscow.

History is full of contradictions between what American presidents offered and could deliver. Upon the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, President George Washington spoke of ‘the eternal rules of order and right’ and ‘the preservation of sacred fire of liberty’ in his inauguration address. In fact, American Indians and black slaves were to endure white oppression for a further two hundred years. One and a half centuries ago, history recorded that Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1865. In truth, re-enslavement occurred quickly under different laws and slavery was to persist for another century. More