THE BLOG
11/29/2009 10:04 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The President's Important Speech On Afghanistan

Assuming the reports are accurate, President Obama will send somewhere between 25,000-30,000 additional troops in order to, as he stated last week, "finish the job" in Afghanistan. It will undoubtedly be the most important speech to date of his presidency; it may also serve to define whatever remaining years he has.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already stated that NATO is prepared to offer an additional 50,000 troops to Afghanistan, which is the surest indicator as to the accuracy of the president's decision of an impending troop increase.

Those who wish to maintain Afghanistan is the mess the president inherited from the previous administration are factually correct, but politically irrelevant.

No one blames President Eisenhower for Vietnam, who sent the first military advisers in 1959. President Johnson inherited Vietnam in 1963 after the death President Kennedy, as it was a developing quagmire. But who is largely held responsible for Vietnam today, Kennedy or Johnson?

Afghanistan belongs to President Obama. He will receive the accolades assuming there is success and he will definitely receive the criticism if it fails.

The president is going to need more than a coat of paint and some screen doors to repair the fixer-upper he now owns in Afghanistan.

The dilemma has been between counter insurgency versus counter terrorism. Does the president place emphasis on defeating the Taliban or al Qaida? The 25,000-30,000 troop increase indicates the president has chosen the hybrid response -- less than the 40,000 troops requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but more than the 15,000 that reportedly the president and Vice President Joe Biden advocated.

After seven years, it is clear that defeating the Taliban or al Qaida, based on any Western definition of the word, is impossible.

Whatever the president decides, it will reflect what he feels is the best "bad choice" available.
The president can either follow the path taken by Johnson in Vietnam or chart a new course for future occupants of the White House to follow. Moreover, what the president says about Afghanistan next week will be as important as what he actually does.

Can he articulate a mission that is clear enough so that the American people will understand why our troops are there, what they seek to accomplish, and when will the mission be complete?

Though the estimated 25,000-30,000 is less than the 40,000 requested by Gen. McChrystal, it is an increase that moves the U.S. toward the direction of nation building. Whatever the president articulates next week, the fact remains we are in a region that we know very little about.

Are Afghanis more loyal to their village or to the central government? In this case, it is a corrupt central government. And do they even think in such nationalistic terms? Who would the ethnic Pashtun areas back, the U.S./NATO forces or the Taliban? The president must explain how success is derived in areas that may not trust the Taliban, but trust the corrupt central government led by Hamid Karzai even less.

What is the end result, the removal of the Taliban, elimination of al Qaida, or maintaining the fragile stability that exists between Pakistan and India?

The playbook the president is using feels uncomfortably similar to the one used by Johnson in Vietnam. President Obama can't go to the American people and simply say: "This is a disaster that cannot be fixed."

That would surely bring out the Republican members of Congress, many of whom supported and fast-tracked the current quagmire, with charges of the president is "soft of terrorism."

Afghanistan is further complicated because Pakistan serves the dual role of being part of the problem and key to any success.

In addition to the NATO allies, America's ultimate departure may also require the assistance of China, Russia, and even Iran -- all have an interest in limiting the spread of Afghan drugs as well as Islamic extremism from their borders.

The president must offer the American people a somber, realpolitik address, divorced from any idealistic rhetoric. The American people must hear the unvarnished truth so they can make an intelligent decision whether to support this latest enterprise.

Whatever the president decides, I hope he removes "winning and losing" from his war lexicon. As history has repeatedly proven, no one wins in Afghanistan.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor, a syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him byron@byronspeaks.com or visit his Web site: byronspeaks.com.