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January 25, 2011

The White House's Credibility Gap on Afghanistan Deepens
Posted by Michael Cohen

I've been watching State of the Union speech for for probably 30 years and I've yet to hear a memorable one - and tonight will not break that streak.

What a snoozer. Although frankly from a political perspective I thought it was actually pretty effective - makes Obama look like the adult-in-chief who is willing to work across the aisle with Republicans. But from a policy perspective there was very little of interest and it took all my energy to stop playing online scrabble . . . and in the end, scrabble won.

But then there was the foreign policy section, which actually wasn't boring . . . but instead blood-boiling:

We have also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.

I'm not sure how this could be any more misleading (or insulting with the obligatory 9/11 reference):

  • Training of the Afghan security forces is not progressing well or did the President miss the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan testify this week that our efforts on this front are failing badly.
  • Fewer Afghans might be under the control of the Taliban but far more Afghans live in provinces where security is deteriorating and in 2010 far more of them were killed in the war-fighting.
  • Building an "enduring partnership" with the Afghan people; somehow I'm thinking the part where Hamid Karzai today lashed out at the international community "for fomenting a 'crisis' by pressing him to inaugurate parliament" is not what he had in mind.
  • As for the notion that the Afghan government will deliver better governance . . the less said about that the better.

I'm a former speechwriter so I get that the President wants to offer American people a rosy view of the war - but nothing about how he described the situation in Afghanistan provides an accurate assessment of what is happening in Afghanistan. And there was no sense at all - beyond mere platitudes - of what troop withdrawals in Afghanistan will look like or under what conditions they will occur (just that they will happen, even likely in truncated form).

Two paragraphs of platitudes about a conflict being waged by 100,000 US troops is embarrassing and the lack of candor and public forthrightness from this White House about the war in Afghanistan should be downright scandalous. This Administration seems content to kick the can down the road and cede public diplomacy efforts to General Petraeus whose public pronouncements of progress are not even considered credible by other US officials.

There was once a time when I defended this president from the public pressure being placed on him by his military officers to escalate in Afganistan; but there is no defending him now - he seems tragically content to wallow in the same pool of generalities and misleading claims of progress about the war as they do.

*Oh and while I liked the section on Tunisia; the failure to mention anti-government demonstrators in Egypt kind of took the bloom off that rose.

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