Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy, announced today, is much as expected: more troops, more training for the Afghan army and police, more reconstruction and more of a focus on terrorism and Pakistan, with less emphasis on democracy-building.
The whole exercise suggests that the distinctions between the Bush and the Obama approaches to foreign policy may be less hard-and-fast than we thought. In the caricature version, it was Bush who was obsessed with the “global war on terror”, while Obama pushed idealistic ideas about democracy and human-rights. But here we have Obama ramping up the emphasis on terrorism and downplaying the liberal nation-building.
So will it work? Obama emphasised the necessary diversion of troops and resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. And indeed the US troops I met in Logar province a couple of weeks ago had been re-directed at short notice from Iraq to Afghanistan. The US will end up sending roughly 21,000 more troops – which is pretty much the same number that were sent for the surge in Iraq. Even so, there will still be only 60,000 US troops in Afghanistan – compared to 140,000 at the height of the Iraq war. And, as Nato briefers were at pains to point out, Afghanistan is a larger and more populous country with much more inhospitable terrain – and with a safe haven for Taliban forces right next door in Pakistan. Read more