America’s wars and the next administration

Good article on President Elect Obama's foreign policy dilemmas. From the Western Experience.

Will Obama soon be forced to take ownership of America’s foreign wars just as Nixon did during Vietnam? Will the proposed troop surges in Afghanistan and the strategy to leave a sizable residual force in Iraq be seen as escalation and prolongation of the two wars by an Obama administration?

The long awaited decision on the Iraq troop withdrawal has all but ended. The Bush administration began hammering out SOFA agreements in the past months and the soon-to-be-arriving Obama administration added urgency to the process. The troop reduction will begin sometime in 2009 and is scheduled to be complete by 2010 or 2011. Of course, the unknown variables remain a huge part of the equation for the formula on success. If the security situation remains stable the withdrawal may go smoothly and according the plans hashed out by the U.S. and Iraq governments.

However, if the departure signals to the insurgency, believed to be somewhere between scattered and dormant, that they are back in business then obviously all bets are off and America will find itself in the fight for another round.

To those who expect a full withdrawal will be sorely disappointed. Roughly, a little more than a third of the troops are set to depart. Those are the troops serving in combat, frontline, roles in providing security for Iraq.

There will be an estimated 70,000 to 90,000 troops still remaining in Iraq. Withdrawal used in the language of the SOFA agreement is purposely misleading and leaves a large amount of leeway for both governments to remain flexible.

We may consider this phase two or the Iraqi project. The forces left in place will help provide for training, logistics, and security and to ensure that democracy has the opportunity to take root and blossom. Furthermore, Iraq has always been a bold longterm project. Their government has ambitions in becoming a prosperous, powerful and free nation. Nuclear ambitions are not out of the question, though, it is doubtful if it would mean anything other than peaceful purposes. These goals take time and it takes security for the infant democracy to grow. Americans can expect a longterm presence in Iraq with tens-of-thousands of troops scattered in various bases around the country.

This will undoubtedly come as a disappointment to some Americans who expected and rather naively believed that U.S. troop presence would vanish 16-months into the new Obama administration. It also may cause a backlash to Obama in Iraq itself. Since violence has been reduced, but likely to continue on some scale, a lot of Iraqis are expecting the presence of the U.S. to be gone soon.

It will be interesting to see what agreements and decisions will be made on Iraq after January 20, 2009.

In the meantime, we can judge for ourselves what the new Obama administration plans to do in Afghanistan. Admiral Mike Mullen announced that the Pentagon could double the existing forces there by 20,000 – 30,000 troops bringing the total up to 60,000. This comes on the heels of the report that showed this year was the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the invasion in 2001. Admiral Mullen also stated the 31,000 troops already in place were plenty combat efficient but more troops were needed to control and pacify the territory that had been cleared of Taliban.

President-elect Obama stated several times throughout this campaign that more focus was needed in Afghanistan and called for additional troops in the country. It appears that the Pentagon has announced an important piece of Obama’s early foreign policy initiatives and gives a good indication on what America, and the world, can expect from America’s military and goals in the Mid East.

The biggest questions are these: will the additional troops simply come from the ones pulled out of Iraq? Will Obama trade one war for another? And by doing so, does he inherent both wars especially by escalating forces in Afghanistan and leaving a sizable force in Iraq? Does he risk spreading the military too thin by committing to Afghanistan while Iraq is still susceptible to homegrown terror?

President-elect Obama may find himself in the same shoes that Nixon was forced to try on. He inherited an unpopular war on January 20, 1969, that America stumbled into under Kennedy and was woefully mismanaged by Johnson. Nixon withdrew forces, but because of reality it was not quick enough, and the death count was still too high for America to stomach in war that most did not understand. President Nixon called for devastating bombing campaigns along with renewed ground campaigns that sent the enemy finally reeling but was accused of escalation by doing so. Eventually his bold actions led America out of Vietnam but not before he was forced to assume ownership of the same war he campaigned against and was elected to halt.



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