Challenges for Obama — II

Published: November 28, 2010
The writer served as chief of army staff from 1988-91 and is chairman of FRIENDS (Foundation for Research on International Environment National Development and Security)

The writer served as chief of army staff from 1988-91 and is chairman of FRIENDS (Foundation for Research on International Environment National Development and Security)

In an asymmetric war, there is no clear-cut line of victory and defeat. Yet the Soviets prudently accepted their defeat in 1989 and the Afghan Mujahideen, in good grace, allowed them to withdraw, unscathed. The Americans and their allies find it much too painful to admit defeat, so aptly described by Eric S Margolis: “Nato, the world’s most powerful military alliance, is losing the only war the 61-year-old pact ever fought…and is being beaten by the lightly-armed Afghan farmers and tribesmen.”

The recent Nato declaration at Lisbon betrays their wounded pride, shrouded in confusion: “We plan to end our combined role by 2014, or earlier, with ‘shallow’ troops withdrawal, starting next year.” In fact, the declaration aims at inducing a civil war in Afghanistan, by handing over power to the Northern Alliance, supported by a 150,000 strong Afghan Army and 100,000 members of the police force consisting mainly of Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Hazaras. Thus, Afghanistan will remain destabilised and accelerate the spread of Talibanisation in South Asia and beyond.

Despite such a short-sighted approach, there is still time to engage in ‘negative symmetry’, i.e. getting all regional forces, including India, to lay off Afghanistan, as the only chance for enduring peace. The problem gets even more complex when the occupation forces look east and see China as a rising power and a threat to their ambitions in the region. China’s rise is a patent reality. Unlike the former Soviet Union, China has no aggressive designs. In contrast, it has chosen to enter the global order, maintaining cooperative relations with all nations.” The purpose of the Indo-US partnership, therefore, is to create a Cold War style anti-Chinese military alliance, which will prove detrimental to peace in the region.

Obama’s foreign policy strategy is out of step with reality, as is his domestic policy. If he was seeking employment and jobs for the Americans, then his visit to Asia was not the correct choice, as Farid Zakria rightly pointed out: “He should have travelled to Canada and Mexico instead, which together buy twenty times as much American goods and services as does India and ten times as many as does South Korea.” Obama’s current approach is at a critical point. Sagacity demands a pragmatic strategy and a new vision to mark the start of a clear-eyed assessment, to steadily drawdown the forces from Afghanistan. This can be possible only after reaching a clear understanding with the Taliban, otherwise the exit will become horrendous. In 1989, Pakistan enjoyed a degree of clout with the Mujahideen to let the Soviets withdraw. Pakistan has lost that privilege now and the Taliban are the only arbiters. In this respect, US policymakers should listen to the logic of the task force of the US Senate headed by Richard Armitage, which recommends: “There is the need for a real national reconciliation process, for constitutional reforms and other political initiatives to end the conflict in Afghanistan.”

“The USA is a country in decline with a weakened political, economic and military system” and the challenge for Obama is to demonstrate the courage to switch course and relaunch himself in pursuit of what he told his supporters: “I spent my whole life chasing the American dream.” It is his job to find common ground with the Republicans, “to move the country forward, and get things done for the American people.” He has to make time for a clear, compassionate and consistent communication with the people at home and abroad, particularly those who have suffered as a result of the American pursuit of the elusive goal of global primacy and pre-eminence. The days of colonial imperialism have given way to a deeper human sensibility of shared values of the global community.

Obama must heed Horace who wrote: “Force, if unassisted by judgment, collapses through its own mass.”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Nov 28, 2010 - 1:12AM

    “The days of colonial imperialism have given way to a deeper human sensibility of shared values of the global community.”


    The physical imperialism is not needed anymore. The economic imperialism is as strong as it ever was. In the age of Hollywood, Facebook and video-game wars, the colonial imperialism of the yesteryears is just too costly and liability prone.

    On a different note, I am sure that if Mullah Omar had his way, the Afghan hoards will spread the region once again to create mayhem, of course in the name of Islam.Recommend

  • Nov 28, 2010 - 3:58AM

    This is really shocking…..Is this what passes for strategic analysis? Recommend

  • Rajat
    Nov 28, 2010 - 7:29AM

    Juvenile article.. The reasoning the author gives the recent US visit to India as being something more than economic and the quote of Farid Zakria is flawed. Speaking in economic terms no individual or a company or for the matter a country trying to find buyers and employment will go again to established markets(Canada, Mexico) it will always look out for untapped emerging markets where it can generate a huge revenue(India, Indonesia, japan). This article does not seem to be much better than the previous one.Recommend

  • Ronit
    Nov 28, 2010 - 2:32PM

    China is not rising “peacefully”, if its peaceful with Pakistan, doesn’t mean its peaceful with everybody. China is showing aggression with India, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and other ASEAN countries. This is the same China that when threatened by Soviet Union, decided to embrace US in 70’s and today is rising coz of all the American support and backing it got from 70’s to 90’s.Recommend

  • Arifq
    Nov 28, 2010 - 3:13PM

    Retired General should read the ‘The Emperor New Clothes’ might help him see the reality of his articles.

    An Emperor who cares for nothing but his wardrobe hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “just hopelessly stupid”. The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects. A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.Recommend

  • Nov 28, 2010 - 5:19PM

    the general sahab is as oblivious and simpleton as he would have before becoming the coas of this unfortunate nation.Recommend

  • saad D
    Nov 29, 2010 - 12:48AM

    It is really amusing to read comments belittling the analysis of a former 4 start general by those who’s ages are probably less than the years he served his country. We, afterall, are a nation of drawing-room and keyboard gangsters. Recommend

  • Don't waste your time
    Nov 29, 2010 - 10:09AM

    First of all, is this article necessary? Aren’t there enough american media to advise him of his challenges? The last thing the leader of the free world wants is advice from a four star general of a third word country that has been fledgling between democracy and dictatorship for 63 years.

    Please spend your time wisely in support of your own people. At least write something that is helpful to your country. Recommend

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