Obama: If we work hard, Afghanistan could be a success…like Iraq! 

It’s worth reading President Obama’s two answers on Afghanistan at the press conference yesterday at the conclusion of the G-20 summit in Toronto. The second, reproduced below , is especially striking.

It’s a good answer, and his embrace of the Iraq analogy is helpful for the cause of success in Afghanistan (and should annoy the left). One obvious point: Iraq worked because of the Petraeus-Crocker pair being in charge, with full support from everyone in the Bush administration. Will Obama clean up the mess on the civilian side in Afghanistan–more precisely, will he remove Amb. Karl Eikenberry, who’s defended now in the administration only by National Security Advisor Jim Jones? And will he get his White House and his administration pulling in one direction?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that right now the debate surrounding Afghanistan is presented as either we get up and leave immediately because there’s no chance at a positive outcome, or we stay basically indefinitely and do “whatever it takes” for as long as it takes. And what I said last year I will repeat, which is we have a vital national interest in making sure that Afghanistan is not used as a base to launch terrorist attacks.

It is true that al Qaeda right now is in Pakistan. And you’ll often hear, why are we in Afghanistan when the terrorists are in Pakistan? Well, Al Qaeda is pinned down and has been weakened in part because they don’t have the run of the territory. We would be less secure if you return to a situation that existed prior to 9/11, in which they had a government that was friendly to them and willing to house their operations. And I don’t think anybody would dispute that.

So, A, we’ve got a vital interest in the region. B, we do not expect because of our involvement in Afghanistan that the country is going to completely transform itself in a year or two years or five years. President Karzai does not expect that. The Afghan people don’t expect that. Afghanistan has its own culture. It is a very proud culture. It has a lot of work to do with respect to development and it’s going to have to find its own path.

But I reject the notion that the Afghan people don’t want some of the basic things that everybody wants – basic rule of law, a voice in governance, economic opportunity, basic physical security, electricity, roads, an ability to get a harvest to market and get a fair price for it without having to pay too many bribes in between. And I think we can make a difference, and the coalition can make a difference, in them meeting those aspirations even as we are meeting our security interests. Those two things are tied together.

Now, there has been a lot of obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave. My focus right now is how do we make sure that what we’re doing there is successful, given the incredible sacrifices that our young men and women are putting in. And we have set up a mechanism whereby we are going to do a review – and I’ve signaled very clearly that we’re not going to just keep on doing things if they’re not working – and that by next year we will begin a process of transition.

That doesn’t mean we suddenly turn off the lights and let the door close behind us. And if you look at what’s happening in Iraq right now, we have met every deadline. By the way, there was a timetable in place, and we are – we have – by the end of August, will have removed all of our combat from Iraq. We will maintain a military presence there. We will maintain military-to-military cooperation. And we are providing them assistance, but we’re meeting this deadline.

And I think it is worth the extraordinary sacrifices that we are making – and when I say “we” – not just the United States, but all coalition members – to try to see a positive outcome in Afghanistan, as well.

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William Kristol

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