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December 1, 2009

Obama’s Breach of Faith

Roy Meachum

When the president of the United States talks to the nation tonight, I will not be listening. One chief reason I backed so enthusiastically Barack Obama was his campaign pledge to remove American forces from the Middle East. In addition to everything else, including his endorsing George W. Bush’s wars, Sen. John McCain was simply not my political tea.


Six months or so ago, Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech raised a faint hope that America might really withdraw from that region. In recent weeks the media recounted he was wrestling with the decision to send thousands more troops asked for by Gen. Stanley McCrystal, commander of U.S. and U.N. forces in Afghanistan. Voices raised in opposition included the current U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Lt. Gen. Karl D. Eichenberry.


When on active duty, General Eichenberry supervised the Office of Military Cooperation between Washington and the government of Hamid Karzai. The ambassador sent two cables, early last month, arguing that President Karzai’s administration was too unstable, riddled with cronyism and corruption. According to published reports, Mr. Obama will order only about one-fourth of General McCrystal’s manpower request that will ship out next month. It could be worse.


Speculation roams rampant the preponderance of troops will be sent in only if the Afghan president cleans up his act. We have to look next door; Iraq’s being mostly set free with its penchant for corruption intact. The 50,000 American military left behind still worry me. I subscribe to the proposition the White House should have commanded a pull-out when Saddam Hussein was toppled. Sticking around, U.S. forces were considered an army of occupation to many Iraqis.


Living under an Islamic government, in Cairo, and visiting Morocco twice, I learned that baksheesh is a normal way of life; it usually trickles down, enabling all levels of society to live more comfortably. Baksheesh in my native Louisiana transforms into lagniappe, something “extra” paid for the pleasure of doing business. In any event, there’s nothing an outsider can do. Besides, it exists in this country in the form of bribes. Muslims use discretion and it’s seldom a crime in their world. Having said that, readers should not misconstrue that I approve. But fighting corruption in Islamic governments wastes time and strength.


Much more important is winning a war with a nation home to clearly separated factions. In Iraq, there are Kurds and orthodox Sunnis and splintered Shiites that are clearly in the majority; in Afghanistan, lines are drawn by tribes, including the Pashtuns that form the bulk of the Taliban. Mr. Karzai, by the way, is a Pashtun.


If we fail to reach accord with each and every clan, we cannot count on any peace holding. Not only for Muslims’ sake but in the name of America’s young women and men, this is why I have opposed U.S. military presence in that part of the Middle East. I thought Mr. Obama was motivated by the same cause.


In recent weeks, the president I heartily supported has sounded more like his generals; he’s used the same catch phrases: “finishing the job” most of all. Tonight’s speech should have been delivered at West Point; from the details bruited about, it reflects the military’s stabbed-in-the-back excuse for Vietnam. And echoes even more loudly the same argument, from World War I, which is why so many Germans fell into goose step behind Adolph Hitler.


Tonight Barack Obama is not my president but an apologetic politician that I want to avoid.


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