Sunday, June 1, 2014

Passing on a clean slate

Yesterday's release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was joyous news to his family, his community and his country.  But in order to understand the broader importance of this news, it needs to be placed in context.

Following 9/11, the Bush/Cheney administration attempted to put this country on a permanent war footing to fight the global war on terror. In doing so, they took actions that go against our basic ideals as a country and called America's leadership in the world into question. That included invading another country based on lies, the use of torture and setting up a prison for indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. These actions left legal and foreign policy challenges that - while not as imminent as the financial crisis - were necessary to address.

When President Obama assumed office, he began working on cleaning up the mess from day one. His first actions were to stop the use of torture and re-focus the global war on terror into a war on al Qaeda. The latter action provided for the possibility of specific goals that could be met rather than an open-ended engagement. He ended the war in Iraq and attempted to defeat al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan and eventually Yemen.

A little over two years ago, Vice President Biden articulated the diplomatic work this administration had undertaken to ensure that Afghanistan would never again be a safe haven for terrorists.
We were in Afghanistan for two reasons. One is to deal with, curtail, begin to dismantle, and eventually eliminate al Qaeda. Not only from being able to come back into Afghanistan and control Afghanistan but from the region—to decimate al Qaeda...

The second reason for us to be in Afghanistan was to make sure that a country with tens of millions of people and nuclear weapons called Pakistan did not somehow begin to disintegrate or fall apart. That is a hell of a lot tougher job...

That is part of what the reconciliation process is about right now. We are not just deciding that all we are doing is supporting a government and building up their military capability. We’re engaged in a reconciliation process. Whether it will work or not is another question. But we are in a position where if Afghanistan ceased and desisted from being a haven for people who do damage and have as a target the United States of America and their allies, that’s good enough. That’s good enough. We’re not there yet.

Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here:

One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban. And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies.
Over the last few years, attempts to bring together Afghanistan and the Taliban to negotiate towards a stable government have been underway, but have moved forward in fits and starts. Over that time, a successful prisoner exchange between the U.S. and the Taliban has been seen as an opening statement of trust for the negotiations to begin in earnest. I believe that is what happened yesterday with the release of Sergeant Bergdahl in exchange for the 5 detainees at Guantanamo. Notice how President Obama's statement yesterday echos what VP Biden said two years ago.
This week the United States renewed its commitment to the Afghan people and made clear that we will continue to support them as they chart their own future. The United States also remains committed to supporting an Afghan-led reconciliation process as the surest way to achieve a stable, secure, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan. While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground.
So this wasn't just a prisoner exchange. It was perhaps the opening step in the reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. As such, it was also one more step in this President's efforts to fix the mess that was left to him by his predecessor and take us "off a permanent war footing."

If you haven't already, I highly recommend that you listen to/read President Obama's interview with NPR just after his speech at West Point. Here's how he summarized all this:
...I want to make sure that when I turn the keys over to the next president, that they have the ability, that he or she has the capacity to — to make some decisions with a relatively clean slate...

You know, these are all parts of what I consider a — a major piece of business during my presidency, which is recognizing we've got very real threats out there and we can't be naive about protecting ourselves from those threats. At times we're going to have to take very tough actions to make sure that our people, our children are protected, but that there's a way of doing it that comports with our laws, our values, our ideals, that gains legitimacy around the world and that is therefore sustainable...

And, you know, we're not done yet, but we've made enormous progress...I'm confident that by the time I'm leaving the presidency, the next president will still have some tough choices to make, but I think they'll have a basis for making them that is consistent with our best traditions.
The President has often talked about the slow but steady progress of righting this huge ship of state. He's determined to have it back on course by the time he's done.

1 comment:

  1. Sgt. Bergdahl's fellow soldiers are claiming he deserted his post. That would put a cloud over the exchange, but It is a good sign that the exchange happened at all. An absolute no negotiating policy closes to many options. It might target more American soldiers from being taken prisoner, but enemy motivation would be to keep those prisoners safe, healthy, and alive.
    The Karsi government is so corrupt that I don't have much faith he can steer Afghanistan to a more open, democratic society. Like most leaders he will do anything to keep his power.
    The choice for me was vote for McCain and get continued war with Iraq and a possible war with Iran by our offense, not defense. Vote for Obama and get a larger war surge in Afghanistan and try and end the war in Iraq. The latter being at least a sane, honest policy, but I believe we should get out all together. We have enemies, but those enemies get more volatile when we invade. Our reputation and security got worse when Bush invaded Iraq based on lies. The excited patriotism of Americas led to support of Bush's wrong invasion of Iraq. Failed leadership to say the least.
    Our defense should be more aggressive and our offense less imperialistic.
    I understand Obama was left this mess and I'm satisfied he has done the best thing. I'm not against drone attacks based on the idea that we do the most damage to our enemies with the fewest casualties. Putting boots on the ground to get those enemies would have caused much more death on both sides as invading Iraq has proven.
    Obama's West Point speech laid out a sane direction for military use and war. I believe Obama has waged war quite well given his situation. He has cut the head of the enemies leadership.The idea Republicans spew that he is weak, or Democrats cannot defend America is laughable given our history of military superiority headed by Democrats military strategy in the 20th century.
    We have a responsibility to help and defend our friends and liberty, but we cannot erase the thousands of years of fighting among the different peoples of the world, especially in the Middle East. If Palestinians freely vote for Hamas as their leadership, should we militarily overthrow that leadership? Do we institute our form of government all over the world at the point of our guns? What does that make us? If Putin holds an 80% approval rating by his people in the face of his intrusion in other countries, are we any different when Bush had an 85% approval rating when invading Iraq?
    As Madison (and other great thinkers) have said, no country can survive if they are always on a path of war.


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