- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama’s new Afghan policy that he delivered Tuesday night to the nation is an extremely ambitious one, and given how every foreign military intervention in Afghanistan has never quite succeeded, Mr. Obama’s latest plan may yet come back to haunt his presidency - and could affect his hopes for re-election.

In the 35-minute televised address Mr. Obama called for the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan in an effort to turn the tide of the war; a war, one may add, that is not going well for the United States and its allies, as the Taliban is making a comeback in a major way.

But the plan to deploy additional forces throughout the country (Britain also agreed to increase its contingent by 500 men) - call it a surge if you like - is not a bad idea. The more forces that are in Afghanistan, the better they can contain the situation, or so the logic goes. However, additional troops alone are far from enough to fight - and win - an asymmetrical war such as the one being fought in Afghanistan today.

What is needed in addition to the surge of U.S. and British forces? The war in Afghanistan won’t be won through conventional warfare, a quick look at history books should receive as much.

Many have tried it before - from the Persians, to the British and more recently the Soviets. None succeeded, and, as the last few years have demonstrated, the U.S.-led coalition is not doing much better.

There are many weak links in the president’s latest proposal, not least of which is his plan to bring home U.S. forces from Afghanistan within the next 18 months - that is after they have put down the Taliban resurgence and trained Afghan forces to assume control of their own destiny.

The big question here is why will the Afghan forces suddenly become capable of doing within the next 18 months what was requested of them several years ago but they so far have failed to do? In fact, 18 months from today will take the United States toward the next election cycle.

This is a time when American politicians tend to forget the rest of the world’s problems as they concentrate and focus all their attention and energies on domestic policies.

The White House and the Obama administration will find that it will need to devote much, if not all, of its time to the president’s re-election bid the following year. And if the situation in Afghanistan by then does not allow for the withdrawal of the American forces, as promised by the president, it is almost certain that the Republicans will not allow him, nor the rest of the country, to forget the pledge he made Dec. 1 in front of the West Point cadets.

In principle, the plan is a good one: Throw in more troops to track down the insurgents; more civilian experts to help train Afghanis to rule themselves, and assume their own security. But what is missing from the Obama plan are two all-important elements.

The first is a vast education campaign throughout the country where madrassas - or Islamic schools - still under the control of radical imams are replaced by government-run schools where the curriculum is approved by the Ministry of Education. This is an all-important investment in the most precious component of Afghanistan’s future: Its youth.

Second is the need for greater emphasis on the covert segment of this war. This is something the president most likely could not talk about, but hopefully was included in the new White House strategy to turn the tides of the war.

Finally, and perhaps the most difficult aspect of meeting the criteria set up by Mr. Obama in his Tuesday speech, is another all-important factor the president did not mention, and this is one over which neither the commander in chief, nor the surge of 30,000 troops, nor even 300,000 troops, would make any substantial difference. That is the need for the different tribes in Afghanistan to agree and to realize that to achieve their full independence from both the Taliban and from American and NATO forces, they must first get their own house in order. And that is a long shot.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and author of the newly released book “While the Arab World Slept: The Impact of the Bush Years on the Middle East” (Xlibris Corp., 2009).

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