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Obama’s Afghanistan Challenge

What does Barack Obama propose to do about the continued setbacks in the war? (Not that war. The war in Afghanistan!) Today, CNN reports that June has been the second consecutive month during which coalition troop deaths in Afghanistan outnumbered those in Iraq. Moreover, June saw more troop deaths than any month since the start of the war in 2001. According to a new Pentagon report, Taliban violence has spread from isolated pockets into larger, previously calm, areas of the country. Furthermore, the Taliban is challenging local government authority in the East and the South.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates places partial blame on the recent ceasefire arrangements between the Pakistan government and Taliban members in tribal regions of that country. With no crackdown from Pakistan’s military, Taliban fighters have free passage into Afghanistan.

If getting Pakistan’s government to help in the fight against the Taliban is the most pressing issue of the war, Barack Obama is in trouble. His indelicately phrased chest-thump about sending troops into Pakistan has done long-term damage to his credibility in that country. The AP reported:

Obama, however, has made himself unpopular in Pakistan by saying the United States should act alone on information about terrorist targets within the country’s national borders, leading some to believe he will not be any different from Bush.

“Obama has threatened attacks against us even before becoming the president, and he will be more dangerous compared to Bush,” said Ibrar Ahmad, 34, a lecturer at the Government College in Multan.

This could make for an additional problem, as part of Obama’s plan for Afghanistan involves deploying more Special Operations forces to the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Also, when it comes to confronting the strategic and tactical challenges of hot wars, it’s McCain 1, Obama 0. John McCain’s support for the troop surge in Iraq and Obama’s stand against it are just about all Americans have to go on in this regard, and McCain was proved right.

John McCain wants to expand NATO’s role in Afghanistan, establish long-term U.S. bases there, and step-up the effort to train Afghan forces. Nothing about any of that is easy. But McCain might have the edge here. Despite all the stories about Europe’s love for Obama, McCain may have a better shot at getting NATO on board. Obama’s dovish talk and promises of unconditional diplomacy with Tehran have European leaders worried. Additionally, McCain is already involved in the business of establishing long term military bases–in Iraq. Finally, cooperation with and training of foreign troops has been a key part of the surge, something McCain’s been in on from the ground up.

Obama likes to complain that Iraq has been a distraction from Afghanistan, but blaming everything on Iraq has allowed Obama to buy time. As long as he could champion some vague, shifting form of retreat, he’d never have to address the problems involved in fighting a large-scale deadly war. With progress continuing apace in Iraq, and Afghanistan backsliding, Americans need to know what the next president is going to do about a war that we’re clearly not getting out of anytime soon.



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