When it comes to Afghanistan, it doesn’t sound like President Obama is in a negotiating mood. His in-and-out visit this weekend to Kabul, bomber jacket and all, included a rah-rah speech to US forces that didn’t mention a word about a political settlement of the conflict. He seems to have gone head-to-head with President Karzai, who’s at least engaged in peace talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Islamic Party, a key ally of the Taliban, and who’s planning a peace council for the beginning of May.
Unfortunately, Obama seems more concerned about Karzai’s corruption — along with that of his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who heads the Kandahar provincial council — than he does about Karzai’s peace efforts. Indeed, it seems that many US officials have decided that Karzai is the enemy.
So Obama is counting on the major US military offensive in Kandahar, the capital of the Taliban’s effort in Afghanistan, to give the United States a military victory. The goal, according to media reports, is to pacify Kandahar and its outlying districts, home to more than two million Afghans, and then hope that the Taliban has learned its lesson and submits meekly to US-style disarmament and reintegration. The plan, it seems, is to do all this by December, when the president will hold yet another review of the war’s progress.
That’s the plan.
In his speech to US forces at Bagram , outside of Kabul, Obama seemed giddy about the idea that the American people support the war effort. "The entire country stands behind you," said Obama. That, of course, is not true. A recent poll, released by the Washington Post, showed that just over half of Americans, 53 percent, support the war. In recent weeks, the numbers are up. A CNN poll reported that 44 percent of the US public believes that the war is going well (up dramatically from a few weeks ago, when just 21 percent thought it was going well), while 43 percent still believe it is going badly. Obama, in the talk with the troops, seized on the uptick in the polls thusly:
"You’ve gone on the offensive. And the American people back home are noticing. We have seen a huge increase in support in — stateside, because people understand the kinds of sacrifices that you guys are making, and the clarity of mission that you’re bringing to bear."
Leaving aside the utter lack of clarity of the US mission in Afghanistan, it’s unseemly at best for the president to be touting poll numbers in a speech to the troops. Channeling President Bush, Obama came perilously close to promising a military victory in the war ("a military effort that takes the fight to the Taliban"), saying: