Sunday, August 1, 2010

Defense Secretary Robert Gates Fails to Clarify Administration's Goals for Afghanistan

Throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I've stated that I just don't see a clear, quantifiable goal in either theater. President George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq over seven years ago, yet we're still there. Our efforts in Afghanistan have been met with increased difficulty, despite what the official rundown is. Well, we can supposedly rest easy now, because Defense Secretary Robert Gates broke down the current administration's goals on This Week.

When asked by Christiane Amanpour why Obama and Co. have not been out pushing the message that the Afghans enjoy our presence in their country (according to an ABC poll 68% of Afghans want us to remain in the country - how this poll was conducted I have no idea), Gates said:
And -- and I think -- you know, frankly, one of the things that I find frustrating is that I think that the president's strategy is really quite clear. I hear -- I hear all the stories that say what's the strategy, what's the goal here? I think it's quite clear. It's to -- it's to reverse the momentum of the Taliban, deny them control of populated areas, degrade their capabilities at the same time we're building up the Afghan security forces, so that the Afghan security forces can deny the Taliban and al Qaeda a base from which to attack the United States and the West.
These are great goals, I'm not going to deny that. But I have two problems with them. 1) How are we going to measure this? How will we know when these goals have been achieved? 2) With a timetable to begin troop drawdowns in July of next year, are these goals feasible in that kind of time frame?

On top of all of this, Gates reiterated Vice President's Biden's sentiments that we are not in Afghanistan to nation build. That's fine, but without a strong central government and decent infrastructure, we cannot expect Afghanistan to remain free of Al Qaeda's and a nefarious Taliban's influence. These comments are slightly odd, given Gates' sentiments earlier in his conversation with Amanpour:
But -- but I would say that, again, we walked out on Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1989 and left them basically holding the bag. And -- and there is always the fear that we will do that again.
Essentially what the administration has done here is pigeonhole themselves. They will refuse to participate in nation building beyond America's security interests, but they expect the country to withstand both the brutality of the Taliban and their influx of narco money. Instead of clearing the air, Gates has simply further confounded the administration's goals and strategies.

Photo - Defense Secretary Robert Gates (Slate)

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