For those of us who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was extremely important that the new president get the situation in Afghanistan right. Not just for America's security, but for those troops still in Afghanistan, and those heading to Afghanistan to put their lives on the line in the war. With today's announcement, President Obama has shown that he "gets it." That's why we at VoteVets.org are supporting the plan with a petition, which you can sign on to, right here.
There's a lot to like about the plan. But, there are three key things I'm particularly focused on, that represent a stark departure from the previous administration. They show that this president not only has reasonable goals in the region, but a good idea of what it will take to get there.
Point One: The Military Can't Do It All
The president recognizes that the war against terrorists requires much more than just throwing troops at the problem. That alone will go a long way towards setting policies that make America safer, and taking the burden off our military.
The president said today, "To advance security, opportunity, and justice - not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces - we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers.... These investments relieve the burden on our troops. They contribute directly to security. They make the American people safer. And they save us an enormous amount of money in the long run - because it is far cheaper to train a policeman to secure their village or to help a farmer seed a crop, than it is to send our troops to fight tour after tour of duty with no transition to Afghan responsibility."
This is key, and something that was lacking in the region for a long time. Those hardline radicals who want to take control thrive on poverty and misery of the people. The single best thing we can do to ensure that the Afghan people aren't so destitute and broken that they're tempted to join these radicals, is to send civilian training and humanitarian aid.
Point Two: Though it's the "War in Afghanistan," we need to treat it like a region
That the president made a point of including Pakistan in this strategy, offering greater aid to them if the Pakistani government makes more of an effort to work and coordinate with us, is as smart as it is practical.
Everyone - myself included - has not helped when we bind the efforts in the region under the name "The War in Afghanistan." This is a regional problem, that requires a regional solution.
President Obama understands to get the support of the Pakistani people, which will make it easier to get the help we need from the Pakistani government, it takes carrots. And his plan focuses squarely on that. His support for legislation sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years, along with another bill that creates opportunity zones in the border region will go a long way towards getting the cooperation we need to really focus in on al Qaeda, and close in on them from the Pakistani and Afghan sides of the border region.
Point Three: There is a tighter focus, open to reaching out to some of the enemy
Maybe most importantly, this president has given up the pipe dream of setting up a European-style democracy in Afghanistan, and instead has refocused our goals on a more urgent mission - protecting America and the world from terrorism.
We've finally left fantasy-land, where America can simply go somewhere, topple a government, and western-style democracies will pop up and thrive. Afghanistan is a very different beast. And, while the president committed to helping build out infrastructure for the Afghan people, and improve the lives of the Pakistani people, he's not letting dreams of a grand new western democracy get in the way of more practical and tighter goals - namely, fighting al Qaeda and taking the region away as a home base for the terror network, forever.
To do so, the president recognized something that I wrote about last week - there are elements throughout the region that are fighting us now, but could become our partners. This might have been the most striking parts of the President's speech:
"There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who have taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. That is why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans - including women and girls."
I couldn't have put it better myself.
Now, will everything go exactly according to plan? Of course not. Nor is this going to be quick. But with the points above, and the rest that the President laid out, those of us who served finally have confidence that this President gets it, and will keep us on the right course - the reasonable and practical course. That's something we veterans have been waiting for.
Crossposted at VetVoice.com