Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Obama's Surge

So, after weeks of dithering, although to be fair to him he did address this charge, Barack Obama has decided to go for another surge in Afghanistan. It's a huge and spectacularly expensive challenge. It is also a gamble.

You cannot fault his boldness, notwithstanding the dithering these last few weeks. That dithering is a testament to just how big a gamble this is. America is taking on a challenge which has defeated so many down the years and he is attempting to complete that challenge to a restricted timetable - the electoral timetable.

This surge is just a recognition of reality. Such wars cannot be done on the cheap as British soldiers and government ministers are learning to their cost. If a commitment is made it has to be made for at least the medium term and it has to be made in a big bold way. Obama has done the latter but still hopes to be able to pull out in a shorter time scale. It has to be doubtful that he will be able to achieve this.

As I have written here before, we are caught in a dilemma in Afghanistan. We know that we have to be there to prevent the Taliban and Al Qaeda from regrouping. But how long a commitment does that mean? This not a war that can have a neat ending with one side winning and the other accepting their defeat and surrendering. Thus it remains an open ended war. Yes it would be desirable if we can suppress the Taliban sufficiently to give time to train, equip and raise an Afghan army but the fractious politics of the country suggest that this is not as easy as it sounds.

But at least Obama has now bitten the bullet and is prepared to commit America's resources to the cause. He is calling on his allies to make a similar bold commitment and to have the political courage to stand by him. He deserves to be supported.

Like many I have my doubts about our commitment to Afghanistan, but my doubts are only because I don't see how we can achieve victory. On the other hand pulling out is not an option either since to do so would just mean the real possibility that we would have to start all over again in the near future. We have lost many lives these last few months in this hostile and unforgiving country. If we were to give up now those lives would have been lost in vain and more lives might have to be sacrificed in the future.

Obama has made a decision at last and I think it is the right one. I suspect however that his timetable and definition of success will inevitably slip.

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