By Arab News
It’s a dumb war. This is how US President Barack Obama famously defined the US invasion of Iraq eight years ago. Assailing George W. Bush’s push for the war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the little known state senator from Chicago then had made a strong case for the US remaining focused on Afghanistan and not getting distracted from the more important job on hand — capturing or killing of Osama Bin Laden and ending Al-Qaeda’s “safe haven” in Southwest Asia. Afghanistan, in short, was “good war.” So when Obama stood up Wednesday night to announce the much awaited wrapping up of the decade-long Afghan campaign, he went to great lengths to remind the Americans that with Bin Laden conveniently out of the way and the apparent rout of Al-Qaeda, the US mission has been “accomplished.” This is the beginning — but not the end — of our effort to wind down this war, bravely declared the commander-in-chief.
He did not say it in so many words but drove home the message that with the US economy still stuck in the ditch, spending a trillion dollar even on a “good war” was madness. And Obama clearly knows that this is a view that most Americans have increasingly come to share. Opinion polls released hours before the president’s speech suggest that as many as 65 percent of the Americans are now opposed to this war. Yet facing his crucial re-election next year, the US leader had to be excessively careful, clothing the most important US foreign policy turnaround in years in domestic concerns and sensitivities. He doesn’t want to risk being painted by the opposition Republicans as another Democratic president running away from a “just war.” This is why he spent days working and reworking a 13-minute long speech.
In the end there were few surprises in the president’s speech though. In any case, Obama had outlined his plan to draw down in Afghanistan even as he had unveiled his own “surge” two years back. This announcement had been a long time coming. This is why the reduction of 10,000 troops this year and 23,000 by next summer before the total pullout in 2014 is already being criticized by both liberals and fiscal conservatives as “too little, too late.” Clearly, what everyone expected was a swifter and larger withdrawal.
Nevertheless, any move to end this disastrous, decade-long conflict is welcome. Obama’s announcement comes less than a week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s revelation that the US is already in talks with the Taleban, an enemy it has spent 10 years fighting. The question is, why this was not done earlier when it could have avoided all this destruction and loss of thousands of innocent lives. What has America achieved? Obama remembered in his speech some 450 Americans who lost their lives in this war. But what about those scores of thousands of Afghans who were killed for no fault of theirs? Who is responsible for all those deaths? Who will pay for the long occupation and devastation of a country that has already suffered so much during the past few decades? We do not want to spoil the reigning superpower’s party by raising these inconvenient questions when everyone wants to forget the recent unpleasant past and move on. However, it’s important to demand answers to these questions if we are to avoid yet another war in the name of freedom and “our way of life.”