WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2014 - This Day In History
The Way Forward in Afghanistan
By thanarni - Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 at 2:28 PM
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In a live address to the nation last night from the Military Academy in West Point, NY, President Obama laid out his decision for the way forward in Afghanistan. The President committed an additional 30,000 troops to the war, said the era of “blank checks” was over and articulated a clear plan for the transition of responsibility to Afghan security forces.

Here are several excerpts from the President’s remarks. You can read the full text of his address and watch it here.

On how we got to this point in Afghanistan:

Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them -- an authorization that continues to this day.  The vote in the Senate was 98 to nothing.  The vote in the House was 420 to 1.  For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 -- the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.  And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks.  America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda’s terrorist network and to protect our common security.

Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy -- and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden -- we sent our troops into Afghanistan.  Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed.  The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels.  A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope.  At a conference convened by the U.N., a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai.  And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.

Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, in Iraq.  The wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known and need not be repeated here.  It's enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention -- and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world…

On the current challenge in Afghanistan and the region:

Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government.  Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistani people…

Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards.  There's no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum.  Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border.  And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population.  Our new commander in Afghanistan -- General McChrystal -- has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated.  In short:  The status quo is not sustainable…

Since 9/11, al Qaeda’s safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali.  The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered.  And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.

These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. 

On the decision:

I do not make this decision lightly.  I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions.  We have been at war now for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources.  Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort.  And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home…

If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow…

I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda.  It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.  This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat.  In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.  We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

On the way forward:

Our overarching goal remains the same:  to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future..

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan.  We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven.  We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.  And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future…

The 30,000 additional troops that I'm announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 -- the fastest possible pace -- so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They'll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight.  And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans…

We will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.  This effort must be based on performance.  The days of providing a blank check are over… 

The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They've been confronted with occupation -- by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes.  So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand -- America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering.  We have no interest in occupying your country…

We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country.  But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan.  That's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly.  Those days are over.  Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust…

These are the three core elements of our strategy:  a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

On financing the effort:

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests.  And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces.  I don't have the luxury of committing to just one.  Indeed, I'm mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who -- in discussing our national security -- said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration:  the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance.  We've failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy.  In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills.  Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children.  Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce.  So we can't simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars.  Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly.  Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I'll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

On America’s role in the world:

Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents and great-grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs.  We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents.  We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies.  We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions -- from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank -- that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes.  But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades -- a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, and markets open, and billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress and advancing frontiers of human liberty. 

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination.  Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations.  We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours.  What we have fought for -- what we continue to fight for -- is a better future for our children and grandchildren.  And we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

As a country, we're not as young -- and perhaps not as innocent -- as we were when Roosevelt was President.  Yet we are still heirs to a noble struggle for freedom.  And now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age…

It's easy to forget that when this war began, we were united -- bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear.  I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again.  (Applause.)  I believe with every fiber of my being that we -- as Americans -- can still come together behind a common purpose.  For our values are not simply words written into parchment -- they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, as one people…



Discussion:

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