The long-awaited new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that President Barack Obama unveiled this morning is the clearest signal yet that the Obama Administration intends to dedicate the time, resources, and U.S. leadership necessary to stabilize the region and contain the terrorist threat in South Asia. Obama laid out a strong case for the American people on why we need to remain committed to Afghanistan, reminding that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 remained in Afghanistan and Pakistan and need to be defeated to ensure the future security of the American people.
The new plan reflects a shift in U.S. strategy toward more regional diplomacy and civilian aid to both countries, but less tolerance for the continued existence of militant sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border. The speech reflects Obama’s commitment to building partnership with Pakistan, but on terms that set benchmarks on Pakistan’s performance against the terrorists that threaten stability in Afghanistan and the safety of the international community. He supported vastly increasing non-military assistance to the Pakistani people (even in the midst of the global economic downturn), but also explained the U.S. would no longer provide a “blank check” to the Pakistan military and would expect more cooperation against the Taliban and other extremist groups. He called the Pakistani tribal areas the greatest danger to the American people.
Indicating he understands the threat the Taliban poses to U.S. interests, he said senior Taliban leaders remain allied with al-Qaeda and “need to be defeated.” When the Obama team started the Afghanistan-Pakistan review process, they examined all options on the table, including whether there was some sort of grand bargain to be reached with the Taliban that would allow for a quick exit of U.S. forces. However, after closely reviewing the situation, they decided this was not possible, as many of us had long argued.
So it appears those advisors arguing for a continued commitment to the mission in Afghanistan have won the debate within the Administration. Some advisors had argued that Afghanistan could never be stabilized and therefore the U.S. should scale back both its expectations and resources going toward the effort. We should all be thankful the “maximalists” have won the debate. The American people will be safer because of it.