It was disappointing, as President Obama outlined his administration's plan for Afghanistan, to hear him reaffirm that the seven-year-plus military response to the 9-11 killings in America would be his main justification for continuing and escalating that grudging mission abroad. It was little comfort that the defense of the government in Kabul represented the bulk of the diplomacy and humanitarian initiatives he outlined in his address.
In the preceding weeks, the administration and the Pentagon have made extraordinary efforts to emphasize the limits of our military forces in achieving the diplomacy and nation-building they've defined as critical to any long-term success in reversing the influence and activity of the resistant, militarized elements in Afghanistan who've identified and aligned their violent opposition to NATO's military occupation of their country with America's 'al-Qaeda' nemesis.
In the president's presentation, however, he defined that stalemated military mission as his "clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."
"That is the goal that must be achieved," he said. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you."
"What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, they ask, why do our men and women still fight and die there? They deserve a straightforward answer," the president asserted.
"So let me be clear: al Qaeda and its allies - the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks - are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban - or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged - that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can," he said.
Making his presentation, flanked on both sides by Sec. of State Clinton and Sec. of Defense Gates, the president presented a comprehensive set of goals and alongside a familiar and predictable reading of his principles of engagement:
" . . . enhance the military, governance, and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan . . . marshal international support . . . make indispensable investments in our State Department and foreign assistance programs . . . recognize the fundamental connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan . . . a new sense of shared responsibility - a standing, trilateral dialog among the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan . . . to advance security, opportunity, and justice."
To accomplish these 'goals' and initiatives, Pres. Obama called for a reciprocal contribution from "friends and allies to do their part" in providing troops and resources to complement America's growing commitment. Declaring that the mission in Afghanistan is "not simply an American problem," the president pointed to violent attacks around the world which he said were were "tied to al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan."
He promised to work with the United Nations to create a "Contact Group for Afghanistan" to strike closer partnerships with NATO allies, Central Asian states, Gulf nations, Iran, Russia, India and China.
Leading the way in committing the humanitarian aid and economic development the president insists is integral to the stability in the region, Mr. Obama highlighted an effort in Congress to provide "$1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years - resources that will build schools, roads, and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan's democracy" - and money for economic "opportunity zones". He asserted that, despite challenging times and "stretched resources . . . the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future."
As the backdrop for that international appeal, the president relied on familiar, fearmongering rhetoric to try and compel those nations to rally behind America's grudging military mission; describing a "shared responsibility" to "project power" for "our own peace and security."
"If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it - too - is likely to have ties to al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan. The safety of people around the world is at stake," Pres. Obama said. "What's at stake now is not just our own security - it is the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security. That was the founding cause of NATO six decades ago. That must be our common purpose today," he said.
If America was attacked again, would Pres. Obama consider Pakistan responsible and then posture to invade and occupy their nation?
To be fair, President Obama echoed the recent statements of his generals and diplomats (as well as the key NATO allies) in their acknowledgments that military force will not be sufficient in achieving the stability and security the administration insists is critical to any end to our engagement in Afghanistan. "A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone," he said.
"That is why my budget includes indispensable investments in our State Department and foreign assistance programs. 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," the president said.