December 9th, 2008
09:33 AM ET

Will Afghanistan be Obama's Iraq?

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Robert Shrum
The Week

Afghanistan has been a footnote in a presidential transition process celebrated for its daring, speed and sure-footed sense of direction. Obama has rightly focused on the troubled economy, consciously echoing the resolve of earlier presidents who faced recession or depression.

The nation calls for “action—and action now,” he recently proclaimed, reviving a phrase from FDR’s first inaugural address that, initially, had commanded far more attention than the injunction that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Obama wants his presidency to be judged not by the mess he’s inheriting but by the measures he intends to take. His warning that things are “likely to get worse before they get better” echoes JFK’s 1961 State of the Union message: “There will be further setbacks before the tide is turned.” On election night, he told the country that the task would not be finished in “one year or one term”—another echo, this time of Kennedy’s inaugural statement that “all this will not be finished in the first 100 days nor . . . in the first 1000 days.”

I believe Obama, who appears to be as perceptive a student of past presidencies as he was of past campaigns, will achieve a Rooseveltian transformation in domestic policy. This will involve massive infrastructure investment, an energy revolution and health care reform—sweeping changes that, I predict, Republicans would pay a devastating price for opposing. Obama’s program is likely to prevail and Obama’s America is likely to be a different and renewed country. At his Sunday press conference, he offered a confident assertion that once his changes are in place, America will emerge from this crisis “leaner, meaner, and more prosperous.”


Filed under: Afghanistan • Barack Obama • Iraq • War on Terror
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Shane --- Montreal, Quebec

    Afghansitan is already Obama's Iraq, the only difference is the strategy on the ground fightin the terrorists\extremists. In Iraq, the commanders had a different strategy fighting terrorists and in Afghanistan it's a different setting, so the commanders are going to have a different strategy and clearly the strategy now isnt' working. But always remember what Bush said right after the 9/11. Is that this war on terror has 2 fronts, the one where you have boots on the ground and the other is the covert/intelligence war against terror. And this whole war on terror that the media is focused on has always been focused on the miltary war. CIA, NSA will never reveal the progress made on the covert war obviously for national security purposes. My question to Obama is that he recently said that he will pursue terrorists wherever they hide in the world. If Obama is not going to leave any troops in Iraq at all? How is he going to stop terrorists in Iraq if he withdraws all the military from there? If Obama thinks that Iraq is free of all terror he's disillusioned. Although I do understand that there has to be a significant transfer of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.

    December 9, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  2. Leroy Mitchell

    I am a defense contractor and things are in the works for Afghanistan. I spent 10 years in the Marine Corps and seen numerous tax dollars going to waste while in Iraq as a Marine. I think now there is no open check book for wasteful spending preparing for Afghanistan. I think the military generals and newly elected president will read the fine print in preparing to finish the hunt for Taliban in Afghanistan before wasting tax dollars. American is in a bad economic crisis, and our leaders owe it to us "the taxpayers" to do their homework before wasting unnecessary funds in Afghanistan. Numerous companies charge ridiculous prices for military supplies, and the military pay the prices. I think Obama has a good head on his shoulder and will do what is right for America.

    December 9, 2008 at 2:26 pm |
  3. Sue

    Education is the only long term solution for terrorism. Invest more in education, schools and a system of equality in these places, and less in bombs, for with bombs you only bomb them further into the dark ages they are still in. But if we help get them out of the dark ages with education then the next generation in those areas will have something to live for and want to be more like us rather than be brainwashed to hate and destroy us. The more we destroy them, the more they recruit, but the more we educate them, the more WE recruit!

    December 9, 2008 at 2:08 pm |
  4. Melissa, Los Angeles

    Our main goal is to find bin Laden – not rebuild Afghanistan or any other middle eastern country in the process of looking for bin Laden – especially since one of these countries is harboring him and not really assisting us to find him.

    December 9, 2008 at 12:43 pm |
  5. Michael Odegard

    Afghanistan will not be Obama's Iraq because 1.) Afghanistan was not a War of choice–we cannot withdraw when we want. 2.) More Afghans want to kill Americans, per capita, than Iraqis. 3.) Dealing with Afghanistan means closer associations with opium, not oil, cartels.

    Afghanistan may prove incredibly disastrous to the USA, like Iraq, but to compare it to Iraq is intellectually dishonest.

    December 9, 2008 at 12:27 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    We should continue to go after the terrorists and bin Laden, but we shouldn't try to rebuild Afghanistan in our image. We can be their friend if they will let us, help them rebuild if they will let us, but their government and way of life should be totally up to them – our only stake is that they do not allow terrorists to use their land to train or strike at us or other countries. If we can get that one agreement and have a way to be sure they keep that agreement then that may be all we will ever be able to do.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    December 9, 2008 at 11:18 am |
  7. Cindy

    I think that it is going to take a lot of time and man power to get Afghanistan back on track and to win there. So yes...I think this will be the thing that haunts Obama from now on all the way through his presidency and beyond.

    I think it'll be way harder to win than anyone thinks, if we can even win there. It will be the thing that either makes him or breaks him.


    December 9, 2008 at 10:26 am |