Obama chooses wrong words, wrong priorities on Afghanistan

Partisanship had no place in the discussion of Osama bin Laden's death a year ago and the Karzai government doesn't merit such generous U.S. support.
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President Obama announces the death of Osama bin Laden.

Partisanship had no place in the discussion of Osama bin Laden's death a year ago and the Karzai government doesn't merit such generous U.S. support.

"The most important single day of my presidency" - President Barack Obama's description of the day when Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals.

The killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan a year ago seemed anticlimactic when it happened. After all, by the time of bin Laden's death, the Al Qaida movement had become diffuse and decentralized as compared to 9/11/2001 when, at bin Laden's direction, the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings had shocked and briefly unified Americans.

The first-anniversary observance left an outrightly bad taste.

On a surprise trip to Afghanistan, President Obama said he could see "the light of a new day" in Afghanistan  (eerily reminiscent of "the light at the end of the tunnel" phrase used to falsely raise hope of victory in Vietnam) as the result of an agreement under which the United States will extend financial and military assistance to Afghanistan for another 10 years after our planned 2014 withdrawal date from that country.

Shortly after the president's departure for the U.S., a bloody Taliban suicide bombing took place in downturn Kabul. U.S. troops continue to die in Afghanistan. More disturbingly, incidents are increasing of attacks on American troops by the Afghan troops and police they are training and with whom they are serving.

Obama also diminished the day with a crudely partisan suggestion that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his prospective GOP election opponent, might have lacked the nerve to order the Obama bin Laden killing.  Romney responded. Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, topped both with angry, intemperate remarks aimed at Obama.

The occasion should not have been marred by any kind of partisanship. It overshadowed the tribute due the Seals and others who risked their lives in the mission. It focused attention away from Obama's visit wih U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan. And it made a political issue of a matter on which both major political parties agree - i.e., that bin Laden's elmination was proper justice.

I was disappointed as well by Obama's comment to Brian Williams, in an exclusive NBC-TV interview, that the day of bin Laden's killng "was the most important single day of my presidency." Really? More important than the day his economic advisors told him the U.S. officially had pulled out of recession? Or the day his health-care legislation passed the Congress and was ready for his signature? Or, for that matter, the day of his historic swearing-in?

Even in national-security terms, the day of bin Laden's death was smaller in importance than many other events - not least, the death of even one more GI in Afghanistan.

American vital interests are not at stake in Afghanistan. The commitment of American forces and additional billions of dollars to that country through 2024 is, in my judgment, indefensible. Whether we withdraw from an active role now, or in 2025, Afghans will make their own power-sharing arrrangements. The United States has many overseas priorities. By no stretch does Afghanistan qualify as being one of them.

The only real celebration yesterday came not from Americans but from the Karzai government, and its pals in Kabul, who can anticipate more Yankee dollars flowing their way for at least another decade.

The May Day protests nationally were notable for the absence of Aghanistan as a central focus. Thus far policy critics in the Democratic Party have remained generally passive. A few Republicans have been starting to lean toward disengagement.

Notably absent, at this point, are the 2012 equivalents of 1960s congressional critics of Vietnam policy, including Sens. Ernest Gruening, Wayne Morse, Mark Hatfield, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Allard Lowenstein. Someone beyond Ron Paul surely will raise his/her voice on the issue as the summer campaign season warms.



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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.