Saturday, April 4, 2009

Obama the hawk?

The Iraq War was one of the defining issues in last year's presidential campaign, and Barack Obama's opposition to it earned him many votes.

Despite the war's merits, it remains unpopular with a large section of the American people. With Obama now installed as president, most expect it to come to an end sooner rather than later.

His opposition to the conflict certainly was popular with the far left constituency of the Democratic Party. Many people are experiencing war fatigue and want our soldiers out of that region of the world.

However, while there was a lot of debate about Iraq last year, discussions about Afghanistan were quieter. When pressed about that region, Obama did say that the emphasis of the war on terror should be in Afghanistan and not Iraq.

The reporting of this did not get nearly as much exposure as the Iraq debate did. When most Americans voted last year, I believe they thought that most of our troops would be coming home with an Obama victory.

Well, guess again.

Last week, the president announced that he was sending an additional 4,000 troops to Afghanistan. When making the announcement, he said that the Taliban and al-Qaida must be stopped.

He said his goal was to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" the terrorist network that is along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In other words, we will be fighting a war there for the foreseeable future with no timetable regarding when it might end.

In the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, troops quickly descended on Afghanistan and booted the Taliban from power. Because the Taliban was providing refuge for al-Qaida, a significant dent was made in international terrorism.

However, as the years have passed, violence has been on the increase. American military deaths rose there by 35 percent in 2008, according to figures published by the Associated Press.

I agree with Obama that if we are truly committed to a war on terror, it is time to finish off the Taliban and al-Qaida once and for all. To do that, there are two big questions that need answering.

The first one: Will the United States receive enough support from the international community to accomplish this? Right now, there are approximately 65,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, and more than half of them are from the United States. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are currently turning up the heat on the United Nations and NATO for more support.

The bottom line is we need support from the international community to succeed. My confidence in the United Nations is tepid at best. It is a weak-kneed organization that often emphasizes style more than substance. Hopefully, NATO will be responsive.

The second question is: Will the American people have the backbone to support this effort? Based on what I have witnessed in the last year or so, the chances are 50-50 at best.

With the plunging economy, many Americans do not have the time or patience to endure another major military effort. We are not in a hawkish mood, and President Obama hardly fits the description of a hawk.

However, Obama is correct that the war on terror would receive a major setback if the Taliban were to regain power in Afghanistan. Another government that supports terrorists would be in place.

Given the fervor of religious extremists in that area, the last thing we need is another government that helps them achieve their goals.

If we do not fight them now, we certainly will fight them in the future.

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